“I can’t breathe.”
I imagine the majority of the people who look at this little blog of mine are my friends. It started out as a personal log of my reviews and as time has gone on, I have sought to share it with the outside world and hopefully encourage more people to engage with Science Fiction. However, I believe I have not been representing Science Fiction to its fullest.
Recently, an African American man called George Floyd was murdered by four cops in USA. This is not the first instance of brutality against People Of Colour (POC), and it has been a catalyst for public outcry. People are sick to death of the way POC have been treated, sick of walking down the streets in fear, jogging in fear, people stopping them when they drive their own cars, walk in their own front yards. I really think the murder of George was the last straw.
For myself, I feel outraged and scared and I felt like I could trust police and I also didn’t, and I felt like I could trust governments and I also don’t. My father is a POC and my mother is white, so within me is a duality both in my heritage and the way I see the world, how much trust I place in authorities. I am white enough that I ‘pass’ as white but I’m not really… I am both and neither. My sister has been bullied repeatedly because of the colour of her skin… My dad has been told extremely hurtful things, had to work ten times harder than white colleagues and experienced a lot of other bad, racist things have happened to him as a black Trinidadian man making a life for himself in UK. that I’m certain he has withheld the extent of from us because he is a proud man and doesn’t want to hurt or scare or burden his children. My parents had to fight prejudice as a mixed race couple. Half of my extended family – grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunties – are POC, and the other half not. Our family surname is not white, and I can’t say what impact that might have had on all our job prospects, but it certainly has not been smooth sailing. Even with my family/heritage, I still have to check my privilege and think about using my privilege for good because I am privileged in a lot of ways. I have light skin, I’m educated, I have a good job, I live in a warm flat, I can drink clean water, eat good food and though I fear for my own safety due to queerness I do not live in fear of people because of my skin colour.
Now, in the light of this murder, I am reflecting inwardly and I know I can do more on sophfifest.com for POC. Every top 100 or new sci fi film I watch – with some notable exceptions – I constantly look for POC as leading or supporting men/mxn, women/womxn, trans, non binary or other gendered people and they are nowhere to be seen but it’s not enough to want change. You need to be out there, using your voice, telling anyone who is listening that you are choosing a different way. That the status quo is no longer suitable. I have been angry at the lack of POC in films, but I also have not actively sought them because POC films are not as easy to find and it’s easier to take what you are given. I now realise that this makes me part of the problem. If I want to see more POC in film, I actively need to be a voice for that. It’s not just on POC. It’s on me also. It’s on all of us.
I went to see a documentary at BFI recently called Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror about POC perspectives of Horror films and history. Firstly, I adored the docu. Go watch it now if you haven’t. It’s available to stream on Shudder here. Secondly, and most importantly, the perspective I gained from the docu was mind altering. I was told that throughout history POC have compared the creatures that we see in Horror films to themselves. The ‘otherness’ of these films, teaching people to be scared of things or people who are different implants this feeling of otherness to POC in their lives. They identify with it daily. That’s why representation is so important in all films. When children are shown that this is how to treat people who are different, you might come to believe that this is the norm.
The same is so in science fiction. For the most part, we’re told to fear Artificial Intelligence/Aliens because of the colour of their skin, because they look different, that they of course only wish to harm us, right? How often in sci fi films do we see those entanglements go positively? More often than not, they seem to be portrayed negatively. Additionally, another side effect of erasing POC from sci fi films is that POC are told that there is no future where they could exist. When we see dystopian or utopian future themed film, by excluding POC and portraying the future generations as only white people with blond hair – as has been produced in countless films – we are saying that POC do not matter. It’s just lazy filmmaking, lazy scriptwriting, shortsighted and racist. There’s a great infographic that you should check out which shows statistics for top 100 films in sci fi showing lack of diversity by Jason Low. It said that only 8% were protagonists of colour (none of whom were women) and that they were mostly Will Smith and one cartoon…. That’s crazy, isn’t it?! There was this exercise that shrunk the population of the world to 100 people. If we are to trust its math, it suggested that 30 of those people would be white and 70 non-white. Presuming If that’s the case, why are 99% of film only portraying 30% of the population?
I want http://www.sophfifest.com to be a forum for change, and if I want that I need to be part of the change. To that end, I pledge to read and watch and celebrate more Afrofuturism and POC films by and acted by/lead by POC, and by writing this intention, I will make it so.
(sophfifest.com now includes a reference section linking to artists and collectives that celebrate and explore the POC science fiction experiences and stories. Check them out. I will add more as I go!)