In science fiction ideas about human subjectivity and identity have traditionally been established in a comparison between self (human) and Other (non-human) characters. So, the alien, monster or robot of science fiction may provide an example of Otherness, against which a representation of 'proper' human subjectivity is established, interrogated and, on occasion, problematised. Images of Otherness in science fiction can be understood as a metaphor for forms of Otherness within society or between societies and in this way the genre can engage with the fears and anxiety surrounding a given society's Others. Preceding chapters have concentrated on the representation of gender and sexuality, but received notions of human subjectivity and identity are also bound up with issues surrounding race and ethnicity. Based upon classificatory models largely constructed in the nineteenth century, qualities and traits have often been assigned to particular races with the assumption that the race in question is homogenous and that individuals belonging to various racial groupings are the vessels of essential racial characteristics. So racial markers, as with the markers of sexuality, are frequently referred to as 'evidence' of an essentialised being that is separate and divided from other modes of being. However, divisions between self/Other have not always been based upon models of a clear cut opposition. For instance, as Robert J. C. Young points out:
Racial difference in the nineteenth century was constructed not only according to a fundamental binary division between black and white but also through evolutionary social anthropology's historicised version of the Chain of Being. Thus racialism operated both according to the same-Other model and through the 'computation of normalities' and 'degrees of deviance' from the white norm. (1)
Both of these classificatory models were imbued with value judgements which underpinned the attempt to naturalise various power structures: the dominance of one over another, even the right of one to define another. Since the rise of the civil rights movement and second-wave feminism in the 1960s, attempts have been made to challenge and disrupt the paradigms that have been used to support racial inequalities. The disruption has taken many forms but more recently the concept of hybridity has been used to draw attention to the falsity, both conceptually and literally, of traditional models involving precise division and essential difference.
One of the main academic areas to have explored and developed ideas surrounding hybridity is postcolonial theory. Like feminist theory, postcolonial studies has shifted from being dominated by a discourse of opposition to one that could be described in terms of negotiation; a kind of struggle from within as opposed to taking a stand from outside has emerged. In this sense the idea of the racial and cultural hybrid has been central to the growth of theories that aim to counteract concepts of purity and exclusivity as the necessary components in a claiming of selfhood.
Stuart Hall, in his article, 'New Ethnicities', succinctly outlines a change in the approach of political movements concerned with racial issues, from an earlier unifying stance to a greater acknowledgement of cultural differences among racial groupings. He states that:
The term 'black' was coined as a way of referencing the common experience of racism and marginalisation in Britain and came to provide the organising category of a new politics of resistance, amongst groups and communities with, in fact, very different histories, traditions and ethnic identities. (2)
Hall goes on to note how various black activists, artists and cultural workers, in these early stages, fought against their marginalisation within society and also against the way in which they were represented/defined by a dominating white community. Activists therefore contested the 'stereotypical quality and the fetishised nature of images of blacks, by the counter-position of a "positive" black imagery'.
(3) So, in these early days, the supposedly distinct opposition between white and black which had been used to underpin white supremacy, was co-opted and reversed. (4) Although Hall notes that this kind of strategy still exists, he describes a more recent move towards what he sees as 'a change from a struggle over the relations of representation to a politics of representation itself.'' (5) He states that this shift has marked ' "the end of innocence", or the end of the innocent notion of the essential black subject'. (6)
This underlying transformation in approach has been influenced by post-structuralist theory and, in terms of postcolonial studies, the figure of the leading theorist, Homi K. Bhabha, stands at the centre of these debates. By drawing upon a mixture of Lacanian psychoanalysis and poststructuralist theory Bhabha expounds a model of hybridity as based upon 'a kind of "doubleness" in writing: a temporality or representation that moves between cultural and social processes' and calls this in-between interval, Third Space. (7) Bhabha goes on to say:
It is significant that the productive capacities of this Third Space have a colonial or post-colonial provenance. For a willingness to descend into that alien territory - where I have led you - may reveal that the theoretical recognition of the split-space of enunciation may open the way to conceptualising an international culture, based not on the exoticism or multiculturalism of the diversity of cultures, but on the inscription and articulation of culture's hybridity. To that end we should remember that it is the 'inter' - the cutting edge of translation and negotiation, the in-between, the space 'of the entre that Derrida has opened up in writing itself - that carries the burden of meaning of culture ... by exploring this hybridity, this 'Third Space', we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves. (8)
So, in a practical sense, we can assume that Bhabha's notion of hybridity extends not only to the colonised, but also to the coloniser. For instance, if the racial Other is culturally hybrid, having taken on or negotiated with aspects of the coloniser's culture, then the traffic goes both ways - meaning that the coloniser, in a hegemonic appropriation of an-Other's culture, can also be understood as 'de-purified'.
Bearing in mind the body of work that I have referred to above and the enormous amount of academic focus upon the politics of representation, it is surprising that discussion of issues surrounding racial and cultural differences/resemblances in science fiction has remained marginal. While this is changing (recent studies have, for instance, paid some attention to the racial issues at the heart of the current crop of cyber-thrillers), the relative dearth of work in this area may simply reflect a lack of study, in terms of race, in connection with a whole range of science fiction images.
Of course, this may be partly explained by the manifest concerns that science fiction films have exhibited. For instance, although some of the most iconic figures in the previously discussed, big-budget blockbuster films, were marked as foreign - usually in terms of extra-filmic associations via star persona (e.g. Schwarzenegger's Austrian heritage, Van Damme's persona as the 'muscles from Brussels') - this "as been conservatively drawn. As Richard Dyer points out, in his approach to me specificity of representations of racial and cultural 'whiteness':
Attention is sometimes paid to 'white ethnicity'. . . but this always means an identity based on cultural origins such as British, Italian or Polish, or Catholic or Jewish, or Polish-American, Irish-American, Catholic-American and so on. These however are variations on white ethnicity . . . and the examination of them tends to lead away from a consideration of whiteness itself. (9
So, for example, the hybrid/cyborg figures in films like The Terminator (dir. James Cameron, 1984) and Universal Soldier (dir. Roland Emmerich, 1992) are performed by white males and even though facets of their identity are 'uncertain', any exploration of racial aspects does not appear to move very far from a Traditional concept of white, Western masculinity. Alternatively, racial issues nave been frequently masked in science fiction. Where academics have tended to concentrate on the representation of characters and/or actors within the 'realist' genres, a classic convention within science fiction film involves a more or less covert coverage of racial and ethnic tensions.
Therefore, in order to explore this somewhat overlooked area, the chapter will concentrate on how issues surrounding racial/ethnic identity and subjectivity are inscribed in science fiction films. In my view there is much that remains to be said about the genre's treatment of racial issues, but my forthcoming discussion and analysis will be largely confined to the representation of African-Americans or Afro-Caribbean-Americans and the figuration of the 'oriental' in science fiction films. In order to provide a cultural-historical backdrop to later discussions surrounding recent "virtual reality' films, the following two sections will be split into sub-sections.
The first begins by looking at the representation of black characters within the genre in American film and television of the 1960s and 1970s, pertinent film examples from the 1980s, before finally concentrating on films from the 1990s. The second is then similarly sub-divided, looking at the representation of the 'oriental' in American-produced films, leading to a discussion of the Orientalism apparent in recent 'virtual reality' films. The chapter then closes by taking a brief look at a recent cycle of European and/or American/European co-produced films, launched into a global market place in the 1990s.
REPRESENTATIONS OF 'BLACKNESS' IN SCIENCE FICTION
OF THE 1960S AND 1970s
Since the early days of cinema, black characters (or 'blacked-up' characters) have been a regular feature in musicals and have also made a more limited
appearance in horror films. Yet, even given the close relationship between these fantasy genres, science fiction has traditionally remained a remarkably white genre and it was rare to see a black character at all in films before the 1960s. However, marking a distinct shift from the usually all-white casts of 1950s science fiction films, the Star Trek television series (first aired on NBC in 1966) introduced audiences to the multi-racial crew on board a futuristic spaceship called the Enterprise, and an African-American woman (Nichelle Nichols) famously took up a central role as the communications officer, Lt Uhura. In parallel to the multi-racial, human crew of the Enterprise, Star Trek regularly featured encounters with alien beings from other worlds. Although many of the alien characters were initially played by white stuntmen/actors, as the series progressed racial and national lines were drawn in the casting of the aliens.
Of course, it is too simplistic to assume that issues concerning race and ethnicity are necessarily more fully explored if central characters are replaced by actors of non-white descent, but this science fiction television series did provide employment opportunities for non-white actors on an unprecedented scale. Of course, the roles specifically offered to non-white performers usually required that they become all but unrecognisable behind heavy prosthetics and make-up or be represented as loyal supporters of the Federation. In other words, non-white performers were allowed human status within the narrative logic of the series if they were seen to conform to a dominant white ideology: they were allowed 'into the club' if they played by 'white rules'.
The Star Trek television series both engaged and disengaged with the burgeoning racial conflicts of 1960s America. Although the series acknowledged African-Americans in its casting, it also presented audiences with a kind of Utopian future in which conflicts had been resolved and peaceful relations had been made possible under the 'melting-pot' governance of a liberal humanist government. On one level, the Enterprise's mission 'to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations' (10) can certainly be read as an allegory enabling the series to engage with the international political manoeuvres of the period. On another level, engagement with internal racial conflicts was also neatly displaced onto conflicts between humans and alien beings from other worlds (read nations), in a kind of two-phase denial of contemporary America's domestic disputes.
Following the Star Trek television series and along with the emergence of the mainstream science fiction film in the late 1960s and early 1970s (as discussed in Chapters 3 and 4), the Planet of the Apes series of films (released in 1968. 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973) (11) also used allegory to explore racial conflict. However, in these films the location was Earth and oppositions and conflicts based upon race were not played out between terrestrial and extra-terrestria beings, but via an inter-species war: apes (orang-utans/chimpanzees/gorillas) on one side and humans on the other. Even though the science fictional setting can be understood as another example of a safe space within which to investigate contemporary political and moral struggles, given the long history of racist discourse that likens the ape and monkey to peoples of African origin, it is hard to imagine that audiences at the time would really have missed the racial implications in these films.
Looking at the first film in the series, the narrative follows a group of human astronauts who are accidentally catapulted into a future world. Planet of the Apes (dir. Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968) initially sets up a binary opposition between ape and white human, (12) presenting the audience with a world in which orang-utans and chimpanzees rule over and enslave a more primitive human population. Simian superiority and dominance is marked in their power of speech, as offset against the mute human population of this future world. This binary balance is disrupted upon the arrival of the speaking astronauts and, in a racial reversal of the civil rights struggles of the period, the surviving white astronaut, Taylor (Charlton Heston), is forced to fight for freedom and recognition as an intelligent, thinking being. Significantly, it is a couple of chimpanzee characters (Cornelius and Zira) who befriend Taylor and who enable him to escape the wrath of the orang-utan leader Dr Zaius.
