Black Faces, White Messages : Doctor Who

With Season 9 of BBC slated to start in a month, season 8 of DOCTOR WHO finally makes its way onto Netflix. I’ve watched more DOCTOR WHO than the vast majority of you reading this. My compulsive personality at work, I’ve seen all of the current reboot, and all of the classic existing series.

And I’ve seen the series go from great to mediocre and back again. One thing the series has suffered from, at times, in both its classic and modern incarnations is its depictions of people not WASPish.

Russell T. Davies was the visionary largely responsible for the rebirth of Dr. Who after an absence of over a decade; bringing a 20th century creation successfully into the 21st century. In terms of effects, and scope of story-lines Davies reboot was a massive win both artistically and commercially. That said one of the few failings of Russell T. Davies tenure, especially early on, was his use of characters of Color.

His Mickey character, played by the Shakespearean trained Noel Clarke (And I hold both creator and actor complicit for such a portrayal) from the first was a neutered, constantly emasculated character of color much in the vein of Step and Fetchit Hollywood, not just an offensive character, but worse a detriment to otherwise watchable story-lines, of which the Russell T. Davies run, had many.

I would rather creators avoid using characters of color, than use them offensively or ignorantly, as nothing more than tokens or stereotypes or outlets for their biases, which I think unfortunately is how Russell t. Davies approached such characters, particularly early in his run.

However by the Tenant years, Davies had a far better grasp on utilizing characters of color, as his Martha Jones character, brilliantly played by Freema Agyeman and her extended family were from the most part brilliantly written.

The post Tenant years, starring the youngest Doctor Matt Smith, and helmed by new Show Runner Steven Moffatt, I felt were pretty uneven, as the character was saddled with companions for most of his run that I found almost as annoying as the Mickey character.

That brings us finally to the new incarnation of the Doctor played by Peter Capaldi in Season 8, which definitely had me intrigued.

However, initially, the introduction of a Black character (love interest for the companion Clara), named Mr. Pink had me groaning audibly. I saw another Mickey in the making. A Black character called Mr, Pink? Really? Why not just call him snowball. But thankfully, the series, six episodes in is smarter, better written, and the character of Mr. Pink, stronger and more compelling and likably written and performed, than initial episodes and the unfortunate name… would imply. As well as other characters of color in far more humanistic and enjoyable and non-stereotypical roles than most stateside shows.

Add to that Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor and Jenna Coleman as Clara are fantastic. Capaldi brings a less manic, measured performance and is a welcome touchstone to the Doctor as teacher and mentor and father. And Jenna Coleman’s Clara an excellent companion.

Episode 6 CARETAKER is my favorite of the season so far and season 8 as a whole my favorite season since the Tenant/Agyeman series. Let’s hope the writing continues to transcend the easy crutches of stereotype that sometime marred earlier seasons, and continues to broaden and enrich the history and mythology of Dr. Who.

Final Word:

On the accusation of Black Faces/White Message we find Season 8 of Doctor Who… NOT GUILTY. It is TV done right, as Showrunner, Stars, and stories combine to make addictive, fun, ethnically diverse, and smart television.

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DISTRICT 9 film, SHELL GAS, NEILL BLOMKAMP, PETER JACKSON and crimes made clean by cash

I found DISTRICT 9 a well structured film, in terms of pacing, and the germ of its story. I mean there is a lot to like about DISTRICT 9. Its fast frenetic pace, strong performances, a short snappy running time, and really amazing special effects and impressive action, all grafted on to what is essentially a chase pic.

So there was a lot to like about DISTRICT 9, unfortunately the few things… not to like, I found to be significant things, and really kinda central to the heart of the film. And the heart was… corrupt.

Where DISTRICT 9 immediately fails for me is in its fairly unsubtle tone and its use of Black faces to deliver and reinforce White messages. A well worn Hollywood trope going back to the BIRTH OF A NATION.

