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Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth: Adilifu Nama

12 Jul

Here are two reads I came across from Adilifu Nama, who is the associate professor and chair of the African American Studies Department at Loyola Marymount University:

Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes

Super Black places the appearance of black superheroes alongside broad and sweeping cultural trends in American politics and pop culture, which reveals how black superheroes are not disposable pop products, but rather a fascinating racial phenomenon through which futuristic expressions and fantastic visions of black racial identity and symbolic political meaning are presented. Adilifu Nama sees the value—and finds new avenues for exploring racial identity—in black superheroes who are often dismissed as sidekicks, imitators of established white heroes, or are accused of having no role outside of blaxploitation film contexts.

Nama examines seminal black comic book superheroes such as Black Panther, Black Lightning, Storm, Luke Cage, Blade, the Falcon, Nubia, and others, some of whom also appear on the small and large screens, as well as how the imaginary black superhero has come to life in the image of President Barack Obama. Super Black explores how black superheroes are a powerful source of racial meaning, narrative, and imagination in American society that express a myriad of racial assumptions, political perspectives, and fantastic (re)imaginings of black identity. The book also demonstrates how these figures overtly represent or implicitly signify social discourse and accepted wisdom concerning notions of racial reciprocity, equality, forgiveness, and ultimately, racial justice.

Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film

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.

Portions of the books can be read here and here. Also, Nama wrote an essay on race and science fiction, “Difference Engine: Aliens, Robots, and Other Racial Matters in the History of Science Fiction.”

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