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Black Space

Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film

By Adilifu Nama

Publication Year: 2008

Science fiction film offers its viewers many pleasures, not least of which is the possibility of imagining other worlds in which very different forms of society exist. Not surprisingly, however, these alternative worlds often become spaces in which filmmakers and film audiences can explore issues of concern in our own society. Through an analysis of over thirty canonic science fiction (SF) films, including Logan's Run, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Back to the Future, Gattaca, and Minority Report, Black Space offers a thorough-going investigation of how SF film since the 1950s has dealt with the issue of race and specifically with the representation of blackness. Setting his study against the backdrop of America's ongoing racial struggles and complex socioeconomic histories, Adilifu Nama pursues a number of themes in Black Space. They include the structured absence/token presence of blacks in SF film; racial contamination and racial paranoia; the traumatized black body as the ultimate signifier of difference, alienness, and “otherness”; the use of class and economic issues to subsume race as an issue; the racially subversive pleasures and allegories encoded in some mainstream SF films; and the ways in which independent and extra-filmic productions are subverting the SF genre of Hollywood filmmaking. The first book-length study of African American representation in science fiction film, Black Space demonstrates that SF cinema has become an important field of racial analysis, a site where definitions of race can be contested and post-civil rights race relations (re)imagined.

Published by: University of Texas Press

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Although this project is my brainchild, the completion of it has come about only because of the talents, insights, patience, and support of colleagues, friends, and family. I must thank Sohail Daulatzai, who reviewed early drafts of the manuscript and shared critical advice concerning the direction and approach of the project. His suggestions proved invaluable, and I have truly ...

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pp. 1-9

“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission . . .” The first time I remember hearing this eerie command was as a child, sitting home one weekday afternoon while nursing a sore throat and a light case of the sniffles. Usually, when I was too sick to go to school for more than one day...

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Chapter 1: Structured Absence and Token Presence

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pp. 10-41

American science fiction (sf) cinema has had a history of providing striking portrayals of the future, alternative worlds, sleek rocket ships, cyborgs, deadly ray guns, time machines, and wormholes through hyperspace, but, until quite recently, no black people. For decades it appeared as if science fiction cinema was the symbolic wish fulfillment of America’s staunchest advocates of white supremacy. Admittedly, such a strident characterization...

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Chapter 2: Bad Blood: Fear of Racial Contamination

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pp. 42-69

After America’s use of not one but two atomic bombs in World War II, the fear of nuclear annihilation became a common element in scores of science fiction films of the 1950s. Here was a doomsday weapon that was no mere deterrent but a military option America had proven it was not afraid to exercise...

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Chapter 3: The Black Body: Figures of Distortion

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pp. 70-95

Black racial representation has had a long and dubious history in American popular cinema. The thick-lipped, bug-eyed Sambo; the jovial eager-to-please servant; the obese, head-wrapped-with-a-handkerchief mammy; the noble bare-chested black savage; and the frighteningly muscular black...

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Chapter 4: Humans Unite!: Race, Class, and Postindustrial Aliens

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pp. 96-122

Despite the appearance of otherworldly or distant temporal settings in American sf film, the genre is very much linked to the real political changes, dominant social discourses, and cultural practices at work in American society. Films like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), It Came from Outer Space (1953), and the original War of the Worlds (1953) are unmistakable examples...

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Chapter 5: White Narratives, Black Allegories

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pp. 123-147

Like the American western, sf film has played a significant part in affirming a myriad of myths and constructing historical relationships that are, at the least, uncritical and, at worst, revisionist falsehoods. For decades, film westerns presented intrepid white settlers as righteously taming the Wild West by vanquishing bands of hostile Indians, instead of presenting the push westward as a violent imposition upon the indigenous population...

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Chapter 6: Subverting the Genre: The Mothership Connection

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pp. 148-172

Not only has the presence of black characters increased in science fiction film—a trend witnessed in The Core (2003), The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), and Aeon Flux (2005), for example—but black actors have also be- come central characters in the genre, as demonstrated by films like Super- nova (2000), Alien vs. Predator. (2004), Serenity (2005), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), and Children of Men (2006). Although the...


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pp. 173-182


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pp. 183-188


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pp. 189-200

E-ISBN-13: 9780292794511
E-ISBN-10: 0292794517
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292716971
Print-ISBN-10: 0292716974

Page Count: 212
Illustrations: 55 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Science fiction films -- History and criticism.
  • Blacks in motion pictures.
  • African Americans in motion pictures.
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