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Blue Pill or Red Pill?

The film The Matrix directed by the Wachowski siblings in 1999, shows a post-apocalyptic world. This fictional human civilization is being destroyed by a computer system known as the Matrix. This destruction is done in a smoke and mirrors type of way, being that the humans that reside within the Matrix, do not know it is happening. The Matrix was simply a, “mood altered reality, due to neural interactive simulation, in order to keep humans pacified and used for energy”, so that the sentient computers could continue to survive (The Matrix). Within the film, humanity has survived in this state for almost two hundred years. In a sense, the computer programs thrust the humans to live in the Matrix to ensure the overall sense of security and ignorance

The film follows the typical story of a hero, who goes through obstacles, and saves the day at the last minute. However, this would not occur if the hero hadn’t been coached and guided by a few pivotal characters. The first character that the audience is introduced to is Trinity, a Caucasian woman who is not to be trifled with. Trinity is of a slim build, has what could be considered a masculine haircut and is wearing latex pants and tank top. In the opening scene with Trinity, the lighting envelops a room in a drab green hue and the only light emitted is from the flashlights that are mounted atop police rifles. The idea that a woman can be strong is brought to question when the sentient agents arrive to the scene and the police officers tell them that Trinity is just “one woman” so the issue will be handled quickly. Although Trinity is a slim woman, the audience is shown that she has a very powerful combat knowledge and swiftly kills all the police officers in the room. This is an example of how as a society, we have become so accustomed to the stereotype that women are weaker than men and in need of being controlled by them. The Wachowski siblings make a point to show that although a woman may be small in stature, due to men underestimating her strength, she can use this to her advantage. By opening the film with a strong female lead, the Wachowski siblings provide the audience with the idea, that reality outside of the Matrix understands the power of womankind.

Throughout the film, Trinity is always in pants and never in a dress, as a way to illustrate that she is a fighter and on the same level as her male counterparts. Even in her pants, Trinity is still sexualized due to the tightness of the pants and the fact that she is constantly wearing high heeled boots. This is a subtle way that the character has been sexualized and shown to have a feminine side. Throughout the film, Trinity is shown to be more emotional than her male shipmates, by speaking aloud how she feels and admitting her love for the lead character. The argument isn’t that Trinity is being stereotyped as a damsel in distress, but it is clear that the character is being portrayed in a way that is showing her to be desirable, as no other character is.

The second pivotal character is Morpheus, an African American captain of a space shuttle (The Nebuchadnezzar) that will also become the lead characters’ teacher and friend. Morpheus is the person who brings our hero Neo into the Matrix and acts as his guide to learn his purpose and fight against the sentient beings that threaten to destroy those who would oppose their computer-generated used to keep humans calm and under control. Morpheus states that all humans are slaves, who are born into bondage, born into a prison that humans cannot smell, taste, or touch. In the Matrix, humans are prisoners of their own mind (The Matrix). This idea that humans must free their mind in order to recognize the oppression they are being subjected to, “is an Afrofuturist setting, where Morpheus expresses the need for the African American community to wake up”, and realize how society is treating them (Elia 90). it could be argued that the character is speaking to all of society and not just the African American community, being that everyone that resides on the space ship are treated equally and fairly.

There is no doubt that the directors of The Matrix film created the character Morpheus to guide Neo through his journey as a way parallel the Greek God of dreams and sleep, who is also named Morpheus. By making this character African American, the directors allowed the character to be seen as something other than a stereotype. What is worth pointing out, is that Morpheus is an African American character who is constantly talking about the absolute freedom that could be obtained once the Matrix is destroyed, though slavery in this fictional Earth would have taken place more than three hundred years ago. Although, The Matrix film shows that “both the science-fiction movie and the scenario are examples of cybernetic futurism that talks of things that haven’t happened yet in the past tense”, Afrofuturism sought out a way to do the same for people of color. In a way slavery hasn’t happened in this fictional matrix world, and yet the character, named after the God of dreams and sleep, may have another reason for wanting freedom so badly.

The last pivotal character that helps the main character Neo on his journey to becoming who he is destined to be, was the Oracle. The character of the Oracle is portrayed by an African American female, who gives Neo the prophecy of his future within the Matrix. The audience is first introduced to the Oracle as she is in the kitchen with an apron on and baking cookies. Immediately the audience can parallel this character with the romanticized mammy house slave archetype, due to similar dress and mannerisms. The mammy in the era of slavery, was an elderly African American woman that was a type of surrogate mother to the Caucasian master’s children, as well as being a domestic worker. With all the responsibility, the mammy, much like the Oracle, had no power over their own fate. The role of the Oracle is to tell the person their future or destiny, so that the individual could, “experience and propose counter-histories that reconsider the role of [the individual] in society in the past and imagine alternative roles in the future” (Elia 84). By doing this, the Oracle is opening an individual’s mind to various possibilities and newer futures, much like Afrofuturism seeks to imagine a type of utopic possible future. The Oracle in the matrix tells Neo of his fate and leaves it up to him, whether he would accept her knowledge or not. Although the Oracle is seen as a powerful and all-knowing person, she is in fact helpless to what the matrix could do to her. The Oracle would appear to represent another African American character that is placed within the matrix, in order to help the hero, succeed in his journey. But upon further inspection, once can conclude that The Matrix is mirroring past histories and hoping to alter the fictional future.

The Matrix generated world is a clear example of what life is like in a dystopian society. The humans are unaware of the dangers around them and those who are aware can choose to fight or take a pill that will make them forget that they are in any form of danger. This type of science and technology only benefits the computers and those who embrace them. Although a dystopia, The Matrix film shows non-white people as the potential saviors of the world as we know it. Race seems non-existent in this future war story. Through embracing that humans are a general race and that the computers are an alien race, The Matrix invites the audience to challenge the thought that race has no place in the future. To embrace the absence of racism displayed in a future world shows that however dystopic it may be, it is still more tolerable than the world that we currently reside in.

Through early representations of Science Fiction, technology and innovation is male dominated and they are seen as the most competent, while women seem to fall by the wayside. The race of choice that is mainly represented in Science Fiction is white, although there are a few minor characters that represent other races throughout the stories. One of the ongoing themes throughout early Science Fiction is that no matter where in space or time, women are always controlled by their emotions and are seen as the weaker sex. In comparison to the gender roles that are prevalent in Science Fiction, there is also the issue of racism. Gradually Science Fiction, such as The Matrix, shows that films are embracing the image of a multiracial future and once it is fully embraced, Science Fiction will become even more of a staple in different forms of media. It is not without taking one step forward into a multiracial future, does Science Fiction take two steps back, to provide said future with blatant racism towards those who do not fit into the fictional norms and negative stereotypes.

The Matrix

Warner Bros.

1999

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