What do I mean? DISTRICT 9 is a thinly veiled allegory to Apartheid South Africa, replacing the Kafirs with Prawns. The fact that in reality it is the aliens, the Dutch who came in and relocated the rightful occcupants into slums is kind of lost in this translation however. Instead we get Black actors (faces, as I’m sure most of them were non-actors) to in essense regurgitate lines that not too long ago the Dutch would have said about them. It is an irony not lost on me, but is without a doubt lost on the Black faces, thrust into a movie that is all about delivering white messages.

The most aggregious of which? The Nigerians. In one stroke they called them smugglers, drug and weapon dealers, sexual deviants, and cannibals. Wow. Who paid for this movie, Shell Gas?

I know a bit about Nigeria and I found that portrayal racist and maligning and calculated to reinforce stereotypes, on an almost unbelievable level. (I mean you can do a pic with Triad gangs, or Yakuza because you typically have positive asian elements in the same film, as well as tons of positive Asian films. However when a people are as underrepresented on the world stage as the Nigerians, it’s important that their only images aren’t negative images. Otherwise it becomes the engine of Stereotype. So I’m not saying “Do not use Nigerians in film”, but let’s try painting them as hereoes as well as villians, or perhaps even just as people)

It’s well known to everyone except the terminally stupid, which includes unfortunately most of America, that for six decades the Dutch-British company that is SHELL gasoline, this survivor of the mad dreams of Reichdom, has made their fortune by stealing and raping the land and resources of the native Nigerian people… the Ogoni (If you saw AVATAR you have seen a fictionalization of that Ogoni saga played out. With the exception being no one has yet come to the Ogoni’s aid). And the Nigerian email scams, are not Nigerian inventions but British/Dutch inventions (Noise to cover the real signal/emails that activists were trying to get out about the attrocities being perpetrated in Nigeria, against the native Nigerians).

So unfortunuately all the masses, who get their news from obviously bigoted sources such as FOX NEWS, know of Nigeria is little to nothing. All the masses know is the noise.

The noise and now DISTRICT 9.

A movie like Neill Blomkamp’s DISTRICT 9, that makes you care for the fictional oppresed Alien race (and want to say “no this is wrong” to what is happening on screen), does so at the expense of real people, The Nigerians, who have been and continue to be victims of staggering colonialism and oppression.

This juxtapositon with the illusion of caring, with the reality of “this filmmaker eithers doesn’t care enough to offer a non-jingoistic view of Nigerians”, ultimately drowns, what otherwise is a tight, faced-paced, stylish thriller of a movie, that I wanted very much to like.

But I see clearly that the films message of misrepresentation will ultimately only serve… to continue the crimes of mass-theft and mass-murder that continue to occur in Nigeria.

DISTRICT 9, has become a very stylish Nigerian spam email, Noise to hide the faint signal… of people who need your help.

So I view the broad license this movie takes, to paint an already deeply attacked and violated people, with such a broad brush of villany, the only way I can… with utter disgust.

Neill Blomkamp with this film proves himself an effective filmmaker, and perhaps he actually had the best of intentions for his film. But honestly I have to doubt it, the commentary against Nigerians was too pointed, and the use of Blacks/South Africans to espouse Apartheid era lines as subtle as a brick to the face. It comes across as the movie of an apologist for Apartheid at best, and a racist at worst. There’s no other way to say it.

Or perhaps Neill Blomkamp, a very young man, is as much a victim of programming as those Black actors in his film, mouthing white messages that can ultimately only harm them and theirs. Perhaps both him and his actors, raised on this cinema and culture of lies, it has become their truth, and all they can do is regurgitate it. All we can be is our father’s failings.

I’d like to believe that’s not true. I’d like to believe that we can all escape slums, both physical and mental. I would like to believe we can all escape our District 9s. Time will tell.

Recommendation: As long as you could go in and not take this picture’s definition of Nigerians as an encompassing definition, take a look. Otherwise read a bit on Shell Gas, and how your car these days runs as much on blood as oil. (For the record I boycott Shell Gas and recommend that all people do the same).

Here endeth the lesson.

Till next time… be well.