Sunday, April 27, 2014
Sci-Fi Sunday: Kee's Promise in Children Of Men
2006's Children of Men is my all-time favorite movie. As an over zealous genre cinephile, this was hardly an easy declaration to assess but a very smooth transition to acceptance transpired. Not without its reasonable critiques, Children of Men does manage to provide the weight of limitless layers to unpack what both looks into a future that is not entirely unfathomable and allows us to confront the difficult themes currently relating to our actual, personal lives that are both specific and universal. The supporting-central character of Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) is what initially drew me into seeing what this film was all about. It was one of those brief glances you take when you're not really paying attention to your television but one image just stands out and you say to yourself, 'Oh, what was that about?'
She was a Black, pregnant character in what seemed to me a bleak sci-fi dystopia. I wanted to see how her story was handled and whether the screenwriters and director decided to "play it safe", arguably offend, or break all transgressive boundaries. Kee is not exclusively confined to any of these categories. I am not looking for the "perfect" depiction of Black women in genre film, I'm looking for the humanity within and through stereotypes, questionable symbolism, talented tenths, and overt exploitation.
What I enjoy so much about Kee is her position in the society in which she lives and the weight, literal and figurative, that she carries as the promise for a brighter future. While forces threaten to erase her existence as a citizen and human being, a silver lining forges to, at the very least give her the tools to be strengthened when there's no one left around. Additionally, what does it say about the world when the future of it rests in the womb of a young, Black woman?
Originally a novel by British author Phyllis Dorothy (P.D.) James, Children of Men has its share of well-known cast and crew members including director and writer Alfonso Cuaron (known for his directorial Oscar win for Gravity), Clive Owen (Theo), pre- 12 Years A Slave Chiwetel Ejiofor (Luke), Julianne Moore (Julian), and Michael Caine (Jasper).
Children of Men takes place in England 2027 where the world is riddled with turmoil over a terminally infertile human race and a country obsessed with boarder patrol. When Theo is approached by his old flame and "terrorist" group leader Julian to help transport a young woman refugee, Kee to a safe haven, he discovers that not all hope is lost and finds his initial reluctance grow into determination when Kee reveals that she is with child.
Although it is Theo's story arc, it is difficult not to be preoccupied with the larger picture of Kee and the world that surrounds him and the political importance of what becomes his mission. In Children of Men, Theo is good for story structure, but the atmosphere and supporting players create broader conversations about universal themes surrounding the creation of life, reproductive rights, government, control, privacy, and so forth. Kee, most central to this discussion.
With a society obsessed with eradicating difference in the name of... national security (?), Kee's existence is a clear threat to the new order. Britain's imaginable and harsh immigration policy, only exacerbated by infertility plays as the answer to infertility. Eradicating the presence of the Other, people that are foreign and relieving the taint of mixing comes into play with Kee's position. Her pregnancy challenges Britain's ideal, its concept of the perfect society that infertility has nailed the final coffin of dystopia in. The group rightfully fears that Britain and the world will refuse to humanize this un-posh young Black woman and do everything in their power to pass her baby off as belonging to some "posh Black British woman" instead.
It is difficult to make the case for Kee's agency. Throughout the entire film, decisions are nearly forced upon her. Her goal to get to the Tomorrow boat/human project seems to be the decision of the group she's with. When that group meets to discuss how her child will/would/should come into this world, they speak as if she isn't even in the room until they, in that ultimatum, schoolyard choose-your-best-friend-or-else way, ask if her if she wants to stay in their "safe" house or risk the transport dangers to get to the boat. But soon the audience learns that Kee's baby is nothing but a bargaining chip for their cause.
Which is pretty ironic considering their cause is immigrant equal rights in Britain. When the very immigrant they "protect" they're de-humanizing.
Kee's autonomy and modes of moving the story along come in spurts. She very quickly trusts Theo because of the sub-text of her strong relationship with Julian. Upon multiple viewings, I've picked up on what was not seen. Prior to following Theo's role in Kee's journey to motherhood, Julian took her under a maternal wing. She tells Kee about the child she lost, about Theo (the father of her child), all the while gaining Kee's trust without an egregious ulterior motive. Kee reveals these hints in snippet exchanges with Theo, telling him what Julian has disclosed to her. It's clear Julian's goal was for her to reach the human project.
We are not lead to know to anymore about this project but there's an ambiguous hope that Julian's contact with them is for Kee's well being and the human race.
So with trust, Kee shows no hesitation when she chooses to leave with Theo when he tells her the group conspired to kill Julian, forsaking everyone and everything she's known throughout her pregnancy. For cinematic effect, she reveals the top half of her bare body to help Theo understand why her transport to safety is so critical. And despite once feeling like a "freak" for "never seeing a pregnant woman before," she chooses to embrace her physical state and protect her child, refusing to symbolize and commodify him/her as a "flag that could unite us all".
Despite Kee's most touching moments being a tool for Theo to change, to feel and emote, there's always been something powerful about the first pregnant woman in an 18 year span in a fictitious future world being a young Black woman from a lower rung in society. This means many things: her state could be considered a mark on the magical negro spectrum and primarily for those who see a mirror of themselves through Kee's race and class representation, this conjures that radical idea that Black women are valuable.
There's no way I can collect every single piece of collective thought and action that has told us the contrary. As far as film is considered, I've always viewed Children of Men as a great piece to opening dialogue about where Black female bodies in speculative works need to go in order to feel more holistic and true to the experiences of Black women. Needless to say, those narratives are far from one note rightfully use our multiplicitous present to tell us about our beautifully complex future.
I want to see a sequel through the lens of Kee as her motherhood is hers and no one else's. Critical is the evolution of our stories being told and I'm so happy to see it slowly coming into fruition with a magnitude of support.
*For more insight, read "Children Of Men and a Plural Messianism" by Sarah Schwartzman
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