Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Whiteness of Space

I just Netflixed the new-and-improved "Battlestar Galactica" TV movie, which I really enjoyed. As soon as the first season comes out on DVD, I plan to watch the rest. S P O I L E R S However, I was very struck by the fact that the humanity that was saved when the lost colonies were destroyed by the Cylons is distressingly WHITE. Boomer (who was a black man in the original series) is an Asian woman now, but, as is also revealed at the end of the movie, she's not human at all... But a Cylon spy. Similarily the XO, Colonel Ty, is now a craggy white guy. There is a communications officer (shades of Uhura) who is a black woman, but she's -- so far, at any rate -- a very background character. The actor playing the new Adama, Edward James Olmos is a Mexican-American actor, but his children (namely "Apollo" and Zack, Athena seems to have been forgotten) are not being played by overtly Hispanic actors. So, what am I saying? I'm saying I miss the helicon days when TV producers felt compelled to have at least one "token" African-American actor in every show. The future that my TV used to present looked a lot like my neighborhood, only better. Because somehow I got the sense that in the futures of Battlestar Galactica and the original Star Trek series we all got along better. We'd conquered all this stupid "race" stuff and had become a world government that was really all about the human race. Lately, it seems like TV science fiction deals with race in the future by pretending that if you show a couple of black characters in the background we'll all just assume everything is hunky-dory. I'm thinking of Babylon 5, which was also notable in its whiteness. The exception there, of course, was the doctor, who was actually a "whiter" replacement of a very black African-seeming doctor who appeared in the pilot episode. I think it's especially striking in Battlestar Galactica because of the obvious replacements. I was always a fan of the original Boomer, but the new one was growing on me until it was revealed that she wasn't human. Similarly, it's frustrating that the producers or director or casting people or whoever is in charge of this decision didn't think about having someone in the command circle (besides Adama) who isn't lily white. I also think this struck me because the new Galactica is so much more based on a real military ship (with CAGs and XOs, etc,) and the modern military is fairly highly integrated. The scene at the end of the movie when Adama gives his impassioned speech about finding Earth, I scanned the crowd for color. There was some, but... well, for me, it wasn't enough. And I'm just some white girl from Minnesota.


Jeff said...

Hmm, about race. Not sure where you're coming down. On the one hand, you allude to the fact that minorities may sometimes be "tokens" on shows, an attempt to cover as many nation of origin boxes as possible, and you say you miss those days. On the other hand, you say shows can pretend "that if you show a couple of black characters in the background we'll all just assume everything is hunky-dory", which sounds like what you say you miss, and to me is essentially tokenism.

You point out the race of the main characters, but could include, too, that the President is a woman.

Personally, I wish we could get to a point where we never notice the race of characters, that it is no longer important. I think MLK said something like that once.

tate said...

Not notice race?

See, I don't get that. I would love for race (we should probably actually say skin color here, because, hopefully, in the future we'll realize that race is really an artificial deliniation of our species -- and, frankly, in the future we should all be brown) not to be a factor in decisions of employement, housing, CASTING, etc.

But, I think it would be a crime if, in the future, we all became homogonized. I'd like there to still be ethnicity, because I'm with Jesse Jackson on this one: I think the melting pot is a for shit metaphor and what we should be going for here is a salad bowl or a quilt. We're more beautiful the more different we are.

I also think that in science fiction, which by its very nature is all about telling us who we ARE NOW (and who we aspire to be), should be very aware of color... because it DOES matter now.

Like William Gibson (read his short story "Gernsback Continium"), I would also like to know that in the future Americans didn't win the culture war. By showing us white people who all speak unaccented English, the implication is that it did. And worse, some NAZI throw-back version of Ozzie and Harriet's America won. My America is full of color. I like that.

Oh, and whoopty-doo a woman is president. Let's tell everyone what her job was before she got sworn in as president of the colonies? A school teacher. Could that be any more of a cliche job for a woman? Okay, so she became Minister of Education, but she was also the sixty-fifth in line or something. I'm so not impressed.

And for the record, having diversity in the background is NOT enough. The only reason I miss the tokienism of the 1970s is because at least it forced producers to think about color. I miss THAT.

Rene said...

I think you make a valid point. I have noticed sci fi does tend to be dominated by whites. I'm not really going to add anything because I thought you stated it very well.

Muneraven said...

We're never going to not notice race, and why should we not notice it? I notice a person with red hair, an unusually tall person, a person with particularly fetching dimples, why wouldn't I notice the color of a person's skin or the shape of their facial features? Nothing inherently wrong with that at all.

The trick is to not make decisions based on race wherein race is irrelevent. And which decisions in life should take into account a person's race? Aye, there's the rub! I say very few decisions are made where race ought to matter, but an awful lot of other people would disagree with me.

But hey, those people are morons. LOL.