In his detailed account of the series, Eric Greene reads these chimpanzees as the 'Jewish apes' in this film (13) and I would suggest that they were therefore located in a kind of "Chain of Being' in between black ape and white human. Cornelius and Zira are marked apart from the chimpanzee guards who also feature in the film. Much darker in complexion, it is the guards who blithely mete out punishment and who act as the enforcers of orang-utan law. In contrast, the orang-utans have blond hair, are paler in complexion than the chimpanzees, and dictate the law of the land. Complexion therefore dictates certain behavioural characteristics: the dark chimpanzees represent an extreme unthinking, animalistic violence and the pale orang-utans represent a cold and controlling rationality. The positioning of the 'Jewish apes' sandwiches them in between these two extremes, between orang-utan and dark chimpanzees and also between ape and man. The paler chimpanzees' understanding, empathy and less violent approach to inter-species tension indicates that they are civilised and perhaps closer to a human ideal. However, in associating the 'properly human' subject with whiteness, white rule and white subjectivity is also critiqued in the film in the aligning of the white man with the ruthless and domineering orang-utans.
On the one hand, the species war that ensues in the film obviously draws upon racist myths and can be read as playing out the fears of white Americans concerning the civil rights movement and the violent, racial confrontations of the period. On the other hand, the films can be understood as working to expose the essentialist myths at the core of interracial antagonism and inequality. Unlike patently liberal films of the time that also approached race relations, like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (dir. Stanley Kramer, 1967), the Planet of the Apes series does not present audiences with ready-made solutions to racial conflict. For example, by the end of the first film inter-species conflict is not resolved through peaceful understanding and a conclusion is only brought about upon the geographical separation of ape and man. Distinct from the Star Trek series of this period, the Apes series of films did not present audiences with a futuristic vision of a peaceful society in which harmony is restored or difference subsumed by an all-encompassing Federation. Instead, they presented audiences with a future/present world in which racial difference equalled inequality, violent discord, division and conflict.
THE AFRICAN AMERICAN ALIEN IN 1980S SCIENCE FICTION FILM
What I would call the 'conspicuous allegory' witnessed in the late 1960s and early 1970s Apes films was also adopted in a later cycle of films released in the mid to late 1980s. Mainstream films like Enemy Mine (dir. Wolfgang Peterson, 1985), Predator (dir. John McTiernan, 1987) and Alien Nation (dir. Graham Blaker, 1988) all presented thinly disguised explorations of race relations through the device of white human male coupled with alien. In both Enemy Mine and Predator, a heavily suited and facially disguised black male actor is coupled with a white male actor. In Enemy Mine the human male (played by Dennis Quaid) plays opposite a lizard-like alien (played by Louis Gossett Junior) and in Predator our white action hero (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) is set off against the dreadlocked, eponymous alien (played by Kevin Peter Hall) featured in the film. Racialised oppositions were obviously indicated in the costuming and casting in these films. It is also interesting that the degree of threat posed by the black-alien figures is signalled in the respective height of the actors chosen to play these roles (Louis Gossett Junior is 6' 4" and Kevin Peter Hall is 7' 2/ 1/2"), making the white human male appear vulnerable by comparison.
Enemy Mine opens with human and alien in violent conflict, but then proceeds to focus upon a growing understanding and mutual affection between the human, Davidge, and alien 'drac'. Separated from their compatriots, the two are forced to form an uneasy alliance in order to survive the harsh environment of a distant planet on which they have crash landed. Violent tension between the couple is eased through interpersonal contact and education in each other's culture and beliefs. The narrative then takes a turn when the alien reveals that s/he is pregnant, at which point they take up their respective roles of contented mother-to-be and nervous, expectant father. Although this is played partly for humour, their differences become manifestly re-inscribed in sexual/gender terms, resulting in the féminisation of the alien. As Frantz Fanon's early work teaches us, the colonised subject has often been situated within sexualised discourses in which the Other is frequently feminised. (14)
It would therefore be easy to see the féminisation of the alien at this point as reiterating, along sexualised lines, the power relations of a colonial discourse. However, the harmony reached in this gender re-balance is short-lived when the birth of the baby drac (called Zammis) brings about the death of the adult alien. Davidge, as sole parent of the alien off-spring, feeds and cares for the baby and effectively becomes both father and mother to the drac. This ambiguous gender role appears to parallel the uncertain sexual identity previously assigned to the adult drac. Once the infant drac reaches puberty,1^ further humans and dracs return to the planet to set up a mining colony. At this point, the dracs have become enslaved and ruled over by the humans, who force them into hard labour. Davidge realises that the mining colony presents a danger to both him and the drac and attempts to stay hidden, but Zammis yields to curiosity and travels to the mine. There Zammis witnesses the savage treatment that his fellow dracs are forced to undergo at the hands of the human slave masters and he is also captured and forced into slavery. The violent rift between human and alien is repaired when Davidge turns against his fellow human beings to rescue the child, eventually returning Zammis to the drac home planet and overseeing the drac's rites of passage into adult society.
This film is obviously calling for racial harmony and understanding, but the way in which it draws upon the sort of sexualised discourse, recognised by Fanon, in its dramatisation of race relations is especially interesting. It seems that in order to overcome the oppositional conflicts brought about by racial difference, the film requires that both human and drac take up an ambivalent role in terms of their gendered identities. So, tolerance and understanding becomes a feminine trait that each has to acquire. Having said this, it is notable that the adult drac's féminisation is essentialised, while the human's is articulated simply in terms of the role he undertakes as father/mother to the drac. Even though erosion of difference is offered up as a possible solution to racial conflict, the film therefore remains predicated upon an essential self/Other divide.
While Predator is structurally similar to Enemy Mine, it certainly does not present audiences with the same kind of liberal humanist message. Given Predator's obvious references to the Vietnam film (i.e. many of the scenes appear to reference films like Apocalypse Now [dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), it is interesting that the alien is not marked as 'oriental' but as Afro-American/Black. The black character here is figured as the polar opposite to the white human, allowing for a direct and simplified mode of adversarial combat as the fight for supremacy begins. This is set up clearly at the beginning of the film when Dutch meets with his former friend, Dillon (Carl Weathers), and they greet each other with a ritualistic arm wrestle. Needless to say, the white hero, Dutch, emerges as victor over the black man, Dillon, who concedes defeat.
In Predator, apart from a female hostage and Dutch, the special forces team sent into the jungle to investigate strange disappearances are all killed off by an alien hunter. In order to survive, Dutch is therefore forced to learn about this enemy. However, unlike Enemy Mine, this process is not undertaken in order
to reach peaceful settlement, but in order to gain strategic advantage. The alien initially has a strong tactical advantage because he wears a highly technological camouflage suit that makes him all but invisible. But, in the closing stages of their battle, Dutch realises that covering himself in black mud means that this also makes him invisible to his adversary. This is justified within the narrative as producing a cooling effect that does not allow for the alien's 'heat seekers' to detect Dutch, but, visually, it makes Dutch look black; thereby aligning him with this adversary. While the alien is obviously technologically superior the implication is that he is essentially more primitive as Dutch eventually proves his 'natural' superiority in defeating this predator.
I am not suggesting that this is the first time that this kind of conjunction has cropped up in film. Indeed, this is all highly reminiscent of the closing scenes in Apocalypse Now when the American captain (played by Martin Sheen) 'goes native' just prior to dispatching the renegade colonel (played by Marlon Brando). Of course, Apocalypse Now, in turn, pays homage to Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness (first published 1902), in which the jungle native comes to stand for the 'primitive' side of white masculinity. However, in Predator, Dutch's return to this primitive state suggests that he becomes more fully and authentically human; his 'natural' strength and fighting prowess is thereby pitted against' the 'unnatural', technologically enhanced skills, of his alien adversary. Dutch becomes a kind of 'noble savage', a figure that can be traced back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's philosophical writings of the eighteenth century. Very briefly, even though Rousseau upheld that civilisation was necessary in providing a system of law that was moral and just to govern social existence, he also contended that man is essentially an uncivilised 'noble savage' when surrounded by a natural environment and living according to the rules of nature. The 'noble savage' was seized upon in later novels and stories and developed into a European myth. Colonised natives could then be understood as primitive but pure, as a more authentic version of humanity in a comparison with the civilised Westerner. The 'noble savage' is therefore simply a projection of a white fantasy written onto the body of a colonised people and the black man's 'primitive authenticity' is realised only as represented by the white man or seen through the white man's eyes. In classifying people according to the colour of their skin, there is also a sense in which the subject is reduced to a 'body'. As Victor Bürgin has commented, ' "people of colour" are embodied people. To have no colour is to have no body'. (16) In other words, to be white suggests a disembodied positioning, which can be placed in opposition to the body of the native. Therefore, the black body can stand in for the displaced body of the white man. In Predator it seems that Dutch's 'return to the body', his return to a primitive and more authentically 'human' state upon his entrance into the jungle and upon his fight for survival against the alien, is marked by taking on the 'black mask' of the 'noble savage'.
As discussed in Chapter 4, blockbuster science fiction films of the 1980s were inclined towards setting up simplistic binary oppositions. In comparison, the relatively small numbers of American independent science fiction films made in the 1980s tended to articulate a more complex account of the social worlds they presented. For example, inhabiting that shady world of art house/cult/low-budget/auteur filmmaking, films like The Brother from Another Planet (director/writer/editor: John Sayles, 1984) and Repo Man (director/screenplay Alex Cox, 1984) can be more readily allied with films released in the early to mid-1970s in their representation and concern with the experience of alienation and estrangement in a decaying, urban environment. But, given the focus of this chapter, The Brother from Another Planet is of particular interest in its overt and ironic examination of racial difference. Here an extraterrestrial alien I played by Joe Morton) escapes from slavery and crash lands on Ellis Island (the official gateway for immigrants arriving in New York Harbour between 1892 and 1954). Although the film is loosely held together by a narrative involving the alien's escape from two white slave masters (played by John Sayles and David Strathairn), it is largely an assemblage of episodic encounters in which the alien's identity is continuously constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed.
After making his way over to New York City, our illegal alien wanders the streets of Harlem and is finally befriended by the African-American regulars in a local bar. At first they find his behaviour odd, but quickly embrace him as a brother (a fellow African-American): his three-toed difference from them remains hidden inside his shoes and his inability or unwillingness to speak allows these Harlem residents to self-project and welcome him into the fold. Eventually put to work fixing pinball machines, his fellow worker, a Puerto Rican called Hector (Jaime Tirelli), attempts to ascertain where the alien is from. Speaking to him in Spanish (notably subtitles are not provided), Hector asks him if he is from Puerto Rico and eventually assumes he comes from his own home town. So, Hector also projects his own racial/geographical origins onto the alien. 'Black', as a resistant and oppositional 'organising category' is ironically revisited and acted out in these two scenes, simultaneously high¬lighting and compounding resemblance and difference. However, the alien's muteness does not always result in unquestioned acceptance. For instance, it was earlier read as 'guilt' by a Korean shopkeeper, when the alien could not explain himself, and is understood as 'ignorance' by his white employer (played by Michael Mantell), whose own brand of glib essentialism allows him to stress an assumed superiority and difference from his employees. For these characters the alien is not accepted as a 'brother' and judgements about his character are made purely based upon skin colour.
