Chapter 1's "Structured Absence And Token Presence" is the focus here, providing film examples alongside the sociopolitical events from which they emerged. I found it wildly fascinating and a fantastic introduction for text on sci-fi films and race. I'm not even denting the cosmic coaster of this detailed script, but I couldn't pass up an overview to demonstrate the appreciated efforts of Nama's work.
Historical Context: Confronting "the threat of cold war annihilation" imposed upon by those in power in Soviet Russia.
Film: When Worlds Collide (1951) "An impending collision between Earth and another planet" and "an elite cadre of American scientists constructs a spaceship that will ferry and small number of humans to another inhabitable planet."
Sparks ideas of "a powerful anxiety over the erosion of white imperialistic hegemony" as (racial) segregation sanctions were beginning to show signs of crumbling as well as xenophobic preservation in the popular perceptions of "developing" nations outside of the US and western Europe.
Historical Context: The full-fledged fight for social, political, and economic equality for Black US citizens throughout the entire country.
Film: The Time Machine (1960) A scientist "creates a time machine that will transport him from 1899 to the year 802701, where he discovers a world of two races" symbolic for all white (the above ground Eloi) and non-whites (the underground, cannibal Morlocks). The Morlocks superiority in this world reflects "the fear that whites will become victims of an unequal social system that previously privileged them."
"In The Time Machine the symbolic resolution to the protest marches--acts of civil disobedience and and increasing violence associated with the civil rights movement--is signaled by the elimination of all the people of color in the future." The film is a response to white anxiety over racial integration.
Films: Logan's Run (1976) is about this futuristic society where people are ceremoniously terminated when they turn 30. The rebellious ones are called "Runners" and Logan 5 (Michael York), a police officer, goes undercover to find out who's helping these Runners reach a place called Sanctuary. But Sanctuary is a trap lorded by a half-man/half-machine named Box (voiced by black actor Roscoe Lee Browne) who preserves Runners by freezing them.
Box suggests white disillusionment with Black civil rights ideologies as "a captivating "black" robot with a gift for grandiose oration," its name alone implying being trapped by "the symbolic confines of race and racial rhetoric". Only when Logan and his adventure companion Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter) are able to evade Box's purpose do they emerge to see Washington D.C., the treasure of America's great past as the film implies.
The film "reflects a cultural longing to return to an America prior to the civil rights movement by imagining a future world devoid of black people and advocating a host of ideological concessions related to the 1960s revolution, race relations, and America's political future."
Star Wars (1977) is mapped out as a groundbreaking, universally beloved franchise due to its grand use of themes such as good vs. evil, frontierism, and American folklore (28).
Episode 4: A New Hope - Nama argues, with the demonstration of Obi-Wan's description of the cantina and the scene that follows, "the blatant omission of black people in Star Wars heightens the symbolic value of the various aliens and space creatures found in the film."
The audience experiences "blackness aurally, as the intergalatic voice of doom" belonging to villain Darth Vader (voiced by black actor James Earl Jones).
Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - Nama goes into what he describes as "Affirmative Action Sci-Fi" with Billy Dee Williams' Lando Calrissian character. He is less of the "sidekick or token" but much more "complex and intriguing" because of the trajectory of the character leading into Return Of The Jedi.
Episode 6: Return Of The Jedi (1982) - Lando successfully attempts to correct the error in his judgment in aligning with Vader. However, Nama concludes that "the broader racial message remained: whites must be guarded toward blacks, and blacks must be evaluated according to their degree of allegiance to white interests," a narrative that was widely spun into orbit well into the 1990's.
To bring all this in, the chapter ends with a gust of enthusiasm for where science fiction films are going in regards to Black representation and depictions of future, alternative worlds that do not exclude and maybe even centralize black players. However, in both clear and abstract ways, Nama continues to stress that this terrain still grapples with race in highly contested ways.
I could suggest that and more, that as matters of race remain so egregiously relevant, sci-fi's essence of 'imagining beyond' is the perfect tool for centralizing the Black experience to paint the landscape with not only strife but promise.