Modern Griots Recap: The Outsider in Science Fiction Panel

Source: MSNBC

I am one who likes to believe in synchronicity and having watched a National Geographic documentary a few days ago called, “When Aliens Attack,” this panel at the Museum of the Moving Image happened at the right time. What does our encounters and representations of the outsider or “alien” reveal about our psyches?

On Sunday, the museum curator Warrington Hudlin hosted the panel which featured moderator and founder of the sponsoring Philip K. Dick film festival Dan Abella, author Walter Mosley, director Alex Rivera (Sleep Dealer), writer and producer Lawrence Oliver Cherry, and director Carlos Molinero. Two of the panelists, author Sam Delany and writer and producer Lola Salvador unfortunately were not able to attend. Hudlin opened the discussion by explaining why he decided to put together the panel about African-American and Latinos in science fiction, saying that he wanted to show how these groups have transformed the artistic form despite being locked out from it. The panelists spoke of their own works and people of color’s voices in science fiction and speculative fiction provide a different lens of how to look at the world, in addition to how science fiction’s big ideas reveal deeper thoughts about humanity.

For example, Mosley’s latest books of novellas has black men destroying the world, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad, an idea that is often not explored. Or Cherry, who discussed his upcoming work The Mind of Julian Hand, about an Irish boy with Down’s Syndrome who is given psychic powers by a Native American man, and Shadowbox, about an inventor of color who creates technology that about advanced touch screens that can read information about you on your fingers from far away. His work centers on “de-alienating” cultures that often are seem “alien” to mainstream cultures despite having aspects of the former cultures seeping into the latter. Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer, about the complete sealing off of the United States and Mexico boundary leading to workers in Mexico telecommuting across the border, comments on the “irony of globalization” and digital technology in which people can be in a state of “being and non-being.”

The conversation moved to racial depictions and lack of diversity in science fiction books and films, including controversies over Avatar, Predator and Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars. Referring back to the beginning of my post, Rivera mentioned alien invasion fantasies often revolving around conquer and extermination of aliens, while in places like Mexico, the narrative can be about sexual contact between aliens and humans. The two different narratives show the psychologies of the countries from which they comes. Rivera also brought up that there a very few U.S. Latino people in the science fiction field and that the internalization of oppression and lack of representation has caused people of color to collectively not see themselves in that genre or sometimes envision different worlds or futures. Others, including Molinero, stated how the label of science fiction may not be used on certain works that are and that audiences at times can have certain notions when they think of science fiction, such as it is more sci-fi films as more action-filled than thought-provoking.

However, one problem I had with the panel was that I would have like to hear the female and queer people of color’s voices in this field, since all of the panelists were male, it was a male-dominated discussion, and science fiction is often thought of as a male-oriented genre. How do they handle being an outsider of the outsiders? Ending the panel was a conversation on the difficulties of the film industry and getting these films made, distributed, marketed and attracting audiences’ interest, but one thing for sure is that we are entering a time when the aliens get to speak for themselves in full force.

Below is The Last Push film trailer from one of the filmmakers and actor who attended the panel, Khary Payton.

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