A crucial moment occurs later in the film, as the alien travels back to his new-found home on the New York subway. As passengers get off at one particular stop, it is pointed out to him that only black people are left on the train.
travelling to uptown New York, towards the Harlem ghetto. Given Morton's performance, this appears to be a bemusing but revelatory moment for the alien, as he is made aware of both the literal and metaphorical space he inhabits and the boundaries that dictate his existence. The scene in the train is quickly followed with the introduction of two white men who have accidentally wandered into Harlem. The men deduce that this is where they are because of the number of black people they see in the vicinity. Lost and uneasy, they end up in the same local bar that the alien first entered and now frequents. They try to strike up a conversation with him and appear to read his lack of speech as evidence of his contempt and their own outsider status in this environment. In contrast to the pinball shop owner, the men attempt to 'communicate with the alien' by stressing their supposed lack of racial prejudice and peaceful intent. One of them talks at length about his youthful adoration of a black baseball player, called Ernie Banks (who came to fame in the late 1950s and early 1960s). The man repeatedly states that when he was seven years old he wanted 'to be Ernie Banks' and then goes on to say that, at this time, he did not realise that Banks was black. So, as he later understands it, the inhibiting factor in his youthful dream of transcendence was not the impossibility of literally becoming or taking the place of another person, but the impossibility of a white man becoming a black man. Representing the white, liberal elite, their clumsy attempt to find some common ground with the alien actually results in further underlining how they have come to define themselves as essentially different in opposition to the men that inhabit this Harlem bar.
At the end of the film, 'brother' appears to make contact with other alien escapees and, in the closing moments, when he faces recapture by the slave masters, he is joined by a group of what could be taken to be African-Americans from the surrounding neighbourhood or fellow aliens or both. Faced with overwhelming odds, the slave masters give up the chase and simply vanish. On one level, as was seen in both Enemy Mine and Predator, a separation based upon racial difference is re-established at the end of this film. However, given the film's oscillation between science fiction fantasy and documentary style account of life in Harlem, this ending takes on an obviously ironic aspect. Fact and fantasy become both clearly separated and irrevocably intertwined here, and, overall, the film establishes the arbitrariness of what comes to stand for difference and the confusions that arise when difference is misunderstood as essential and secure.
It is interesting to compare the role of the alien 'brother' with a later role that Joe Morton undertook in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (dir. James Cameron, 1991): Dr Miles Dyson. Although Morton denies that there was any connection between the two films (see interview on pp. 208-12), aficionados of the genre are likely to be aware of his previous performance in Brother and may well read the Dyson role against his role in the earlier film. In some respects,
his appearance in Terminator 2 pays homage to The Brother from Another Planet and might even be seen as an attempt to indicate that Hollywood is now offering African-American actors roles outside of the confines of the traditional stereotypes associated with black characters; the kind of stereotypes that Morton states he has avidly avoided in his career as an actor. Certainly, it was unusual at this time to see a black character presented as a powerful and respected scientist. However, while I agree with Morton when he says that Dyson was 'central to the plot' in this film, I believe that the character also functions as a scapegoat. Morton's comments regarding Richard Pryor's joke about black characters in science fiction films (see interview on p. 210), are quite telling, since Dyson is indeed 'killed off in Terminator 2. Also, according to the "time-loop' narrative logic, the Terminator becomes Dyson's creation in this second film and the threat that cybernetic technologies raise is therefore placed at Dyson's feet. At the same time as Dyson's middle-class lifestyle and professional standing could be taken to indicate that race is no longer an issue in this society, Dyson is forced to sacrifice himself to save this society; in effect, he must "bow out' in order to maintain a status quo.
ISSUES OF AUTHENTICITY IN THE 1990S VIRTUAL REALITY FILM
The home computer market expanded rapidly in the 1980s and the 1990s witnessed the further development and global proliferation of the internet. The novels of a science fiction sub-genre, collectively called cyberpunk, anticipated the reach of the internet and the kinds of virtual worlds, identities and communities that might arise as a result. Cyberpunk provided a populist language with which to articulate and conceive of the imaginary spaces created by computer and related technologies. In fact, many of the terms coined within this sub-genre were taken up by the cultures and discourses surrounding computer and internet technologies that came to prominence in the 1990s. For example, the word 'cyberspace', coined by the writer William Gibson in his novel Neuromancer (first published 1984), became the common term used to describe the virtual spaces of interaction between the individual and the computer, or groups of interconnected people communicating via the internet.
Exploring the complexities and shifts that a cyberspatialised world might bring, it was not only cyberpunk that acknowledged the impact that these imaginary, interactive spaces might have upon received notions of human subjectivity and identity. For example, Fredric Jameson famously outlined a newly rormed sense of self within a postmodern culture that arises under the conditions of 'late capitalism'. For Jameson, computer and internet technologies are utterly sutured to an age of American militarism and economic domination and have come to represent the 'whole new decentred global network of the third stage of capital itself'.1' So his description of the 'decentred' self that arises from
the experience of postmodern living can be taken as critical of the technological shifts and changes of recent years.18 However, Sherry Turkle points out that 'the internet has become a potent symbol and organisational tool for current grass-roots movements - of both left and right' (19) and she goes on to emphasise the transformative and therapeutic effects of life in cyberspace. For Turkle: 'Internet experiences help us to develop models of psychological well-being that are in a meaningful sense postmodern. They admit multiplicity and flexibility. They acknowledge the constructed nature of reality, self, and other.' (20)
Placing computer and internet technologies at the heart of her inquiries into a new sense of fragmented but extended postmodern self, Turkle stresses a kind of emancipation from confining, essentialist principles. Indeed, perhaps the global proliferation of computer and internet technologies makes more readily available a kind of literal version of that interruptive 'Third Space' that Bhabha proposes we should explore.
Certainly, the explosion in the domestic use of the internet in the 1990s meant that increasing numbers of people were in instant and regular contact with others: geographic borders were not an obstacle to communication and exchange of information. Along with this, further development in satellite and cable technologies offered delivery platforms for entertainment products across national and international borders. While the possibilities of diminishing state power and political instability had been a major issue with the arrival of global corporatisation in the 1980s, I would suggest that in the 1990s concerns revolved around increasing levels of cultural exchange and the fragmentation of traditional forms of subjectivity on a more interpersonal level. Although these technologies supported a specifically American global expansionism it became harder to 'police' and control flows of information. National borders appeared to be blurring and a sense of selfhood and identity once sutured to the nation was therefore understood as threatened. Under these conditions it became harder to formulate clear-cut divisions between self and Other.
In other words, globalisation and the kinds of fragmentation that both Jameson and Turkle propose could be understood as destabilising to ideas of identity built upon essentialist notions of race and ethnic allegiances. However, the perceived weakening in the power of the nation-state as a unifying category also led to a renewed sense of importance for ethnic identity, resulting in what Jonathan Friedman identifies as 'a shift from assimilationism to multiculturalism'. (21) For example, these technologies supported the formation or re-formation of de-territorialised identities, whether these are identities based upon pre-existing diasporic communities or the emergence of new affiliations and cultural identities dislocated from geographical location. It is no surprise then that by the mid-1990s there was a flurry of American science fiction films concerned with the social implications of virtual reality/internet technologies. On one level these films engaged with technologies that had now become a familiar part of
professional as well as domestic life across the world and, on another level, the depiction of a futuristic form of virtual reality provided the perfect plot device with which to explore issues surrounding identity and postmodern culture.
The following section will look at how two films, released in the same year, Virtuosity (dir. Brett Leonard, 1995) and Strange Days (dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 1995), dealt with race/ethnicity and identity alongside the figuring of virtual fantasy worlds within the 'real' world of the film. Although both of these films feature virtual spaces into which characters immerse themselves, the narrative makes clear that these are localised spaces and that entrance into them is highly controlled. So, these two films are not ostensibly concerned with the kind of virtual spaces created by dispersed communications networks, but rather they concentrate on the individual's psychical interaction with a boundaried, alternative environment, even as those boundaries are crossed and interaction with a virtual world comes to have wider consequences.
In dealing firstly with Virtuosity, this film tells the tale of an ex-cop, Parker-Barnes (Denzel Washington) who has been convicted of murder and sentenced to a long and harrowing imprisonment. During the course of his custodial sentence, he is used by government authorities as a guinea pig in experiments with virtual reality, police training programmes. This involves his immersion into a virtual city environment predominantly populated by white-suited businessmen. Within this environment Parker becomes the adversary of a white male, serial killer called Sid 6.7 (Russell Crowe).
Sid is a virtual character who has been programmed with the memories and traits of a number of real murderers in order to prove a most demanding and complex adversary. Like The Brother from Another Planet the film makes heavy references to the history of black slavery and the colonisation of America. Images of the slave trade are evoked as Parker is shackled, chained and paraded through the prison. The figuring of the serial killer (statistically 'serial killing' is a crime committed predominantly by white males), can be understood as a reference to the violence of the white male coloniser and slave trader. So, there is a sense in which Parker and Sid play out both past and present battles between black and white races within the game.
The trouble really starts when Sid becomes fully embodied and escapes the confines of his virtual world. Parker is then offered a pardon if he takes up his law enforcement role once again and agrees to track down and curtail the killing spree that Sid has embarked upon in the real world. Underlining the fact that Parker is once more operating on the right/white side of the law, he becomes romantically associated with a white female, criminal psychologist played by Kelly Lynch) who accompanies him on his quest. Sid kidnaps the psychologist's daughter and a replay of the abduction and murder of Parker's own wife and child gives Parker an additional and more personal reason for his pursuit. Eventually, Parker saves the day by returning Sid to his virtual world and rescuing the psychologist's daughter.
Throughout the film there are images which place Parker on one side of a literal divide while his adversaries take up their position on the other side. This is set up in the opening sequence, which the viewer later learns has taken place in the virtual world of the program. Towards the end of this sequence, Parker is seen pursuing Sid through an oriental-style restaurant sectioned off by thin paper walls (I will return to the relevance of the 'oriental' space in the following section). The walls allow for shadows to be seen, but they also obscure and confuse the identity of the people on either side.
These flimsy divides are later broken down by flying bodies and gunshots until Parker faces Sid in the closing showdown in the game. Apart from being a portent of the violent collapse between fantasy and real worlds that occurs later in the film, these images serve to accentuate the impression of Parker as positioned on one side of a flimsy divide based upon race and legal standing. The false start in the film operates to thwart the expectations of the viewer. Having witnessed Parker in the hero role within the game, the audience then learns that he has been classified a criminal by the authorities. This abrupt disclosure, when the virtual reality world is shut down and Parker's consciousness returns to the diegetically real world, is notably echoed in his appearance.
