Saturday, June 11, 2016

André M. Carrington, Mark Anthony Neal, and recovery work

André M. Carrington includes chapters in his book Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction on Lieutenant Uhura and Benjamin Sisko, notable black characters from Star Trek and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, respectively. In the process, Carrington performs a kind of "recovery work," reminding us of characters whose groundbreaking presence and activities could easily be overlooked or downplayed.

Uhura was portrayed by actress Nichelle Nichols in the television series of Star Trek in the 1960s. Nichols also played the character in film adaptations of the Star Trek movies in 1979, 1982, 1984, 1986, and 1989. I've always been aware of the Uhura character, but Carrington's chapter was the first chapter-length discussion I had ever encounter of Nichols. She's usually mentioned fondly, but almost always only in passing.  

Benjamin Sisko was portrayed by Avery Brooks in the series Deep Space Nine from 1993 through 1999. I somehow missed the show during its run, and so have had sketchy knowledge about Brooks's portrayal.

I immediately thought of Mark Anthony Neal's book Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities (2013) as I read Carrington. Neal also performs a kind of recover work in his book. He provides chapters on the actor Gene Anthony Ray from Fame and on Avery Brooks's portrayals in Spencer for Hire, A Man Named Hawk, and Deep Space Nine.

Neal approaches Avery Brooks from the perspective of illegible black masculinity; Carrington approaches Brooks from the lens of a blackness and speculative fiction. Taken together, they broaden the possibilities for thinking about Benjamin Sisko and then subsequently, various other black characters. In some ways, their recovery work could usefully reconfigure how we envision these various figures.   

A Notebook on André M. Carrington's Speculative Blackness 
A Notebook on Mark Anthony Neal's Looking for Leroy

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