With the next presidential election only a few months away, let us look back on the symbolism of a black president through speculative film and think about the new considerations we must think about now that we have one. In a 1961 speech at the Liberation Committee for Africa, James Baldwin offered a critical response to Robert F. Kennedy promise that the United States would have a black person as president in the future: “And in any case, what really exercises my mind is not this hypothetical day on which some other Negro ‘first’ will become the first Negro President. What I am really curious about is just what kind of country he’ll be President of.” Four years after the election of Barack Obama and seeing the country as it is now, Baldwin was prophetically and sadly right.
Mediascape posted two documentaries that explore the representation of the black presidents in various speculative works, including science fiction films and satires. Read the description below and click on Mediascape to see the films:
Only in the most contemporary moment has the notion of a black president been a historical reality, and yet this imagined figure has been represented in film as far back as 1933’s Rufus Jones for President played by a seven-year old Sammy Davis, Jr. to Terry Crews’ hypermuscular President Comacho in 2006’s Idiocracy. “White House, Black President” studies the imagination of black presidency and its politics of representability in three areas. In an act of retroactive reclamation, Clifford Hilo’s “Barack Obama and the Politics of Joy” searches for the apropos filmic metaphor for President Barack Obama and finds it in representations of Abraham Lincoln. In dialog with Adilifu Nama’s Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction, Julia Wright’s “Black to the Future” explores the intersection between blackness and science fiction films since the 1990s, asserting that the presence of black presidents in such a genre provides a meditation on blackness, masculinity, and social progress in America. Maya Smukler’s “White House Humor” examines the use of political satire by black comics such as Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Chris Rock, in which humor arises from the incongruencies between race, power, and American history–for these comics, it is precisely the improbability of such a representation that, until recently, that has supplied the notion of a black presidency with such satirical valence.