Within the virtual world he is seen wearing a policeman's uniform and has short hair, in marked contrast to his dreadlocks and unkempt appearance as the criminal guinea pig. Here, it becomes obvious that his criminalisation is associated with his ethnicity and racial origins: his dreadlocked appearance allies him with the Rastafarianism of Jamaicans and the references to slavery provide a historical backdrop to his own personal traumas at the hands of the white authorities.
A later scene within the 'real' world echoes the opening game sequence as Parker attempts to gain entrance to a television studio in which Sid has taken hostages. Although Parker is now working for the law enforcement agencies, the security guards assume he is a criminal and proceed to shoot at him along a corridor sectioned off by large portions of plate glass. Parker runs from the shots down one side of the glass partitioning while the guards shoot at him from the other.
The glass is shattered but Parker manages to elude the bullets being fired at him. Again, he is shown to be on the wrong side of a divide, but the walls between him and his adversaries do not offer protection, they simply mark him apart. The implication being that the breaking down of various divides (most essentially those between black and white) is dangerous. Along with this, both the opening and closing sequences (those that take place within the virtual world) make it difficult to judge the content of the rest of the film by the codes normally associated with 'realism'.
To a certain extent meaning is made ambiguous as fantasy and reality fold in on one another, but this is offset by the reestablishing of a clear opposition between Parker and Sid. Evidently, in conjunction with Sid's construction from a multitude of personalities, Parker is portrayed as more 'authentic' than his white adversary. If identity is fragmented and multiple in postmodern society then Sid is the simulated result of a post¬modern cultural and political logic. In contrast, although Parker has a prosthetic arm, the relative simplicity of his split embodiment/identity can be read off against Sid's totally simulated and fragmented embodiment/identity (Sid is constructed from a mass of microscopic robots called 'nano-bots').
Sid therefore comes to represent the falsity and corruption of the dominant and pervasive white culture that surrounds Parker, while Parker comes to stand for a kind of human truth and authenticity.
The authentic/inauthentic opposition which is evident in Virtuosity is also noticeable in Strange Days (1995), only here our 'authentic' black character, Mace (Angela Bassett), is female. Strange Days presents us with a futuristic underworld dealing in the buying and selling of human experience. The experiences are both captured and replayed using 'Squid' technology, which consists of a headpiece (commonly hidden under a wig) that records the 'real-life' experiences of the wearer. The resulting footage is not only viewed as though through the eyes of the wearer, but the recipient is also treated to the feelings and emotions that the original wearer experiences. Most of the characters in the film are shown to use this technology, but Mace consistently refuses to engage with it (until this becomes absolutely necessary at the end of the film). In what appears to be an updated reworking of the seminal Peeping Tom (dir. Michael Powell, I960), (22)
Bigelow attempts an exhaustive critique of voyeuristic, cinematic practice while also suggesting that the development of more immersive technologies (e.g. virtual reality, interactive computer games etc.) may result in an excessive extension of these practices. Carol Clover, in her study of the modern horror genre, has referred to Peeping Tom as a horror "metafilm' that 'has as its task to expose the psychodynamics of specularity and fear'. (23) Like Peeping Tom, Bigelow presents the audience with a very extreme version of diegetic voyeurism in which the act of voyeuristic viewing is linked with literal violence.
Although gender issues are obviously foregrounded in this film, the way in which these intersect with race is particularly interesting. Mace is intimately associated with the white male protagonist Lenny (Ralph Fiennes), who is an ex-cop and peddler/maker of recorded experiences (known as 'clips') using the Squid technology. He is a 'wheeler-dealer' who will lie, cheat and manipulate in his attempts to sell his wares. He has a particular patter and mode of self-presentation which he is seen to utilise in order to con his customers and extract favours from his friends. He is therefore marked as fraudulent and dissembling in his interaction with others, but this is also extended to the way in which he fools himself; particularly in his constant reliving of a past romance with the character of Faith (Juliette Lewis). He has self-recorded highlights from his past relationship with Faith and repeatedly plays back these scenes, effectively blocking his chances of 'moving on'. He is living in a perpetual present fed by his own
recent past, which, in turn, becomes his present and conceivably his future; past, present and future conflating when he sees/feels the tapes. Like Fredric Jameson's schizophrenic, postmodern subject he is 'unable to focus on [his own] present, as though [he had] become . . . incapable of dealing with time and history'. (24) Although Faith has long since left him he has set her up as an idealised figure, frozen in time, who has become the site of his own transcendence.
In direct contrast to Lenny, Mace is presented as candid and earnest. She possesses a personal and political consciousness and is shown to have a serious interest in the well-being of others. Mace's sense of empathy can then be com¬pared to the literal empathy experienced vicariously through the 'clips'. Indeed, Mace consistently espouses the harmful effects of indulging in Squid. For example, toward the end of the film, just after she has stumbled upon Lenny's recordings of Faith, she angrily tells him:
This is your life - right here, right now. It's real time, time to get real - not playback - you understand me. She doesn't love you. Maybe she did once, I don't know, but she doesn't now. These are used emotions - it's time to trade them in. Memories were meant to fade Lenny - they're designed that way for a reason.
In trying to persuade him to face certain realities Mace is attempting to bring him out of his fantasy world to enable him to properly engage with his material existence. Lenny's use of the Squid technology allows him to escape his lived reality, he is resistant to the transformative potential of virtual reality; that is, until he becomes inadvertently involved in a cover up concerning the murder of Jeriko One (a 'black power' -rap artist and community spokesperson). The appropriately named Iris (Brigitte Bako) passes a 'clip' of Jeriko's murder by two white LAPD officers to Lenny.
Iris, in turn, is murdered and a 'clip' of her death is also passed to Lenny. Lenny's 'transformation' appears to begin on viewing the 'Iris clip' and along with Mace's comments at this point he recognises how he has become complicit in a system of extreme exploitation. His reaction to the viewing of the 'Iris Clip' indicates his transformation: whereas, at the opening of the film, upon the viewing of a snuff clip, his response appeared minimal, here he reaches a state of panic and rushes to the scene of the murder in order to avert it. Forgetting that this event is in the past, by the time he arrives he sees her body being wheeled out by medics, which forces him into the present in the most dramatic of ways.
After Lenny has seen the 'Jeriko clip' he insists that Mace also see it. Having adamantly refused to use the Squid apparatus she asks him to tell her what is on the tape, to which he replies: 'I can't tell you - you gotta see it - it's that important'. It is as though he does not believe he has the right to tell this story (to mediate) and that she will not understand its impact unless she sees/feels it
for herself. Lenny places the 'Squid-set' on her head and it is her viewing that is shown in the film. Unlike most of the previous Squid segments this is shown without intercut shots of the wearer's reactions and at the end of the clip it is Mace's response that takes precedence. So, Mace takes centre stage here and from this point on there is an overall shift of perspective within the film itself: Mace becomes a more centralised character along with becoming more proactive - the film follows her story. After the viewing she states that the clip 'is a lightning bolt from God'.
Mace sees the tape as indisputable evidence of a racially motivated attack by the LAPD. Given the obvious reference to the 'Rodney King' video recording,15 the irony is that her confidence in the justice system at this point may be viewed as hopelessly optimistic. Of course, Jeriko's killing in the film also recalls the killing of black leaders Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in the 1960s and, in a kind of replay of all these past events, the couple eventually place the clip in the hands of a trustworthy police official, and a kind of justice is enacted at the close of the film.
The setting up a diegetic distinction between virtual and real space opens up a potential for playing one off against the other in a variety of ways: foregrounding the interplay between fantasy and reality, blurring or reconfiguring the relationship between fantasy and reality and so on. However, while Brother from Another Planet made use of the codes and conventions of science fiction to complicate received notions of essential difference and racial divides, both Strange Days and Virtuosity simply map racial divides onto the divide between the virtual and the real.
It would be easy to read the 'genuine' qualities that both Mace and Parker come to signify as examples of a positive representation of the African-American subject. Alternatively, these characters can be read as playing out a resistant political stance, opposed to the hegemonic incorporation of their being into the whitewash of the virtual worlds on offer. On a more cynical note I would say that in the context of these science fiction films their characterisations can be related to earlier representations in which the black body was utilised to connote the animalistic or the primitive.
In this sense, they become updated versions of the 'noble savage' within these highly technologised societies. The black protagonists in these two films then act as a kind of reminder of what the white community appears to have lost or, perhaps, never had.
THE ASIAN AMERICAN AND THE 'ORIENTAL'
Visions of the 'oriental' in science fiction film can be traced back to the canonical works of George Melies. Settings in Melies' films are repeatedly constructed from an assortment of exotic images that evoke Middle and Far Eastern culture. In 'trick films' like Illusions Funambulesques (aka Extraordinary Illusions,
1903) and he Thaumaturge Chinois (aka Tchin-Chao: The Chinese Conjurer,
1904) Melies even casts himself as the inscrutable 'oriental' magician who
conjures up and presents the illusions made possible by the wonders of cinematic technology. Of course, Melies' association of the fantastical and magical with an exotic East can be seen as part of a long-standing Orientalist tradition. In his ground-breaking book, Orientalism, Edward W. Said identified the ways in which the Orient became both a European and American invention, represented in academic and literary fiction as 'a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences'. (26) For Said, Orientalist discourse offered a way for Europe to come to terms with its 'cultural contestant(s)', and operated 'to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience'. (27)
Melies' inscrutable magician seemed to live on in later American science fiction cinema, reborn as 'Ming the Merciless' (played by white actor, Charles Middleton) in the Flash Gordon cinema serials (released from 1936 to 1940). Here our orientalised adversary exercised his superior technological wizardry in his battle with the Earth. Although Flash (Buster Crabbe), our athletic, ail-American hero, always succeeded in his struggles, unlike the kind of 'noble savage' associated with the black characters, Ming was presented as a formidable and advanced, alien opponent. In the 1960s and 1970s the 'oriental' was again present in science fiction cinema, in the aesthetics and philosophies of the counter-culture, expressed either in terms of psychedelic imagery (discussed in Chapter 3) or in the thinly veiled references to East Asian culture (e.g. Star Wars' references to the mystical Chinese, Ch'i [Chinese]/Ki [Japanese], life force and the alien 'samurai master', Yoda). A more recent example can be found in Blade Runner (dir. Ridley Scott, 1982). Here marginalised 'oriental' characters are consistently seen to be the makers/producers of technologies surrounding the manufacture of the Replicants, even though it is a Western male who plays the part of the 'overlord/creator' in charge of the whole operation.
Whereas Ming was clearly set up as an alien Other (e.g. he was evil and inhabited a separate geographical domain - the planet Mongo), in Blade Runner the 'oriental' Others, although ghettoised, occupy a proximate space and are relied upon by the white elite for their skills and intelligence. The 'oriental' therefore forms the underbelly of a commercial and technological culture in this futuristic city, which suggests that the threat to human authenticity that the Replicants represent is associated with an underlying Eastern menace.
