Okay, so I was watching Children of Men on television the other day. For those who have not seen it Children of Men tells the story of the future world where human beings can no longer have children, a man finds himself transporting a miraculously pregnant woman to sea to meet with scientists to save mankind. Interestingly the woman who is with child is a black woman, known as Kee, played by Clare-Hope Ashitey.
Have you noticed how films in of the future represent a sort of destruction, disaster, and decay? For example there is I am Legend, Book of Eli, The Matrix, and the list can go on. Human beings have failed the earth is what these films say. With the exception of The Matrix (although word is this part was originally offered to Will Smith before Keanu Reeves), what I have noticed is how when it looks like mankind is certainly doomed it is now up to the people of color to save it from extinction. (*However, in the Matrix Neo still refers to a black woman (the Oracle) for guidance.) In I am Legend, Will Smith’s character Robert Neville is immune from the plague that has wiped out the earth and spends his days trying to search for a cure. In the end, the cure runs through his veins. In the Book of Eli, lone man Eli, play by Denzel Washington, travels across America with a sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind. When we learn that this “book” is in fact the Bible, it is as if Eli’s character has been called by God to do so.
Why is it that in these post-apocalyptic worlds, it is people of color who must save it? Is it something about blackness that makes these filmmakers think that only we are tough enough to roam the earth, at times alone? Or does our past history of trauma make it seem that we can take it? If we were strong enough to take it, would we really want to take on this mission and carry that future of mankind on our backs? That is quite an undertaking for a group of people who were once simply known as “the other” and prejudiced against. It is quite an undertaking for a group of people who were once told that we were not smart enough, brave enough, or tough enough to even fight in war, such as in The Tuskegee Airmen (1995). But one thing is for sure that in the Second World War, the Tuskegee Airmen proved to be the best as they were able to protect other fighter groups and when it was all said and done, white fighters could only pray that they could fly with the Tuskegee Airmen.
So I guess we have what it takes to save this earth. The solution runs through our veins and is passed on to our unborn children such as in Children of Men. However, if all that is true, then why is it that Clare-Hope Ashitey is not the star of the film. When you look at Children of Men on the Internet Movie Database, what you find is that Ashitey’s name or character does not even appear on the cast list (you have to click for more options to find her name). In poster advertisements for the film such as the one here, it is Clive Owens, who also stars in the film, whose face appears. This says that even though our future lies in the hands of this black pregnant woman, she is not as important as the white man who must put her on a boat and cast her off in to the sea. In I am Legend, lets just say that even though Will Smith’s character is immune to the plague, and the cure runs in his veins, he won’t make it either and Denzel’s Washington’s character in Eli, after delivering the “book” his life mission is complete and thus over.
Black people seem to be equipped to faced the trauma of the new world in that it is what is part of the collective body of blackness. Let me explain… Black people have a relationship to one another, which was forged by various acts of violence. In fact, blackness itself is forged. It affects how black people operate in such a way in that underneath the surface of every act, there is a consciousness that states that this is not just an individual experience, but also a black experience that invokes a collective body. This is what Elizabeth Alexander in the article Can you be BLACK and look at this?”: Reading the Rodney King Video(s)” refers to as bottom-line blackness: “bottom line here argues that different groups possess sometimes subconscious collective memories which are forged and then maintained through a “storytelling tradition,” however difficult that may be to pin down, as well as individual experience” (Alexander 94). However, as this bottom-line blackness is forged, it is thus articulated through violence, both physically and mentally. Thus, in blackness, violence is a collective effort; it is what Alexander refers to as a “collective memory of trauma” in that although there might be individual experiences, they reference the whole (Alexander 107). It is also trauma because it was forged both mentally (through the social construct of race) and physically through slavery itself. If blackness is located in this trauma, then what else is there to fear for black people? Bring on the wars and battles that there might be to face in this new world. Our whole race is located on a battlefield so it is portrayed as such in the future in narratives in which we are located. We are most equipped and are the best adapt to handle this tough road ahead that the end of the world might bring.