Science Fiction as a Social Juggernaut and What’s Finally Stopped It

The word ‘reboot’ has become something of a curse word in media today. Internet commenters hiss and lash out at headlines bearing the phrase from the dark recesses of grimy basements, their itchy-trigger fingers eager to ‘mansplain’ away the real reason why a female ghostbusting team is so ridiculous. 

However, sexism, racism (whatever-ism these hateful lurkers flock to next) aside, are reboots a good thing? What about them are so appealing to filmmakers and so abhorrent to viewers? Specifically, if SciFi is meant to be a genre about the future, why are we looking to the past to portray it? 

Now please, don’t get me wrong. I am in no way, shape, or form a Science Fiction history expert. I am simply a long-time consumer of SciFi movies, television, and books. Every year since I was about fourteen, I’ve attended the ArmadilloCon in downtown Austin—an incredible convention put on by fans, dedicated to celebrating not only local authors and artists but everyone who loves the Science Fiction and fantasy genres. I also watched STARGATE at probably too young an age. I think Ray Bradbury has some of the most entertaining and engaging stories on the planet. I say all this not to regale my Science Fiction education, but to simply prove that over the years, I’ve kept my ear to the ground and listened to my SciFi elders about what to watch and read. The following commentary is simply a written collection of the observations I’ve made over the years and the string that connects them all. 

One of the most distinctive shifts in new Science Fiction media I’ve witnessed in recent years is the popular rise of the HUNGER GAMES series. The HARRY POTTER series was nearing a close so thousands of eager reading youngsters rushed to join their next fandom, presumably to soften the blow once Harry Potter left us. I was slow to the train and had a friend of my brother’s explain it to me: “Children compete to the death in a televised event because the government says so.”

What?

That’s terrible—so sad! What kind of future was this? How darkly this contrasted with the richly delightful (if not exceedingly poignant) magical world that I knew growing up. 

However, as I came to realize, this was the first of many near-future dystopian medium the creative industry would come to design. THE WALKING DEAD sky-rocketed in popularity. DIVERGENT followed THE HUNGER GAMES. Cormac McCarthy came out with THE ROAD. WALL-E hit way too close to home with the floating fat people on giant bed screens. Post-apocalyptic became the keyword for hundreds of televisions, movies, and books—anything that entirely original within the last ten years. 

And then the wave of reboots hit as film producers began to look back in time for source material. Undoubtedly the success of Marvel comics, beginning with IRON MAN, was the first spark in this now bonfire, and let me be clear—Marvel can keep making movies until I’m a box of dust and I will still find a way to watch them all. I don’t hate reboots on the sole reason that they are reboots. I’m simply curious as to this sudden rise and mostly why other people reject them so soundly.

From what I can gather, everyone fears their favorite childhood film (because most notably these reboots are mostly taken from the 80s) will end up like ROBOCOP, 2014. Which is totally a valid fear. That movie was terrible. Like so, so bad. Like maybe find another vocation other than film production, my dude. 

But bloodshed aside, having your sacred memory tarnished so that some Hollywood bigwig can have some extra million in the bank is horrifying thought. Not everything can be as good as the new Star Trek movies and understandably so. To recreate the “magic” of a beloved television show or movie is an incredibly difficult thing, and most incredibly difficult things cost a lot of money. 

But why recreate in the first place? 

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STAR TREK is a wonderful example of Science Fiction at its best. There’s lasers, and teleportation, and space battles, and aliens, and Tribbles—and it pushed the boundaries of societal expectation. A black woman on TV in the sixties? A black woman on TV in the sixties in a lead role? Say again?? STAR TREK, through the elementary human curiosity to find out what’s over there, asked audiences to look again, to question, to examine both intellect and emotion as reasonable pursuits. Furthermore, it suggested that ANYONE was capable of saving the universe, even if it seemed James T Kirk’s sole mission was to seduce everyone and everything in said universe. Undoubtedly, STAR TREK was truly futuristic in both its approach to science and its unique-ness due to the era in which it was produced. 

By having a black woman in a lead role, it shocked many audiences and challenged the stereotypes of that day. And that’s what good SciFi has always done: pushed the boundaries of not only science, but of social constructs. So what does it mean that as an industry, we continue to remake old favorites, but do not knock on the boundaries of our own fallacies? Having a black woman in a lead role on television is not exactly a jaw-dropper, but what about having her as THE lead role? Why are we so afraid to go the one extra step and equalize the playing field completely? 

Is it because of those tiny Internet gnats that cause an uproar and threaten ticket sales? Leslie Jones, who plays Patty Tolan from the new GHOSTBUSTERS movie, had her social media recently hacked and nude photos were posted to the public. Her phone, computer, Twitter, and website with personal information were released, coming after a summer of social media hatred for her role in the new GHOSTBUSTERS movie. If the internet had been around in the time of the original STAR TREK, would Nichelle Nichols have gotten the same hate? Once the internet found out that John Boyega would not be playing a Stormtrooper but have a significant role in the movie, he too was bombarded with death threats and ill-wishes on his performance. 

I applaud STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS for the use of its source material, but also for pushing the limits of what our society today views as socially acceptable. The duality of making a futuristic film in the context of Western culture in 2016 is extremely delicate, because any good director should recognize that the future will be just as diverse as it is today, and do their best to reflect that. But, there are those who still see our current society and all future societies as being led by primarily white males—and will give a hoot and a half to anyone who says differently.

It seems we have hit a point of rigidity. We can’t make anything new or original without having it soaked in blood and gore. We certainly can’t make anything original AND with a diverse cast because the internet is still too young for it. So we must look back to “better days” where there was just not enough POC to make white people uncomfortable but give the industry a reason to say, “hey, look, you guys get roles too.” 

So what’s SciFi to do? Are we to sit back and continue to pander to the petty meat creatures, or do we take up our arms and dare to blaze a new trail? As someone very wise once said, in times like these, we must boldly go where no man has gone before... which ironically seems to be a world where black women are in fact considered human too. 

© 2014 OWA SciFi Film Fest, LLC