At the time of Blade Runner's release certain Eastern economies were growing fast and countries like Japan and Korea were becoming known for their manufacture of computer components and other cutting-edge technologies. Over the course of the 1980s it became apparent that the so-called 'Tiger Economies' were outstripping Western economies, in terms of growth, and that they were fast moving from being the copiers/providers of Western led technology to becoming inventors/initiators of new technologies. Alongside this, Eastern financial intervention in American corporations was on the
increase and particularly pertinent in terms of the film industry was Sony's later takeover of both Columbia Pictures in 1989 and, more recently, MGM in 2005. But this view does not, of course, account for traffic in the opposite direction, an example being the exploitation of various Asian markets for the American film product (Japan being one of the most lucrative expansions for American film producers at this time). Either way, Blade Runner engaged with an increasing American fear of orientalisation; a fear that American dominance was being undermined by a growing Asian economy and that American culture was being diluted or depurified through increasing interaction and involvement with East Asian companies and markets.
Drawing upon Said's work, David Morley and Kevin Robins argue that the association of postmodern technologies with 'oriental' imagery can be under¬stood as a continuation of an Orientalist practice in the West and they coin the useful term 'Techno-Orientalism' to describe this phenomenon. For Morley and Robins, this latest form of Orientalism serves as a disavowal mechanism that 'defers . . . the encounter with Western self-identity and self-interest'. (28) It is this kind of disavowal and deferral that Blade Runner appears to exhibit and that became acutely prominent in science fiction from the early to mid-1990s onwards. For example, even though the race relations explored in Strange Days and Virtuosity are ostensibly those between white and African/Afro-Caribbean Americans there are moments in both films when interactive technologies featured in the films are associated with the 'oriental'.
As previously mentioned, in Virtuosity it is an orientalised space that Parker finds himself within in his opening, virtual battle with Sid. Also, in Strange Days, there is a sequence of scenes in which Lenny attempts to sell Clips to a visiting businessman, Mr Fumitsu (Jim Ishida). However, it is revealed that the businessman already possesses the latest model of 'player', putting him at the cutting edge of this technology. The two Japanese corporations Nintendo and Sega had dominated the video/computer game market since the 1980s, but the mid-1990s saw the beginnings of a much publicised 'console war', when Sony entered the market with the PlayStation in 1994.
Although the virtual play spaces created by video/ computer games are but one form of cyberspatial interaction, the games themselves have presented the strongest challenge to the dominance of feature films as the most privileged form of commercial entertainment. Commercial links between games and films have increased substantially and video/computer game versions of films now frequently outrank the films in terms of returnable profits. So, the names Sony, Nintendo and Sega have become indelibly associated with the virtual spaces created by the games. Obvious allusions to existing games apparatus can therefore be taken as a reference to these Japanese corporations, in what would appear to be an ongoing disavowal in which the decentring of a formerly centred subject is blamed upon the intrusion of orien¬tal technologies in these films.
As if to confirm increasing links between games and film industry, film versions of existing computer games were released in the mid-1990s. Mortal Kombat (dir. Paul Anderson, 1995) and Streetfighter (dir. Steven E. de Souza, 1994) presented the audience with markedly exotic spaces; spaces that could be read as corresponding to the magical worlds of cyberspace in which the games are played. In a manoeuvre that can be traced back to Méliès, the wonders and excesses made possible by new technologies are associated with the 'oriental' and cyberspace becomes an exotic state where the 'tourist' can be freed from Western rationalism and taste the 'mystical essence' of the East.
Taking Mortal Kombat as a prime example, although the film is based upon the popular computer game, it also heavily references Enter the Dragon (dir. Robert Clouse, 1973) and, indeed, features an Asian-American hero who is pitted against an evil oriental overlord. Cyberspace is then likened to the mystical island in Enter the Dragon that operated as a meeting place and place of combat for various national emissaries. The central characters in Mortal Kombat have all been lifted from the 'Mortal Kombat' game and each clearly represents a racial stereotype. According to the logic of the game, any one of these stereotypical characters could end up facing the evil overlord Shang Tsung (played by the Japanese American, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) in the final 'showdown', making it especially relevant that Liu Kang (played by the Chinese American, Robin Shou) is chosen for this dubious honour in the film.
While the casting might suggest a happy acknowledgement of the debt owed to East Asian culture by this film (more specifically, Hong Kong action films and Japanese martial arts video/computer games) and may also work to signal the film's transnational status, it is well to pay attention to the way in which Liu Kang is represented. For example, there is a notable split set up between good (Chinese) and bad (Japanese) Asian characters in this film, which is then conflated by the suggestion that Tsung actually represents an aspect of Kang's character: Kang is specifically told that he has to face three challenges in fighting Tsung: he has to face his enemy, face himself and face his worst fear.
Also, during their final fight scene, Tsung even becomes Kang's murdered brother and Kang is only able to set the spirit of his brother free once he has dispatched Tsung. Of course, the battle between Tsung and Kang avoids the depiction of direct confrontation between the all-American Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby), and the Japanese representative, Tsung, in the film. Instead, the fight becomes a kind of sado-masochistic ritual in which our Asian American hero is forced to dismiss a part of himself in order to uphold American justice and dispatch an oriental threat.
It is revealing to compare the final 'showdown' in Mortal Kombat with a similar 'showdown' in the low-budget, 'direct to video', science fiction film released the following year. Called Virtual Combat in the US and Grid Runners in Britain (dir. Andrew Stevens, 1996), the titles obviously allude to the
earlier Blade Runner and Mortal Kombat. However, unlike these mainstream forerunners, Virtual Combat initially separates futuristic, immersive game space from diegetically real world. Like Virtuosity, Virtual Combat then becomes a film about game play and about the racial identities caught up in the interplay between these two worlds.
Virtual Combat is set in a near-future America in which various cities and states are sectioned into geographically policed areas called Grids. Surveillance and control is centrally guided from a computerised policing station and the boundaries between each urban Grid and between the real and virtual world are patrolled by the Runners. These Runners are like border guards and it is their job to make sure that no one crosses between urban grids without permission or between the virtual and real world without payment. The narrative is set in motion by the illegal crossing of these boundaries and follows the exploits of the Runner, David Quarry (played by the ex-world champion Kick Boxer, Don 'The Dragon' Wilson).
In exploiting elements associated with the earlier Blade Runner, Virtual Combat effectively refocalises the former film and offers us an Asian-American perspective. Our hero's ordeals begin when, in a similar way to Virtuosity, scientists develop a process called 'cyberplasm', which allows for the replication and material embodiment of virtual characters. A powerful white businessman (played by Ron Barker) plans to use the cyberplasm technology in order to enslave the female replicants of a 'cybersex' program and to sell their bodies for sexual services. He is thwarted when a dangerous martial arts game character, Dante (played by the Canadian martial artist Michael Bernardo), also escapes into the real world. Initially Quarry takes his orders directly from the policing force that employs him, but the murder of his white partner (played by Ken McLeod) by Dante, justifies Quarry's divorcement from the police authorities as he takes up the quest to avenge this killing.
The film opens with martial arts fighting scenes in which Quarry faces a number of opponents. In a now familiar device, it is not until Quarry requests a move to another 'level' that the viewer is alerted to the fact that this is a virtual game environment (indicated by the instant change of scenic backdrop). Having successfully fought off several opponents, Quarry faces Dante in the final level of the game. Distinct from previous opponents, Dante is able to predict Quarry's fighting tactics and communicates telepathically with Quarry throughout their battle (indicated by voice-over while the camera fixes on Dante's unmoving mouth). The use of voice-over here could certainly imply that Dante is a manifestation of Quarry's imagination and it becomes apparent that there is an intimate connection between these two characters. At one point Dante communicates: 'You can't kill me, it would be like killing a part of yourself, further indicating that he represents an aspect of Quarry's own character. If Dante represents a connection to Quarry's East Asian heritage (a connection
that may have become repressed due to his involvement with a dominant white American culture and underlined by his positioning as an agent of the American law machine) then it is interesting that this is embodied by a character of more Western appearance. If Quarry is meant to represent a fully 'consenting' American, it is also telling that this manifestation of his own, personal Other be projected upon one of Western appearance. Alternatively, Dante might be taken to signify an American-made stereotype; a projection of how Quarry understands he is seen within this American world; an image that Quarry has perhaps internalised and is forced to face. Needless to say, there are several possible readings available, but these moments serve to draw attention to Quarry's hybrid characterisation.
The final 'showdown' between Dante and Quarry takes place in the diegetically real world of the film, although divides between real and virtual worlds begin to blur prior to their battle. The blurring is signalled by the introduction of a postcard picture of the 'Japan Town' Grid, which is telepathically transmitted to Dante by way of an invitation to combat, suggesting that Japan Town is less a real place than an imaginary construction. Quarry finally dispatches Dante at the headquarters of the American owned Burtech Industries that created the cyberplasm process. However, it remains unclear as to exactly how we should understand this finale. Perhaps the casting indicates that Quarry exercised his claim as an authentic Asian martial artist set up in opposition to an inauthentic copy? Alternatively, as an Asian American, has he exorcised the fantasy image of the 'oriental' that American culture has forced upon him? At the very least, I would say that Virtual Combat uncovers some of the complexities that Mortal Kombat attempts to gloss over.
Since the mid-1990s the more decentralised image of the fighting body that the martial artist provides has been avidly taken up to connote a flexible mode of being in an age of information technologies. In fact, the use of martial arts in science fiction films has become a persistent signifier of the interaction between human and computer technologies. The increased inclusion and centrality given to Asian Americans and, on occasion, guest stars borrowed from Hong Kong action cinema, in the casting of science fiction films, can be taken as a way of addressing overseas Asian markets as well as Asian American and fan markets within the USA. In addition, an increasingly globalised marketplace for commercial films and related products has certainly encouraged the use of the martial artist as an expedient and familiar national stereotype associated particularly with a Japanese entertainment product.29 However, the consistency of the coupling of the 'oriental' with cyberspace still indicates a degree of disavowal and anxiety, which is repeatedly played out in terms of the position assigned the Asian American in many American science fiction films. What is noticeable in a further comparison between Virtuosity and Virtual Combat is that the simplistic black/white - real/virtual divide that is dominant in the
former film becomes far less certain upon the introduction of the central Asian American character in the latter film.
In looking back at how 'oriental' characters have been depicted in Hollywood films, it is possible to trace conflicting and paradoxical characterisations; the two most prevalent stereotypes being the oriental as ruthless, fighting machine and the oriental as wise and spiritual. In recent years, especially in terms of the science fiction film genre, I would suggest that the 'oriental' has been figured as inherently dualistic; a conflation that serves to displace the kind of hybrid consciousness that may arise in the formation of a global aesthetic in science fiction onto an 'innately' paradoxical Orient/oriental. This is currently played out in two different ways. For instance, in The One (dir. James Wong, 2001) the Asian-American protagonist, Gabe Law (Jet Lee), literally faces himself when an alternative Gabe Lawless (also played by Jet Lee), from a parallel world, pursues and attempts to dispatch our hero. Thus follows a series of spectacular martial arts scenes in which Gabe is lit¬erally seen to fight himself. Certainly there is a playful conceit present here in the suggestion that Lee is so proficient in the martial arts that no one else could hope to match his skill: he is 'the one' of the title. However, once again, the 'good Gabe' is discernable in his role as an American security officer. In what has become an almost hysterical and therefore unconvincing trope, the "good oriental' is seen to use his 'special powers' in the service of an American law machine. However, the threat that the 'oriental' represents is palpable and a perceived duality remains in the persona of Lee as both 'bad' and 'good oriental'.
