Thursday, April 3, 2014

New Documentary Alert: “Invisible Universe: A History of Blackness in Speculative Fiction”

Utopian Fiction…What is, “Speculative Fiction?”…Who is part of the Science Fiction world?...What does it mean to be a “Second Class Citizen”?…A voyage into a fantastical world…

To answer some of those questions and expound on the above ideas, filmmaker and producer M. Asli Dukan’s has launched her documentary “Invisible Universe: A History of Blackness in Speculative Fiction” which investigates the relationships between the Black body, popular fantasy, horror, science fiction literature & film and the alternative perspectives produced by creators of color. According to Dukan:

From the origins of the genres, images of Black people in fantasy, horror and science fiction or speculative fiction (SF) have been inauthentic at best in the imaginations of white creators. From the “Fantastic Voyages” of the 1700s where Black pirates kidnapped white explorers to far off “alien” lands, to technologically advanced futures where Black people didn’t exist in any significant population, to post-nuclear holocaust America where modern Blacks took on aggressive pre-civilized behaviors, many of these ideas have created lasting impressions in the minds of their audiences and future creators. And though there were a few attempts by some white writers to use the genres for social commentary, for instance on race relations, these efforts were few and far in between.

There is however a significant output of work by Black creators, who used the techniques and themes of the genres to write alternative stories and to produce films that spoke closer to the realities of Black life. At the turn of the 20th century, Black writers wrote utopian and fantastical novels set during the days of slavery and Reconstruction. Independent Black filmmakers created low budget feature films exploring the effects of science and fantastical religious beliefs on the Black imagination. Harlem Renaissance writers jumped into the genre with “mad scientist” and “end of the world” scenarios commenting on the American race relations. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, two powerful and original voices emerged in the SF world writing tales with more inclusive pasts, presents and futures. Also in the 1970s, Black anti-heroes utilized science and the supernatural to secure Black justice. And later, there was the emergence of Black superheroes, who, though ready, willing and able to save the entire universe, first had to fight a homogenous industry.

This 10-year project brings these ideas to life through extensive footage, which features interviews with major writers, scholars, artists and filmmakers (i.e. Samuel R. Delaney, LA Banks, Tananarive Due, Nichelle Nichols, Wesley Snipes). The documentary also explores various mediums such as comics, literature, film, and television by deconstructing stereotypical and archetypal images of people of color (primarily Black) within these genres. Dukan has traveled across the country documenting key conferences, conventions, panels, performances and other events of Black SF at The Studio Museum in Harlem in New York, The East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention and The Afrofuturist Affair in Philadelphia, the AstroBlackness colloquium in Los Angeles, the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture in Atlanta, The Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas in Seattle, and New York Comic Con and Comic-Con International in San Diego. Essentially, “Invisible Universe” ultimately uncovers how Black and other individuals of color have been minimized and even erased within “popular” Sci-Fi culture, thus as a result of this consciously creating their own universe.

Dukan explains much of her dedication and efforts for this highly anticipated documentary project with a few words from the late, great Black science fiction writer Octavia Butler, “ I was trying to write myself in.” And Dukan does just that with “The Invisible Universe” documentary.

So if you would like to learn more and support the campaign check out the link HERE .

Check out the trailer here:

Invisible Universe trailer (Documentary feature work-in-progress) from Mizan Media on Vimeo.

