SEPTEMBER 28, 2019
PEOPLE Seems inconceivable to consider the fantastic when this is the reality: an unarmed pregnant black woman murdered by the police, brown children torn from their parents and imprisoned in squalid detention camps, a black boy killed for holding a toy gun in a park. In the spaces where black and brown children should feel safe (the mother's womb, a park gazebo), the authorities designated to protect them instead see them as threats. But what is stranger or more shocking than the racial violence that filters in places where we should feel more afraid? And when is the fantasy more urgently needed than a reality so inhospitable that it cannot do without dreaming of other worlds? Perhaps this is why we are enchanted by the strange or the fantastic despite and even because of our problematic moment – for what it reveals about our psychology in our deepest traumas. Perhaps a novel by N. K. Jemisin launches us into a world that forces us to resist and survive, or a performance by Janelle Monáe or Tierra Whack brushes the eardrums with a magic that helps us prosper.
Over the past 20 years, new critical structures have emerged for the consideration and development of science fiction narratives that center on PoC voices and experiences. Key examples include the Afrofuturism of Mark Dery, Alondra Nelson, Sheree Renée Thomas (among others); the Africanfuturism described by Nnedi Okorafor; Chicanafuturism of Catherine S. Ramírez; Kinitra Brooks' fluid fiction; Grace Dillon's indigenous futurism and native slipstream; Animist realism by Harry Garuba; and Afrofuturism 2.0 by Reynaldo Anderson. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas is brilliant The Dark Fantastic raises essential questions about what happens when these items are absent. What happens to our imagination when the Black and Brown voices in fantasy are strangled, reduced, sacrificed? What are we losing?
Thomas's investigation leads to one of the most radiant and inspiring descriptions of the potentials of fantasy literature. In particular, what Thomas calls "the dark fantastic" – the fantasy that includes but hinders or stereotypes people of color – is problematic. However, if we want to write what Thomas calls "a dark emancipatory fantasy" – stories that interrupt the cycle of the tragic, sacrificial dark girl, and instead reveal it as complex, rebellious, central and vibrant – we could eventually succeed in "decolonizing our fantasies and our dreams ". And, as Thomas suggests, the ability to reconsider and reinterpret "the crisis of race in our legendary imagination has the potential to make our world again".
Thomas's clear and convincing theory on Dark Fantastic includes a wide range of famous films and television programs, including The games of hunger, emery, the Vampire Diaries, is Harry Potter. Thomas focuses specifically on girls or women with African origins and suggests that characters like Lady Guinevere of the Arthurian legend or Bonnie Bennett of the Vampire Diaries are considered less valuable once reinvented as Black. For example, Thomas claims that when the mixed-race actress Angel Coulby is chosen as Lady Guinevere (Gwen) on the TV show emery, is criticized by the spectators as too servile and not beautiful enough to interpret the legendary Arthurian queen. (While Thomas notices that some fans simply hoped that the relationship between Merlin and Arthur would become romantic, he clearly states that the criticisms directed at Gwen were due, in part, to his race.)
Similarly, the Vampire DiariesBonnie, who as a "copper-haired witch of Irish origin" in the novels was a central character with a love interest, becomes a secondary character whose "life is tied to the fate of a beloved white protagonist". These characters – Thomas refers to them as "the Other Dark" – undergoes a cycle of "spectacle, hesitation, violence and obsession" through narratives that encourage them to be seen as visually different (show), separated by collective memories and stories (hesitation), not protected and killed or sacrificed for the welfare of a white protagonist (violence) and as the unresolved tension "persecutes" the narrative, removed from its spiritual or mental reconciliation.
The idea of writing black or obscure girls who are both complex and vulnerable may not seem radical until you consider the anger of the fans when they discover the darkness or otherness of a character. Thomas points out that when a mixed-race actor was chosen as Rue in the film version of The Hunger games, a series of angry comments followed. Among them: "Embarrassing moment when Rue is a black girl and not the little innocent blonde you imagine", and, "Call me a racist but when I found out that rue was black, her death was not so sad."