A racially particularised duality can also found in the figuring of Neo in The Matrix series of films (dir. Larry and Andy Wachowski, 1999, 2003). Drawing heavily upon cyberpunk, (30) these films appear more concerned with internet communications and the mediated interactions between a variety of individuals (as opposed to the more localised gaming scenarios discussed above), which is echoed in the sheer number of central protagonists and the multi-racial casting. In these films the protagonists are all represented as adept martial artists, but it is Neo (Keanu Reeves) who is figured as the ideal mediator between the diegetically real and virtual worlds of the film and between the human and machine. Once more, a real/virtual opposition is mapped onto a black/white racial divide.
The real world is largely marked out as an African or Afro-Caribbean American space, while the unreal world is governed by a band of 'special agents' who take on white male personas. (31) It is Neo who stands as the sole saviour in between these two states of being. Much has been made of the fact that Reeves was born of a British mother and Chinese-Hawaiian father in media reporting, which is undoubtedly drawn upon to underpin this characterisation. The Matrix films therefore deploy the Reeves persona to suggest a literal and essentialised embodiment of an 'in between' mode of being. On one
level, Reeves' mixed heritage appears to literally place him in a 'chain of being' between black and white poles and on another level his interaction with technology, his cyborgian hybridity, is sutured to his known racial hybridity. As neither clearly oriental or occidental (or as both oriental and occidental) his uncertain 'in between' status allows him unusual access to both the real and virtual worlds at the same time as it threatens the binary balance that separates these worlds.32
In the final film of the series, there is an interesting scene in which Neo has to undergo a kind of rite of passage in order to access information and advice in dealing with his predicament. This involves an extended martial arts fight sequence with Seraph (Collin Chou),33 in which Neo/Reeves' suitability and martial arts skills are tested prior to his audience with the Oracle (Mary Alice). This sequence functions to emphasise Neo/Reeves' 'oriental side'; not only does it echo the many scenes I have discussed above, but it also signals his acceptance by a character who clearly represents an idealised image of the 'oriental' martial artist. What I find interesting and rather telling are the later sequences in this final film, in which both Seraph and Neo separately face the agents. Seraph attempts to escape from the agents in an effort to protect an Indian child, called Sati (played by Tanveer K. Atwal).
The child is known to be the artificial offspring of two AIs (Artificial Intelligences) in the film, and has emigrated from the world of the machines to the world created by the Matrix. What is significant is that while Seraph's encounter ends rather abruptly (he is not seen to deploy his martial arts skills), Neo's later fight with the multiple Agent Smiths is fought through to the bitter end. Neo takes up the battle where Seraph left off and the audience is treated to a long and spectacular fighting sequence in which Neo emerges victorious.
Here the hybrid character of Neo/Reeves becomes a necessary and superior element in retaining the balance of power between these two worlds. Having said that, even though The Matrix films borrow heavily from cyberpunk, the written genre's embrace of human/machine interaction is ultimately disqualified in the film: in order for the human race to survive, Neo is required to sacrifice himself and the human/machine divide is once more set in place. Therefore, even as Neo's cyborgian and racialised hybridity qualifies him as the perfect ambassador, he is finally forced to relinquish his in-between status. Hybridity is finally denied as a viable position in this film, as survival requires separation and sacrifice.
So, at least in terms of the film's narrative, rather than presenting us with a new world order which recognises and celebrates an ongoing hybridity on all sorts of levels, the 'blurrings' of the postcolonial, postmodern world are presented as a glitch in the program which needs to be overcome in order to return to a period of stability and parallel co-existence. Although the ending of the first film of the series suggested that Neo continued to exist in that inter-zone between two worlds, the challenge that the Reeves persona might offer
to an ideal of what constitutes American subjectivity is recouped in his final sacrifice.
THE 'ORIENTAL' IN THE EURO-AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION FILM
Relatively large, multi-racial, central casts became a feature of American-made virtual reality films from about the mid-1990s onwards. These films were obviously intended for a global marketplace, which their casting affirmed. Recalling the multi-racial cast of the Star Trek television series and films, whether this recent shift indicates that a variety of viewpoints are on offer in these films, or whether it simply indicates the assimilation of the Other by a liberal, democratising (Western) power depends largely on the way in which the narrative orders these characterisations. For instance, in the Star Trek films there is a chain of command that informs the functioning of the characters on board the Enterprise, as well as within the narrative.
The multi-racial cast is therefore captained by our ail-American, white hero, James T. Kirk (William Shatner), later replaced Jean-Luc Picard (played by the British actor, Patrick Stewart), and the inference is that it is a masculinist Western ideology that oversees and guides this futuristic world order. Conversely, power, in terms of leadership, becomes more dispersed in The Matrix films. In some respects the first film of the series is closer to the Star Trek model, albeit in inverted form, in that the African-American Morpheus is the leader of the rebels on board their craft, the Nebuchadnezzar, even though he places his faith for the future in Neo. But, as the series progresses, the audience is presented with a multitude of leaders, each arguing their position and viewpoint in their fight for survival against the agents. No one seems to have a complete picture of events, including Neo, who, until the very end, does not fully understand his role as their sole saviour.
This kind of dispersal of power can be accounted for in terms of the excessive spin-off marketing associated with the two sequels: the inclusion of separate, 'teaser' storylines and featuring of parallel battle scenarios under different leaderships works to introduce the various games and spin-off storylines that were marketed heavily alongside the films. But, whatever the underlying economics behind the narrative structuring, the two sequels are closer in form to the kind of dispersal of agency and power evidenced in many cyberpunk novels. In Gibson's Neuromancer,
for instance, the 'console cowboy', Case, consistently struggles to gain an overview of the situation he finds himself within and is guided by a profusion of seemingly unrelated characters (both human and artificial). In Pat Cadigan's cyberpunk novel, Synners (1991), we get an even clearer example, with a large ensemble cast of characters, operating from various locations, chiefly linked via their involvement with futuristic internet communication.
Even as there may be frequent efforts to contain the plurality of viewpoints that an ensemble cast might offer, this format nevertheless provides a perfect
vehicle for transnational production and marketing. I am not suggesting that transnational production practices are new to cinema. As Andrew Higson points out:
The film business has long operated on a regional, national and transnational basis. . . . Since at least the 1920s, films have been made as co-productions, bringing together resources and experience from different nation-states. For even longer, film-makers have been itinerant, moving from one production base to another. 34
What I am instead suggesting is that co-productions, multi-national casting and, in particular, narratives that allow for a relatively large central cast became exceptionally prevalent in the 1990s science fiction blockbuster. One only needs to take a brief look at the listings available on the popular website of IMDb (Internet Movie Database) to view the array of science fiction, blockbuster co-productions that were made from the early 1990s through to the present day. Although this database locates country of origin based upon the national affiliation of a particular production company (it follows the money rather than the artistic talent and even the primary shooting location), the rise in the number of science fiction co-productions during this period suggests that companies from outside of Hollywood were prepared to sink their money into the genre.
Examples include: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (dir. James Cameron, 1991, France/USA), Until the End of the World (dir. Wim Wenders, 1991, Germany/ France/Australia), The Lawnmower Man (dir. Brett Leonard, 1992, UK/USA/ Japan), Stargate (dir. Roland Emmerich, 1994, France/USA), Event Horizon (dir. Paul W. S. Anderson, 1997, UK/USA), Lost in Space (dir. Stephen Hopkins, 1998, USA/UK) and so on. In addition, the late 1990s and early 2000s have also seen the proliferation of a number of multi-national, science fiction film co-productions: Virus (dir. John Bruno, 1999, France/UK/Germany/USA/Japan), Alien Vs Predator (dir. Paul W. S. Anderson, 2004, USA/Canada/Germany/Czech Republic/UK), and so on. The intended global appeal of many of the blockbuster films listed above is signalled in the casting: many of these films featured an ensemble cast of performers who hailed from a variety of nations and were well known on a local, national and, sometimes, international level.
As outlined in Chapter 4, the 1980s had seen science fiction lead the way as Hollywood's number one global film genre, set against the 'heritage films' of Britain or the French thrillers of the period. This shifted in the 1990s, as other national cinemas, particularly in Europe, began to re-engage with the genre. The co-production route offered one way in which national cinemas, outside of America, could enter the science fiction film arena and, as evidenced in the list above, this was certainly a route repeatedly taken up by French, British and German production companies. Although it would be hard to
detect a specifically French influence in a film like Terminator 2, there were co-productions that could be argued as manifesting a European influence. Stargate provides an interesting example. As a French/USA, English-language, co-production, this film sports a multi-national cast: surrounding the two American stars, Kurt Russell and James Spader, are a central cast including the Swedish-born Viveca Lindfors, the Israeli actor Mili Avital and, fresh from the British film The Crying Game (dir. Neil Jordan, 1992), Jaye Davidson
born in California and relocated to Britain at two years old).
The Orientalism, which was so much a feature of American 'virtual reality' films of the period, was also very much present in Stargate. But, whereas the American science fiction films more usually exhibited a vague and stereotypical notion of Japanese or Chinese culture, the Orientalism in Stargate is unmistakably associated with Middle Eastern culture. The film opens with an archaeological dig in Egypt, in 1928, where an ancient artefact (the 'stargate') :s unearthed, before shifting location to a secret military installation in present day Colorado.
Scientists deduce that the 'stargate' is a highly advanced alien device and a small division from the American Air Force, accompanied by one intrepid American Egyptologist, soon find they have been transported across the universe to a desert planet, peopled by direct descendants of ancient Egyptians. This division is led by Colonel Jack O'Neil (Kurt Russell), whose young son has recently died in a shooting accident.
Blaming himself, the Colonel has sunk into a deep depression and, having become alienated from the world, is about to commit suicide before being called up for duty once again. Interestingly, the American Egyptologist, Daniel Jackson (James Spader), has also reached a low point in his life; discredited by the academic world, he is broke and alone before being coerced into taking part in the mission. Also, like so many of the 1990s films, Stargate features an 'in between' character, an alien who has taken on the body of an Egyptian boy and who the primitive locals fearfully worship as the sun-god Ra. This character is played by Davidson and, drawing upon his famous performance as the transvestite in The Crying Game as well as his known racial heritage
Davidson's father was Ghanaian and his mother was English), Ra's inherent duality is echoed in his sexually ambivalent appearance and behaviour. Recalling the Lucas/Spielberg action-adventure Indiana Jones series (1981, 1984, 1989), Emmerich makes use of Spielbergian establishing subtitles and editing style at the opening of the film. So, Stargate is formally designed to evoke a well-known American formula.
