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Films, Television, and Afrofuturism

Many Science Fiction films can now be linked to Afrofuturism in one way or another. Having an African American character that is represented within the film can be interpreted in many ways. In the past, African American actors were used as parts of the scenery, stereotyped characters, or having a non-speaking role. As the emergence of more Science fiction films began, so did the diversity of the casts. Focusing on the middle of the 20th century to the present, there have been films produced that show how an influence Afrofuturism is received at the box office. The small representation of people of color shows how Hollywood Science Fiction disregards the impact that other races would have in a Science Fictional future and shows that, “the limits on the imaginary are largely self-imposed” (Russell 213). To counterbalance the racial inequality, Science fiction dove into the other side of the creativity pool and decided to represent people of color as animals.

Science Fiction took this dive into the reversal of human and animal relations, but not without its racial undertones of course. Within the film Planet of the Apes, directed by Franklin Schaffner in 1968, we see how the world per Science Fiction would change if the human and simian roles were reversed. An astronaut crew manages to time travel and crash-land on an unknown planet, that is later discovered to be earth in the year of 3978. In this film the all humans are now the savages, whilst the simians are the civilized society. Schaffner draws on the comparative method that Darwin endorsed in the early 19th century, by having the humans become the, “supposedly lower races represented [at] the savage stage of universal development” (Sharp, 41). By doing this, Schaffner allowed the viewer to imagine that as humans we will all die as one or survive, regardless of color. In one scene, the humans are herded into cages like wild animals while wearing only scraps of tattered clothing and makeshift loincloths. This scene is eerily familiar to how African Americans are usually represented in Science Fiction films. The humans in the film have no spoken or written language due to, “man having no understanding or the mental capacity” with the exception to the astronaut Colonel George Taylor is given the nickname of “Bright Eyes-Taylor” by his simian captors (Planet of the Apes). Within the film, there is one African American character (Dodge), who is shot and killed less than thirty minutes into the film, and later in the film the simians explain his untimely demise to “Bright-Eyes Taylor” by stating, “Oh, yes. There was one who ... somehow ... died before we found out he could talk. He possessed a unique skin. We had it stuffed and put in our museum...It was black." (Planet of the Apes).

In this scene, we see that there is a hierarchy of simians: the lighter complexion orangutans are the politicians and lead doctors, the brown chimpanzees are the scientists and the brute security are the black gorillas. Schaffner established a hierarchy of skin tone, much like those that are prevalent in society of the 1960s. Schaffner reversed the American historical relationship between African Americans and whites within the film. White humans became the slaves in the film, whilst the black/brown simians represented the masters of Earth. In this scene, we see that the darkest of the simians are the most aggressive and loud. These gorillas are the ones that have shot, tied up and chased down the harmless Caucasian characters. By having a racist analogy comparing African Americans to apes, Schaffner showed the derogatory association that not only vilified African American representation within Science Fiction, but it increased the fears Caucasians had regarding the over population of African Americans that would eventually lead to a complete takeover of the planet (Russell, 203). Later in Science Fiction Films, there would be a chance for African Americans to have pivotal roles that would help break the stereotypes that were being thrust into Hollywood Science Fiction.

Planet of the Apes

20th Century Fox