Thomas explores this perception of a Black Rue as less "innocent" than a White, and also suggests that the racial difference allows Rue (and also Bonnie Bennett) to die, so that the white protagonist can live. To prove this discussion, Thomas becomes personal. His complex academic readings and analyzes are balanced by frank discussions about his niece's experiences and experiences with the fandom, as well as their genuine passion for the fantastic. When Daija, Thomas's nephew, informs Thomas that "just because I'm black doesn't mean I just want to read black girls", we understand what he means. Daija, like other readers, is able to fall in love with the characters of every race who are interesting, have adventures, face challenges and overcome them. What is problematic, Thomas reminds us, is the asymmetric production of these narratives and their usual positioning of black characters as serving the spiritual or mental growth of the white protagonist. Too often, Thomas writes, "The characters of black girls in traditional science fiction and fantasy offer no free will but are marked by narrative through death and obsession." Furthermore, an emotional investment in almost entirely white fantasy worlds that show the only character of the color, the Dark Other, in a restricted way has psychological costs: "This could be the reason why even black girls might find themselves attracted by the white protagonists, instead of by the black companions; Excessive identification with Black's storygirls often leads to a heartbreak that is no different from the pain experienced beyond the page and the screen. "
Some of these heartbreaks can be curative following ever-expanding artistic movements, such as Afrofuturism and Chicanafuturism, led by color creators. Thomas writes with hope of a "fantastic emancipatory black" able to "interrupt the dark fantasy cycle in order to create new paradigms", even if he describes a painful and pervasive anti-darkness and the need to write against it. Thomas states that while many of the characters he discusses have African origins, they are also of mixed race. Subtly, Thomas reminds us of the tragic mulatto tropics in literature and cinema (which died and infested the texts) and the historical anxieties of our society that involve any hint of black origin. For example, while Thomas describes in detail the animosity of the fans towards Gwen, it includes comments from viewers who claim that Gwen "seems very mixed and could interpret a different European ethnicity with a darker skin" or that "could pass as a number of European nationalities, namely Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Greek. "The simple suggestion of darkness or darkness, Thomas suggests, is enough to make viewers uneasy and question" the beauty and value of Gwen , its relativity and sympathy, as well as its accuracy and historical authenticity ".
Thomas makes several persuasive arguments about race and gender, and while he acknowledges that black boys are also denied innocence and protection, his specific attention to girls and women has allowed me to understand how our fairy tale readings are , for better or for worse, complicated by race. In one of the most compelling sections of the book, Thomas describes how many songs are geared towards women of color (think: Bunny DeBarge and variations by Mary J. Blige, Blackstreet and 2Pac; songs by Anita Baker and, more recently, Lianne La Havas) reject the concept of the fairy tale princess. Fairy tale princesses are obviously problematic. Perhaps it was expected that women of color and other women of color were self-sufficient and our rejection of the princess tropes could be celebrated as an affirmation of our independence. However, happiness in this culture is often associated with collaboration (living "forever happy and content"), and the songs, especially "A Dream" by Bunny DeBarge, suggest that black women are alienated by happiness and by the lasting company. Thomas explains how DeBarge's song "deconstructs the fairy dreams that George Lucas, Jim Henson and Walt Disney have sold for billions", while reinforcing the idea of romantic love as "a dream" and a "fantasy" simple and hopeless ".
Thomas is an expert in children's literature, known and respected both as a fan (The Dark Fantastic includes conversations with lay people in online communities) and an authority on SF (Thomas intertwines with important literary and cinematographic criticisms). His references are proactive and help us understand the lineage of his ideas. For example, an examination by Toni Morrison Playing in the dark reminds the reader that no one is truly invisible: the ideas associated with people in the shade (people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ + community) can continue to persecute a text. A reference to the concept of "misogynist" of the scholar Moya Bailey, the "mistreatment on the basis of both race and gender" reminds us how the characters in the dark fantastic could potentially resist or challenge racism and sexism. While Thomas examines the use of the misogynist, he suggests that the attitudes surrounding the mistreatment of "black girl characters" in fiction and literature spread in the "real world" and generate wider conversations about race and privileges. And a discussion by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen Monster theory provides a framework for Thomas's strongest arguments: while the monster may represent the difference, "the monster is different only from the perspective of those who have labeled the monster as monstrous". In other words, Thomas wants us to consider the difference as relative and circumscribed by energy. Who has the power to label someone as different or monstrous? And what happens psychologically to those declared monsters?
Rochelle Spencer is the author of AfroSurrealism: the surrealist fiction of the African diaspora (Routledge, 2019). He teaches Afro-surrealism at Sarah Lawrence College and at Fisk University.