In addition, America's eventual liberation of these Egyptian descendants from the alien/Ra can definitely be read in the light of the 1991 'Desert Storm' battles and the Gulf War. However, as tec against contemporary, 'virtual reality' films of the 1990s, the substitution : f the Far East for the Middle East in the location of the mystical oriental may also be taken to relate to a specifically European Orientalist tradition.
Until the End of the World provides a rather different example from Stargate. This film was produced without the involvement of an American production company and draws upon the traditions of European art-house cinema. Although the film can certainly be viewed as an example of 'second cinema', as an alternative to the Hollywood mainstream, the casting of the American actor, William Hurt, in one of the central roles also indicates a desire to reach a wide audience.
Along with Hurt, the cast includes a number of internationally known French and German actors, as well as less well-known Australian actors. Situating the film within director, Wim Wenders' oeuvre, and putting to one side Australian involvement, Dimitris Eleftheriotis reads Until the End of World as attempting to provide a particularly European perspective in film: 'a balanced combination between anxious European soul-searching and a reaffirming demonstration of global sensitivity'.
(36) Certainly, I would agree that the film does seek to present an alternative perspective from the discernible American/Americanised viewpoint in science fiction. Indeed, viewpoint is of uppermost concern in this film as the narrative centres around the Hurt character (Sam Färber, alias Trevor McPhee) and his efforts to collect a visual family record with a device designed to allow his blind mother to see through his eyes. The device that he uses resembles the Squid technology in the later Strange Days, recording the reactions of the wearer (as one character describes it: 'the experience of seeing') as well as the visual images he sees. The information is then translated by a computer and directly imputed into the receiver's brain and projected onto the visual cortex.
Sam's family is dispersed around the world, which provides the justification for a quest that takes him across several continents in pursuit of these personalised recordings, before returning to his parents who have settled in the rocky, desert terrain of the Australian outback. At the same time, Sam is also relentlessly trailed by a multi-national cast of characters, including a bounty hunter (played by Ernie Dingo), a young female drifter called Claire (played by Solveig Dommartin), Claire's ex-lover, Eugene (played by Sam Neill), and a private detective (played by Rüdiger Vogler). Sam continually deceives his pursuers in an attempt to escape their grasp and continue on his journey.
Each of his pursuers has a different viewpoint on Sam's true identity and during the first half of the film it is Sam/Hurt who becomes the enigma that fascinates and frustrates those who try to track him down. Even as Sam's true identity emerges, he remains elusive. For example, if the point of view shot is taken as an indicator of subjective perspective then it is notable that Sam's point of view shots are usually distorted and mediated by the recording technology he uses, and that he proves deficient in his ability to re-envision the subjective data that he has so avidly collected. The inference here is that Sam is incapable of a clear subjective perspective because his subject-hood has become fragmented and uncertain. Underpinned by the oedipal scenario played out in Sam's devotion to his mother and the
difficult relationship with his father, he could well be taken as the embodiment of an immature American addiction to the image and image technologies. This addiction is then passed on to Claire, as, upon the death of Sam's mother, the couple sink into a narcissistic and alienated state, feeding upon recorded images of their own dreams.
In its travels across Russia, Siberia, China, Japan, America and various parts of Europe, the film avoids the representation of Arab nations: the Aboriginal desert therefore takes the place of an Arabian desert as an image that evokes both an apocalyptic erasure of Western rationalism and control and a hope for new beginnings. Indeed, once the characters have reached the desert, the long-awaited apocalypse results in the elimination of the global network of computer-generated, image technologies. The orientalised desert then becomes a place of healing and renewal for these Western travellers.
My final example is not a co-production, but the French-produced, English-language film, The Fifth Element (dir. Luc Besson, 1997). French cinema has a long history of 'dialogue' with its American competitor, popular Hollywood cinema; a dialogue that became especially noticeable with the conscious reworkings of American themes in the French New Wave of late 1950s and early 1960s and the coming of the New New Wave, as exemplified in the so-called 'cinema du look' in the 1980s. Distinct from other European cinemas, where national film industries have remained relatively small, or have become very much eroded in the face of Hollywood competition, French cinema has managed to retain a respectable portion of the home market.
Partly due to quota systems, government subsidies and staunch protectionist policies, the French cinema industry continues to thrive and is also in the position of being able to support occasional blockbuster productions that have entered into the global arena. While the early 1990s saw the French-produced, science fiction fantasies, Delicatessen (dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1991) and Les Visiteurs (dir. Jean-Marie Poire, 1993) achieve notoriety on a global scale, in turning to the use of the English language and in the casting of the American star Bruce Willis, Fifth Element was obviously intended as a French produced rival to the Hollywood science fiction blockbuster.
Like Stargate, The Fifth Element reproduces a familiar Hollywood format and offers a blockbuster display of spectacular special effects and fast moving, action-adventure. Also, following in Stargate's footsteps, the film establishes a literally alien and mystical Middle East in its opening scenes. After a brief shot of a spacecraft entering the frame, the film cuts to the opening scene set in Egypt in 1914, in which an archaeologist is endeavouring to unlock the secrets of an ancient pyramid. An Egyptian priest becomes nervous as the archaeologist successfully translates the hieroglyphs on its walls. At this point, our friendly aliens revisit the pyramid, which turns out to be their hiding-place for a weapon designed to combat evil alien forces. The weapon is powered by four stones,
representing the elements of earth, fire, air and water, and a fifth element is contained within a sarcophagus (later revealed to be a humanoid female called Leeloo). The Egyptian priest is in league with the aliens and is charged with passing the secret knowledge about the weapon and Earth's impending invasion to the next generation within this religious order.
Following this opening scene the film cuts to a futuristic New York in the year 2214. The narrative then revolves around the appearance of the prophesied evil force and follows the escapades of our rugged American hero, Korben Dallas (Willis) in his attempts to save the world. In addition, the design of the vertigo-inducing, multi-layered cityscape makes specific reference to the urban science fiction films that dominated the Hollywood genre in the 1980s and 1990s. However, in contrast to the dark and dystopic urban settings of films like Blade Runner (dir. Ridley Scott, 1982) and The Terminator (dir. James Cameron, 1984), the city in Fifth Element provides a stimulating, bright, colourful and multi-cultural environment against which the action unfolds. Influenced by French comic books (bande dessinée) and the adult science fiction comics created by the French artist, Jean Giraud (under the alias Moebius), Fifth Element recalls the Franco-Italian production, Barbarella (dir. Roger Vadim, 1967) and reclaims the comic-book style so heavily associated with Hollywood science fiction since the late 1970s and early 1980s.
37 The eclectic excess of Fifth Element's colourful design is also intrinsic in Jean-Paul Gaultier's immoderate costumes for the film and is mirrored in the overtly theatrical and highly mannered performances given by the cast of characters that surround Dallas. Richard F. Kuisel suggests that 'the evolution of the French cinema has been toward a kind of hybridisation that blurs, without entirely obliterating, a "national" style'. (38) Fifth Element therefore-confronts Hollywood on its own turf, but also marks itself apart from the American blockbuster. Moreover, in overlaying its references to American science fiction with the exotic and comic campness evidenced in the film, I would suggest that Fifth Element successfully 'queers' its Hollywood forerunners.
In an analysis of the dance styles employed by the choreographer, Jack Cole, in a variety of Hollywood musicals, Adrienne L. McLean suggests that 'Orientalism was part of an often transformative and empowering Camp discourse'. (39) In this way, the 'oriental' provides a playfully irrational space in which alternative modes of expression and behaviour can be articulated. So, what I am proposing is that Fifth Element conjures up this brand of 'transformative Orientalism' as an appropriate vehicle to advance an alternative Euro-French perspective within the science fiction genre. Although the narrative revolves around Dallas and even though he provides the audience with a central point of identification, his reactions to those around him are crucial to an understanding of the perspectives at play in the film. For example, Willis' performance relies heavily on a kind of ironic incredulity in reaction to the exploits of his fellow city-dwellers.
In many respects he is the true alien in this environment and much of the humour is created in the film in watching Dallas apply an absurdly gung-ho and macho approach to the situations he encounters. It is as though Willis's John McClaine' character from the Die Hard films (1998, 1990, 1995) had been inappropriately dropped into the completely alien environment of this French film,
an environment that he is none too successful in dealing with until the appearance of a female in apparent distress provides suitable motivation for his actions. Dallas's actions and lack of appropriate etiquette are also paralleled in the response of the American-style military to the alien threat that approaches the Earth. Without proper consultation, the military bombard the approaching threat with the largest nuclear missiles they can muster, but this only succeeds in making the threat more palpable.
The Middle Eastern theme introduced at the beginning of the film is carried through in the musical sound track. Upon Dallas's first meeting with Leeloo, his allegiance with this mysterious female is sealed when he refuses to hand her over to the police who are trying to take her into custody and, instead, takes off at speed in his flying taxi-cab.
The high-speed chase that ensues is accompanied by the Algerian-born musician Cheb Khaled's 'Alech Taadi'. As compared to the preceding scoring by Eric Serra, the distinctly Arabic tones of Khaled's music operates in the film to signify not only Dallas's seemingly irrational attempt to
break away from the forces of law and order in this city, but also his roman¬tic/sexual attraction for this exotic/erotic female. These 'oriental' undertones are then taken up in Eric Serra's song, 'A Little Light of Love', at the close of the film, which accompanies the consummation of Korben and Leeloo's relationship. While it was fairly standard practice in classical film noir to evoke the 'oriental', this usually signalled the arrival of a dangerous eroticism, but here the 'oriental' becomes a protecting and healing power. The mystical powers of an ancient Middle East are therefore pitted against the corruption and inhumanity of American-style capitalism (represented in the character of Zorg as the greedy and unfeeling capitalist) and the mindless violence of a militaristic government.
Although the examples above represent a variety of responses by a European film industry to Hollywood science fiction there are also clear similarities between these otherwise diverse films. The most obvious similarity occurs in the frequency of the desert motif across these films and direct/indirect reference to an ancient Middle Eastern civilisation. Also, each film presents us with the markedly estranged central male hero who seems out of place in the world in which they find themselves. In all three films this character is an American who, initially detached and distanced in some way from his surroundings, finally embraces an exotic new world. In the context of an increasingly global film industry, the bizarre mix of 'oriental' images serves a doubled purpose in the Euro-American science fiction film, simultaneously signalling the films' uncertain national status as well as working to reinstate division and dissimilarity.
INTERVIEW: ACTOR JOE MORTON
C: How would you describe your working relationship with the director of The Brother from Another Planet, John Sayles?
M: John and I have done three films together and each was a joy and a real collaboration between actor and director. I look forward to the next venture whenever that might happen. John is greatly responsible for putting my career on the map.
C: John Sayles is often reported as adopting an 'ensemble' style in his working methods. How would you describe the methods of working on his films, particularly in The Brother from Another Planet?
M: John definitely works on an ensemble basis. Most of us came from a theatrical background, including John. This makes for an ability to communicate easily and efficiently. John has grown as a director. When we did The Brother from Another Planet John wanted actors who could take care of their own emotional life within the film. He wasn't interested in background stories or how
actor got from A to B. He no longer holds that opinion. He goes as far as providing background for you. I think partly we've all gotten to know each other better. The more you work with someone the better you know them - witness Scorsese and De Niro for example.
