We haven’t done a video show during the holidays, and I wanted to give you something special. I thought this essay, which I’ve been researching for a year, might fit the bill. YMMV of course.
Why is Afrofuturism important? Well, lets start with what it is, at least the literary aspect thereof: the SF, Fantasy, and Horror of the African Diaspora.
Black Americans may be the only people in the world whose dominant mythology was forced upon them by their oppressors. Colonized Africans, or Asians, or Native Americans have other horrors and indignities, but this particular disease has a special damage created only by wiping the cultural memory clean and imprinting Slave 1.0.
What happens if others create and imprint the mythologies onto an oppressed group? Well, first we have to ask why mythologies matter.
Our behaviors are controlled by our emotions and perceptions and beliefs. And while many of these are impressed upon us in the home, church and school and news and entertainment also factor in, and always has. The stories we tell about ourselves interpret our pasts and shape our actions, which create our futures.
Back to what happens if another group controls your mythologies. Well…they will make themselves central to their creation myths, I can promise you that. All peoples believe they’re the center of the universe, that God made them first and loves them best. Sucks to be reminded of this constantly, if you aren’t in that position. This isn’t statistical distribution based on a majority population, it is actual aversion. Mild in most cases, but for every Phile there’s a Phobe, I promise you.
One of the ways this manifested was the “no black male lead has ever had sex in a movie that earns over 100 million domestic.” One of the things that fascinated me was how HARD it was for many white people to believe this existed. The uncomfortable thing is that these same people usually knew differential performance statistics. And they would argue that there wasn’t an aversion reaction. One is tempted to ask how they explained the difference in incarceration and income and so forth if the “playing field” is level. Or no…maybe you don’t have to ask. Anyway, “Creed” finally broke that barrier in 2015. And while its only one movie, it does change the game a bit.
(In other words, in a bizarre, grimly amusing and disturbing turn of logic, if you don’t believe racism is a powerful factor in American life, you are likely to attribute the differences in performance to nature, rather than nurture. In other words, if you deny racism…you’re probably a racist. Ugh. I don’t like something as “pat” as that, I really don’t. But it does seem a logical conclusion.)
So…let’s look elsewhere. Back when I was a kid, I noticed that black men died more often in horror, SF, and Action films. It was an ugly joke in my neighborhood: “how’d they kill the brother this time?” the other kids would ask when I came back from the movies. Ugly.
And again, that “denial” thing. I remember going to see “Damnation Alley” with my friend Dan Pinal. It suddenly hit me that they were going to kill the black character, Paul Winfield, because otherwise he’d be competing sexually with George Peppard, the star. They might let Jan -Michael Vincent compete, but not Winfield. Dan thought I was a race-baiting paranoid. Five minutes later, Winfield got eaten by giant cockroaches. Dan had seen the same movies I’d seen. But he didn’t get it.
Just as so many white guys had seen the sex thing…but hadn’t seen it. Black people see it. Even white WOMEN tend to see it.
Sex and Death. First and Second Chakras. Personal and genetic survival.
In the theater of the mind, to control these things was to perform fantasy genocide on your enemy. Harsh? Well, I’m not saying its anything special about white people. There IS nothing special about white people. Love ’em, though.
And by the way–killing them is one thing. Simply excluding them from the entire cinematic world, as in “When Worlds Collide” is arguably even worse from some perspectives. We aren’t there at all. We don’t matter. They don’t even notice our massacre. Movies/books like “The Handmaiden’s Tale” where our genocide is lightly tossed off in a story that positions itself as “woke” on one set of concerns, while being horrific in another…suggests that the problem is deep, deep in our wiring, and that not everyone will be able to make the journey to awareness.
Here’s the thought I had about thirty years ago: I kept seeing these movies where all the black people, or all the black men, are killed. Consider a character to be anyone with at least one line of dialogue. Was there the opposite? Was there a single American film where all the white people died, while non-whites survived? I’ve been saying this for years, and no one has found a single one. I mean, there MUST be one, but the implication is that it is some junk zero-budget no-distribution movie made by people with no access to the system. A few people have said “Alien Versus Predator” but while everyone who goes down into the maze dies except Sanaa Lathan, there were sailors on a ship who had dialogue. Likewise with “Tales From The Crypt” where Jada Pinkett survives, but not the main white characters. However, the movie is film-within-film, and the “camera crew” survives just fine.
Can’t find one. Not one. Does that seem like a statistical fluke to you? I’m saying it is a result of the fact that IT FEELS BAD to see it happen, if you identify with that group. If you are an X, and all the X’s die, it hurts a little. And just a little aversion, multiplied across millions of people, creates an iron effect.
Remember “Psycho”, where Janet Leigh seems to be the lead character, and she ends up killed? This creates an alocational disorientation. You don’t know who to identify with, and end up identifying with Norman Bates. He is the center of good: at least he loves his mommy. Part of the power of that film comes from this amazing choice on the part of screenwriters and director.
Well, what happens if group Y makes a movie, and in that film all the X’s die? X’s in the audience must identify with Y’s, in the same way that a dream rarely continues if you die in it. You slip into some living person’s perspective, if not an omniscient one. And X’s who identify with Y’s, when the Y’s valued X’s less than “their own”, is rather problematic in terms of the emotional/perceptual programming, don’t you think? And if there are no cases of Y’s EVER allowing or appreciating the opposite, doesn’t that imply that we have a problem here?
X lives matter.