As posted in The Berkeley Graduate

300: Rise of an Empire*

[Trigger warning: review contains reference to sexual assault]
Seven years since the release of the 2006 fantasy, action-packed film 300, audiences are presented with the prequel and sequel 300: Rise of an Empire, which tells the story of Greek general Themistokles who leads the charge against invading Persian forces that are led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes and Artemisia, vengeful commander of the Persian navy. The events in the film are happening before, concurrently, and afterwards of the previous film (300).
300: Rise of an Empire quite possibly might be better than the first. As a whole, the story is more or less the same – Persians invading Greece for an impending takeover. However, the focal point for this second film is the Persian army specifically seeking to destroy the city of Athens and its people. Unlike the men of Sparta (who are equipped with a perfect set of abs and muscle ripped body), the soldiers come in various sizes and builds and are not nearly as “exotic” in appearance.  Much like the first 300, there are the free flowing fight scenes, choreographed to be reminiscent of a flawless dance routine. Nonetheless, the difference in approach between the two films is found in the nefarious nature of the second; by comparison, the first had a far more romantic predisposition.
To some viewers, 300: Rise of an Empire might be a little different from what one might initially expect. Rather than a simple sequel, it is more of a companion movie – incorporating various viewpoints of previous events in 300 in addition to events during and after. I found the narrative/storyline to be quite compelling and provocative. For example, the Persians are still attacking Greece, but this time the audience is getting the story from the viewpoint of Athenian Themistocles, while the events of 300 unfold elsewhere. As a bonus, the film also reintroduces the backstory of some old and introduces us to several new characters that are very interesting to watch. These back-stories showcase some very stimulating and engaging battle scenes. With a plethora of fantastic battle scenes that take place on land, there are just as many extravagant naval battle scenes. Many of these awesome and entertaining battles ranged from the witnessing of explosive ships wrecks, to beheadings, and well-choreographed one-on-one sword fights. Watching Themistocles engage in naval tactics was particularly thrilling. Certain scenes of combat were actually much better than the first 300–more abrasive, rougher, and just more fun to watch.
Much like the first, 300: Rise of an Empire is visually enticing and aesthetically dark and beautiful simultaneously. Overall, the characters are definitely clothed in typical Greek beauty/fashion, everything from the glowing, chiseled and toned bodies of the male soldiers, to the supple breasts of the women, to the poignant and graphic sprays of blood and body parts, essentially showcasing the bodies and scenery that are being put on display. Herein, this is where the movie really shines in the multifarious visual elements from both of the actors as well as in the special effects. Taking it a step further, the lighting is also quite exquisite as it worked in tandem with the story, both lent very well to the way in which the 3D and CGI were utilized. Instead of certain features “popping” out they rather take the approach of going deep within the film’s soul. Cinematographer Simon Duggan does an impressive job of mapping out the landscape (dark, grimy battlefield) and its correlation between the intensity of the film and how the Persian takeover (that happens on both land and sea) shown in the film is more of an insight to the original story, going deeper than Sparta and the army of 300.
Regarding the actors/actress of the film there are a few standouts. Eva Green (who plays Artemisia) executes an excellent portrayal of one of the main villains, her performance is quite compelling and to some degree is the “Leonidas” of Rise of an Empire. At times she is very terrifying, while nonetheless amazing to watch. One might say she holds her ground and can “roll with the big boys/men.” This is not to say that Sullivan Stapelton (Themistocles) is overshadowed but it is obvious that his role was intended to be more meticulous and precise, very much like how the Queen in 300 is portrayed. Although fighting on opposite sides (but of the same Athenian heritage), the two pull the differing sides of a war story firmly together. Not to mention the chemistry between the two in and out of each other’s presence is disturbingly orgasmic. For example, the sex scene is more sadomasochistic and less love making, borderline rape porn. Without giving any spoilers, this particular scene can be described in this way due to the gender power dynamics that are exhibited. Instead of Artemisia being the victim, she is depicted more as having the upper hand as this blood-thirsty, revenge-seeking dominatrix. The climax of that particular scene becomes a semi-civil talk between two enemies (who do happen to respect each other) that quickly becomes a discussion of surrender and rough-sex. If one recalls the passion between “King Leonidas” and his queen in300 is filled with intense affection and attachment whereas the scene in 300: Rise of an Empire is permeated with force, power and control.
Considering the historical acts that the movie is [loosely] based on, and the personality and writing of the creator [Frank Miller][1] of which the yet to be released graphic novel [“Xerxes”] is based upon the film is bound to includes acts of machoism, sexism, misogyny, etc. And although, the intention of the filmmaker is to entertain the audience, this entertainment is still simultaneously complicated and problematic. What is also unique and interesting about the gender dynamics is the fact the male performances are more at the bottom of “totem pole” and in some ways fall flat, whereas the two main female actresses dominate the film from numerous angles of power. Artemis (Green) is truly the one to watch in that without being over-sexualized she controls the screen with her skillful, graceful and strategic violence and sexuality. In a sense, she owns and advocates for her own body. All in all, on a few occasions, I as a viewer would be willing to die for her on the battlefield.
Furthermore, without delving too deep, but at least acknowledging it, the lack of historical accuracy may annoy or turn off some viewers. However, if you’re looking for that, this was not the movie for you. In many cases, movies that are based on comic books and/or graphic novels are not entirely accurate, nor do the creators aim to accomplish that goal. As a matter of fact, the first 300 was not 100% accurate, but still engaged and entertained the audience (their primary goal). By allowing the film to be an interpretation, this gives the writers and directors to have some sort of creative liberty.
All in all, the 300: Rise of an Empire was very enjoyable and satisfying. One could liken this viewing experience to an intricate, highflying roller coaster ride. In particular, the ending of the movie is very climatic and awe-inspiring as we are presented with the final battle scenes. When it is all said and done, 300 was ground breaking at the time of release in 2006, and300: Rise of an Empire fosters that first step into a world of a distinctive, and possibly more mysterious, way of storytelling.
Rating: 8/10
[1] In previous films such as “300”, Sin City, The Watchmen, Frank Miller is notoriously known for his misogynistic and hyper-sexualized treatment of women.

*As posted in the The Berkeley Graduate

G-Breezy's Favorite Movies

  • Bourne Identity/Supremacy/Ultimatum
  • Die Hard series
  • Do the Right Thing
  • Fracture
  • Idlewild
  • Imitation of Life
  • Inside Man
  • James Bond series
  • Love Jones
  • Malcolm X