JG: In describing Anglophone SF/F as “treat[ing] subjects close to the hearts of straight, white, English-speaking men,” you also write of a market that caters greatly to the White Gaze. How do you think writers could challenge themselves to write beyond this Gaze?
FF: Quoting from Hamlet (a White Gaze, I know, I know, heh): “To thine own self be true,” Polonius’s last piece of advice to his son Laertes. But, really, there is no better advice. Write what you want to write, not what you think the majority of readers out there will want to read. That should do the trick.
JG: Ah! But “to thine own self be true” is also a murky subject, given how many colonized peoples now identify and agree with colonizer perspectives. Colonialism is so much more than just economic and military domination, no? How do you think writers from colonized peoples can deal with this issue?
FF: Now that’s an excellent question—and I must confess I’m looking forward to see the responses I’m going to get from writers regarding this particular issue. I’m aware I can get stories from the POV of colonized people who now are completely comfortable with their former colonizer’s culture. This, in fact, seem to be the rule, not the exception, at least in Latin America. Take Brazil, for instance. We were colonized by Portugal, and we absorbed all we could from continental Europe culture until 1950s, when we started to absorb US culture. Our 19th-century average writer, from Romance novelist José de Alencar to Realist Machado de Assis (our most revered writer, and—most important of all—a black writer, a fact that was severely downplayed until not so long ago) drank on the sources of French and British authors—Alencar was a reader of Victor Hugo’s, and Machado de Assis was an avid reader of Swift and Sterne.
In our literary circles, things have changes a lot. Today, the average Brazilian writer usually reads other contemporary Latin American authors, like Roberto Bolaño and Enrique Vila-Matas, so their experience is becoming more and more rich. But in other fields of culture, as in cinema, say, things are still pretty much dominated by Hollywood, for instance. Right now we have an awesome film here about an old soccer star, Heleno de Freitas, starring Rodrigo Santoro (of 300 fame), but everyone is really looking forward to watch The Avengers. This sort of thing happens, I believe, almost everywhere. I would gladly welcome stories both agreeing and disagreeing with colonizer perspectives, as long as they are written by people who have lived in the flesh this experience.
JG: We have a similar problem in Malaysia, where local talent is underappreciated, and “global” (i.e., Hollywood-accredited) works have more value. The issue is definitely both one of psychological imperialism and economic power re: distribution, which makes this anthology’s aim seem even more ambitious. How do you plan on marketing this anthology after publication? What avenues will you and Djibril pursue?
FF: We don’t have money—that’s why we put this project on Peerbackers for a crowdfunding effort. We’re also counting with a great bunch of friends who are helping us, both donating and spreading the word: you, Aliette De Bodard, Ekaterina Sedia, Rose Fox, Karen Burnham, and China Mieville are just a few of them. (Thanks so much to all of you!! WE LOVE YOU!) We’ll continue to market the anthology via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and every which way we can. We are still discussing a couple of other possibilities, but I can’t tell you anything yet.
Curator’s note: this post didn’t make it into today’s lineup at the main blog—I wrote this way late last night/early this morning—but I wanted to share it because it does speak to the power of seeing one’s image in pop culture. It’s also one of my favorite stories about Dr. King. ~~Andrea (AJ) Plaid
In honor of Dr. King’s birthday and the US government choosing Dr. Jemison to lead a multigenerational mission to the nearest galaxy this past week, let’s look at the woman who connects these two historic people: actor and advocate Nichelle Nichols, who also made history.
From the Wall Street Journal blog:
I understand that the Uhura character didn’t even exist before you were hired.
I walked in to the interview with this magnificent treatise on Africa by [Robert] Ruark called Uhuru, which is Swahili for Freedom. Gene said he really liked the name of that book and wanted to use the title as a first name. I said, why don’t you do an alliteration of the name Uhuru and soften the N and make it Uhura? He said you are Uhura and that belongs to you.
How much input did you have in creating Uhura?
I created my background, where she came from, my parents. They were ambassadors and one was a scientist, so I had this to live up to as well as the expectations of Spock. I made him Uhura’s mentor.
It sounds like you put a lot of thought into the part. Why did you want to quit after the first season?
After the first year, Grace Lee Whitney was let go so it became Bill and Leonard. The rest of us became supporting characters. I decided to leave the show after the first season.
What convinced you to stay on?
I was at a fundraiser and the promoter of the event said there’s somebody that wants to meet you. He is your biggest fan. I stood up and turned to see the beatific face of Dr. Martin Luther King walking towards me with a sparkle in his eye. He took my hand and thanked me for meeting him. He then said I am your greatest fan. All I remember is my mouth opening and shutting.
What was that like?
I thanked him so much and told him how I’d miss it all. He asked what I was talking about, and told me that I can’t leave the show. We talked a long time about what it all meant and what images on television tell us about ourselves.
Did you know then how much of a role model you’d become?
Oh, god, no. I thought of it as a stepping stone to Broadway. I went back to Gene and told him what had happened, and that I was staying. He smiled up at me and said, thank god for Dr. Martin Luther King.
Did the experience change how you played Uhura?
Nichols: It’s one of the most important things that happened in my life and it changed and defined my career. I took my role much more seriously after that.
Because of this conversation and because Nichols took King’s advice, she inspired generations of people—especially young Black girls—to imagine themselves in space. One of those people is former NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, who is a longtime friend of Nichols.
"Images show us possibilities," the Stanford graduate says. "A lot of times, it’s fantasy that gets us through reality."
A quarter of a century after Lt. Uhura boldly went where no African American had gone before, her protegee returned the favor. Before blasting into orbit aboard the Endeavour in 1992, Jemison, the first woman of color in space, called actress Nichelle Nichols to thank her for the inspiration. And then she made a promise:
Despite NASA’s rigid protocol, Jemison would begin each shift with a salute that only a Trekkie could appreciate. “Hailing frequencies open,” she could be heard repeating throughout the eight-day mission.
Jemison also paid the favor forward: she appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. According to Slice of SciFi, Jemison has “the distinction of being the first real astronaut to appear in a Star Trek series.” She also co-founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, which sponsors a international science camp and, according to the wiki about her, appeared at a “forum for promising girls” in Washington, DC, with FLOTUS Michelle Obama in 2009.
Just something to think about on this holiday.