If you want to blame this on “Hollywood” you’ll make me laugh. You really think “Liberal Hollywood” is worse than the country as a whole? They’re just people. And box office is truth, millions of votes across a century of film. Creating patterns of acceptance and rejection. Plus…I’d seen similar phenomena in publishing, comic books, politics. So all the racists are in L.A., New York, and Washington, right? Rest of the country is fine…
ZERO American movies in which all white characters die, while non-whites survive.
And…how many times had I seen it the other way around? All black people, or black men, dead? Couldn’t count ’em. You could start with the entire run of “X-Men” films, but that wouldn’t be the tip of it. So I started keeping track. I thought that I’d list ten, got there, and decided a reasonable person could still consider that a statistical fluke. How about Twenty to zero? That’s better.
Thirty to zero? That’s CRAZY. By this time all but the deluded would have admitted we have an issue. Most will try the escape door of blaming it on Hollywood, or trying to believe it doesn’t matter. That’s fine. No interest in trying to convince them. These words are for those already awake to the issue, or willing to awaken.
Because at the core of it, THIS is why Afrofuturism is important. NO ONE SHOULD LET SOMEONE ELSE CONTROL THEIR DREAM. Especially if those groups are in competition for resources. It is suicide.
So Africans had their names, religions, mythologies, histories, and languages stripped away. And those who did it basically twirled their thumbs, whistle, and pretended nothing had happened for 400 years. But now, for the very first time (starting in…about 1970) there are serious cracks in that armor. There is real dialogue going on. And one of the emerging questions is: “well, if you aren’t the sub-humans our mythology suggested for so long…who are you, really?)
If you are feeling bad about this, it might be comfortable to grasp that I think this is HUMAN stuff, not some issue exclusive to white people. They happened to have the power to support their prejudices, but black people would have been just as nasty and self serving if the shoe had been on the other foot. And yeah, white people would have been as devastated. People are people.
“Who am I?” is only one step away from “who are YOU?” “What is true” is the underlying question with both. There is currently a gap between “what is true” and “what are the mythologies that have been spun about you?”
And…I believe that when there is a gap between “what is true?” and “what do people believe” there is real energy to be released in speaking the truth. And that creates an opportunity for artists and audiences. There is gold in them thar ills.
So to speak.
Anyway, I wanted to finally publish this list on this, the last day of the year. Is it complete? No. Does it contain errors? I’d not be surprised. I don’t have a perfect memory, and some of these movies I’ve not seen in decades. I don’t’ re-watch movies in which all the black people, or black men, die. Especially when they die uselessly protecting white people (“The Shining”, anyone). The implications of WHY this image is so attractive is disturbing as hell: “In my imagination, you exist only to die serving me”
Look at this list. And ask yourself how many times you’d have to see this pattern before you actually began to flinch when you saw someone brown in a movie, waiting for them to die. How much more likely you were to dehumanize them yourself, see them as pawns rather than kings, as THINGS rather than human beings with their own hopes, dreams, needs, loves, passions.
Just…things. Self-hatred lies down that path. As well as fear, the realization that you are surrounded and outnumbered by people who, deep down inside, feel THIS way about you, and will lie about it, or remain blissfully unconscious and supportive of those images, a poison they would never, EVER feed their own children. And have enough control of the organs of distribution that they can prevent ANYONE from creating and distributing such images.
But the organs of distribution are changing. We can create and distribute art in the non-hierarchical World Wide Web, allowing audience to find and support what THEY want, without gatekeepers. And then those artists can ascend the ladder until they can confront and challenge the remaining mega-studios, results in hand, knowing that Corporations primarily speak the language known as “money.”
No, I don’t suggest that black people deliberately create images as negative as those on this list. I encourage them to rise above that, be more conscious and loving.
But if they don’t? No one could blame them.
Afrofuturism explains the past, contextualizes the present and points a path to the future. It says “we were here in the past, we are here in the present, we will create the future.” In many ways, fiction and myth controls what a culture thinks about itself, just as our personal self-image controls how we see and operate within the world as individuals. It is meat and potatoes, not frosting.
If you agree, and you are a fan, a teacher, or a creator of such images, please join us so that 2018 can be a better year than 2017 was. That’s how the future happens: one year, one month, one week, one day, one hour, one moment at a time.
Seize this moment: it belongs to all of us who believe in the unity of mankind. For all their flaws, our ancestors did the best they could do. We can do better.
Happy New Year
(If these words speak to you, please consider joining our incredible Afrofuturism online class. We are committed to changing the future, beginning today. www.afrofuturismwebinar.com)
Here’s the list. Again, it is certainly not complete. I may have made an error or two. But considering that there are ZERO films on the opposite list, I invite you to consider the implications.
- Beware! The Blob
- Big Jake
- Body Snatchers (1982)
- Conan the Destroyer
- Damnation Alley
- Deepstar Six
- Dirty Dozen
- From Dusk Til Dawn
- Freddy Versus Jason
- Ghost Ship
- The Green Mile
- Hard Target
- House of Wax (2005)
- Ice Station Zebra
- Jurassic Park
- Kill Bill
- Kill Bill 2
- Magnum Force
- Man on Fire
- The Mummy (2017)
- Night of the living Dead
- Pacific Rim
- Planet of the Apes (1968)
- Return of the Living Dead
- Logan (no black man survives ANY film in the X-Men franchise)
- Resident Evil
- The Shining*
- Beyond Skyline
- Starship Troopers
- Sudden Impact
- Terminator 2
- Total Recall
- True Romance
- The Unforgiven
- Wrath of Khan
- Whatever Happened to Monday?