C: In what ways, perhaps, has your experience of working on a film like Brother differed from, say, the more mainstream film productions you have been involved with?
M: With John, the script you are given at the beginning of principal photogra¬phy is the same as the script you finish with. Most mainstream film suffers rewrites throughout the entire course of shooting. Mainstream films are shot ry committee, for the most part. John's films are John's films.
C: Reviews of your work in Brother have likened your performance to stars of the silent era, Chaplin and Keaton . . .
M: I think because the character does not speak and I was given the opportunity to use my face and body in similar ways as Chaplin and Keaton, the tendency was to make the comparison. The most difficult part in doing the role, however, was not its silence but the fact that I could not recognise a world mat I, the actor, knew well. Also, doing theatre in general was helpful in all kinds of ways. For instance, there is a scene when John, as the bounty hunter, "reels' me in as I try to escape. I used a mime technique to perform that moment as opposed to allowing John to use a 'special effect' vis-a-vis the camera.
C: I'd like to know more about how you prepared for this role and more about your thinking behind this characterisation.
M: 'The Brother' was a man who had to learn a great deal in a short amount of time while surrounded by a world with which he was unfamiliar. I studied babies, puppies and anything or anyone who had to learn the way that he did.
He starts off as a character that is more reactive than showing initiative. He begins to study earthlings more intensely once he discovers the kid who overdoses. He wants to know why someone would purposely take something that ends their life. The result is he follows the drugs to the dealer and takes things in hand and kills the dealer. He enters the world in an extremely active way.
John is a social commentarian. The film takes us into a world most white people would not normally enter. We see this world through the eyes of someone who is at once accepted into this world and is a stranger at the same time. It talks about people who have talents and no outlets for those talents due to oppression and racial prejudice. Because he can not speak, people tell him secrets. We hear things we might not normally hear, for instance, the conversations in the bar.
C: Who do you think the film was 'talking to'? Do you regard it as having been an effective film?
M: John's audience is made up of people on the political left, intellectuals and artists. I don't know that any film has any real cultural effect. In most cases you are speaking to the already converted no matter where you, as the filmmaker, might be coming from. You are appealing to people of like minds, in most cases.
C: Do you think your role in Brother has affected the kinds of roles you have been offered since?
M: After the movie opened I got lots of auditions, but people didn't know me or what I sounded like - some even thought I was a mute. I have no regional accent. I am an army brat I travelled around the world as a kid. So when I came in not sounding 'black', directors would always say, 'Loved you in that Brother'. That meant I was not going to get whatever it was I was auditioning for.
C: Do you think there is any kind of connection in your playing of Dyson in Terminator 2 to your previous role in Brother
M: There was no connection between the two films other than they were both sci-fi. I told James Cameron I wanted to play Miles Dyson because of a joke Richard Pryor told. Richard said that obviously Hollywood didn't think black people were going to be around in the future because we were never in futuristic movies or we were the first to be killed. Miles Dyson was central to the plot and the most human character in the movie.
C: It seems that Brother primarily uses the science fiction genre to make = broader social comment, but I wondered how you might feel about other science fiction films.
M: Science fiction is definitely a way to talk about the human condition. All ycI need do is look at everything from The Time Machine to 2001 to Star Wars. Each, in its own way, tries to talk about humankind's needs, habits, psychologies and drives . . . spiritual or otherwise.
C: Even though mainstream science fiction films are often regarded as spectacular, mindless fun, they often (either implicitly or more explicitly) deal with issues surrounding race, in one way or another. I wondered what your views were on the way particular films of the genre have dealt with racial issues.
M: Personally I never feel they deal with it a way that is satisfying. I always as if, because race is such a sensitive issue in this country, most sci-fi skirts around it or treats it predictably. Brother is one of the few that deals with it head on.
C: Bob Westal, in reviewing your work, praises your performance in Brother and says that this should have propelled you into becoming a major film
star. He goes onto say: 'In a colour-blind, less looks-obsessed world, this would have een a star-making performance for Joe Morton'. (40) He says that although you remain an 'outstanding, character actor' you were never really given the chance to become a major star, which he is suggesting was due to the fact that you are an African American.
M: American film has a tradition. Sidney Poitier has been substituted by Denzel. Tnere can only ever be one of us in a dramatic category. Will Smith has proven :e an interesting actor but again most of his credits are action/adventure films like Wesley Snipes. I have done well to play as many different kinds of black people as I have. That will be my 'claim to fame'. Film is based on images. Most images in America are produced by white males. Consequently most importunities are given to males who fulfil that profile.
C: Some of the roles you have undertaken suggest a particularly attuned awareness of issues surrounding race and ethnicity and a political consciousness - to what extent would you say you brought a political consciousness to your work?
M: Pretty much every role I have taken or sought was based on the idea that I wished to present a wide range of African Americans who have some stake in the emotional thread of the story being told. I have not played many villains, respite the fact that they are usually the most interesting. But, in the case of black villains, they are more often than not clichés.
C: To what extent would you say that your profession as an actor has allowed you to express a political consciousness?
M: Certainly, the parts I have done for John are obviously political. Most everything else has been political either in the fact that they were not necessarily written for a black person to do or due to the nature of the circumstances speaking to something controversial, for instance, Miss Evers' Boys (dir. Joseph Sargent, 1997). Sometimes I took a role because it was fun and good money.
When I first started working professionally I decided I would not play certain kinds of roles (the drug dealers, the pimps, the 'boogey-men'), unless they were unique and interesting. I figured someone would take those roles, it just wouldn't be me. I have spent my whole career pursuing roles and in many cases getting roles not written for black people, both on stage and in film. I was involved in a published debate with John Simon after Mr Simon's review of me playing Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream commented that a conspicuously white role should not be played by a conspicuously black actor. I basically said that Shakespeare was about metaphor, not literal translation, and if he were correct then there should be no women on the stage either. The public got involved and wrote in their opinions as well. Most were on my side. He never gave me a bad review after that. I think he respected my intelligence.
C: So an awareness of issues surrounding race has affected your decisions over whether or not to take a role?
M: Of course. It's a shame I would ever have to think about it, but sometimes you do.
1. Young 1995, p. 180.
2. Ashcroft et al. (eds) 1999, p. 223. Although Hall is mostly referring to Britain here his analvsis also holds true within an America context.
3. Ibid. 1999, p. 224.
4. For example, the slogan 'black is beautiful', which emerged in the 1960s and early 1970s was designed to encourage a renewed sense of pride in Americans of African origin.
5. See Ashcroft et al. (eds) 1999, p. 224.
6. Ibid., pp. 224-5.
7. 'DissemiNation: Time, Narrative, and the Margins of the Modern Nation', in Bhabha 1990, p. 293 (my emphasis).
8. Bhabha 1988, pp. 5-23 (p. 22 Bhabha's emphases).
9. Dyer 1997, p. 4.
10. This is part of the voice-over 'manifesto' spoken by the captain of the Enterprise and repeated at the beginning of each episode of the original series.
11. I am obviously not including Tim Burton's recent re-make, released in 2001.
12. As if to underline a self (white)/Other (black) dichotomy, the only astronaut to be played by an African-American (Jeff Burton) is killed off near the beginning of the film and the rest of the narrative focuses upon the white astronaut, Taylor (Charlton Heston) and his struggles.
13. Greene (ed.) 1998, p. 150.
14. See Fanan 1970, pp. 78-82.
15. 'Bumper' Robinson, who played the drac infant, Zammis, was 10-11 years old when he appeared in this role.
16. Burgin 1990, pp. 62-73 (p. 68).
17. Janeson 1991, pp. 37-8.
18. Ibid., p. 15.
19. Turkle 1997, p. 243.
20. Ibid., p. 263.
21. 'Global Crisis, the Struggle for Cultural Identity and Intellectual Porkbarrelling: Cosmopolitans Versus Locals, Ethnics and Nationals in an Era of De-hegemonisation". in Werbner and Modood (eds) 1997, p. 84.
22. Although this technology is also reminiscent of the 'feelies' in Aldous Huxley's novel, Brave New World, and the 'stimmies' which feature in Marge Piercy's Body of Glass.
23. 'The Eye of Horror', in Clover 1992, p. 169 (Clover's emphasis).
24. 'Postmodernism and Consumer Society', in Foster (ed.) 1983, p. 117.
25. The recording of Rodney King being beaten by police was televised in 1991 and the later acquittal of the officers involved, in 1992, set off a series of riots in Los Angeles.
26. Said, Orientalism 2003, p. 1.
27. Ibid. 2003, p. 1-2.
28. 'Techno-Orientalism: Japan Panic', in Morley and Robins 1995, p. 167.
212. 29.For example, Darrell William Davis has explored a kind of 'auto-orientalism' in the Japanese film, Hana-Bi (dir. Kitano Takeshi, 1997), as a marketing ploy, in order to sell this film to an international market. See Davis 2001, pp. 55-80.
30. Many critics have read the films as a successful 'translation' of Gibson's Neuromancer to the screen. See Barnett 2000, pp. 359-74.
31. It is certainly possible to read this the other way around, as an ironic inversion of real and fantastical. However, a distinct racialised divide remains and even given the ambiguity of which world should be considered 'real' (especially in the first film of the series), the fact remains that the black characters function to bring Neo back to a sense of his own humanity.
32. This 'in-between' status was, of course, also assigned to the 'Jewish apes' in Planet of the Apes, who could equally be seen as orientalised.
33. Collin Chou is also known as Sing Ngai. He was born in Taiwan and began his film career in Hong Kong, where he is a well known actor/martial artist. He moved to the US in 1999.
34. 'The Limiting Imagination of National Cinema', in Hjort and Mackenzie (eds) 2000, pp. 67-8.
35. Said argues that European Orientalism largely revolves around Middle Eastern culture, whereas American-style Orientalism more frequently concerns Far Eastern culture. See 'Introduction', in said 2003, pp. 1-28.
36. 'Global Visions and European Perspectives', in Sardar and Cubitt (eds) 2002, p. 177.
37. The Moebius cityscape featured in the influential, adult French comic 'Metal Hurlant', heavily influenced Syd Mead's urban design of Blade Runner. Also, Jean Giraud worked on American science fiction films from the late 1970s throughout the 1980s (e.g. Alien, Tron, The Abyss etc.).
38. 'The French Cinema and Hollywood: A Case Study of Americanization', in Fehrenback and Poiger (eds) 2000, p. 217.
39. 'The Thousand Ways There Are to Move: Camp and Oriental Dance in the Hollywood Musicals of Jack Cole', in Bernstein and Studlar (eds) 1997, p. 149.
40. Bob Westal, 'The Brother from Another Planet' (review), Film Threat: http:// filmthreat.com/index.php?section=reviews&Id=2796.
In: Science Fiction Cinema Between Fantasy and Reality. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2007, pp. 175-214.