February 09, 2015

Why are most aliens white?

Here's another of my perennial discourses on science fiction and race. I started it by posting the following on Facebook:

Would Hollywood finance Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, or Jupiter Ascending if the alien races were black or Asian? I'm guessing no.

Because that would make the aliens too "alien," presumably.

This led to the following discussion:They have no problem making individual white characters black and/or asian, why not alien races? I'm all for it!

Although, George Lucas caught hell for making his alien races black and/or asian stereotypes, so they'd have to be very careful about it.
It's just funny when you think about all the sci-fi fans and creators who love Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, etc., etc. If you confronted them with a "normal" alien race that was black or Asian rather than white, they'd die of shock.

Same thing in the fantasy genre: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, How to Train Your Dragon, etc., etc. There's no reason whatsoever that elves, dwarves, or fairies should be white.

Hardcore fans say, "We love these genres as long as the most challenging thing we have to deal with is white actors in makeup."Ahhh, yes, I see what you mean. Geez. Imagine "Avatar" without the blue Na'vi. Which were really supposed to be "alien" Native Americans.Your first comment was on point. Yes, they'd have to avoid making them a race of Jar Jar Binks types. But that's easily done.

I wish the Na'vi weren't so humanlike, but they're a step forward. If only the humans in Avatar weren't mostly white.Were there ANY black characters in Avatar?!I don't remember. Michelle Rodriguez is the biggest "ethnic" character I remember.

The point applies to humans in sci-fi too. For instance, why wouldn't the Chinese dominate space travel 300 or 3,000 years from now? Who knows, but it's certainly possible.

But aliens are supposed to be strange. The point of sci-fi aliens is to challenge us to think differently. So there's really no excuse for making them the white male norm seen in American media.

A double-edged sword

A couple of friends double-teamed me:Doctor Who had them in all colors, shapes and sizes, played by actors in all races, sizes and shapes. I am currently watching all the available episodes, and started with Season 1, episode 1, currently on season 24.

Oh, and a lot of the actors in Lord of the Rings were Maori.
And:See, here's the problem I can see popping up, Rob--the first time an entire alien race is depicted with black or asian as their "base," there'll be hordes of people complaining that minorities are being depicted poorly; strange, inhuman, etc. "Why can't the whites be alien and a [black or asian] as the hero?!" It's a double edged sword.Doctor Who does have a nice array of truly alien aliens. And its "human" races are often mixed. But I don't recall any "human" race that was entirely black or Asian. A white race that has some blacks and Asians isn't the same thing.

I understand the problem of portraying minorities as aliens. You'd have to proceed carefully, but I think you could do it.

Doctor Who visits worlds that may or may not be Earth a million years in the future. There's no reason the cast of such an episode couldn't be black or Asian.

Firefly was set in a hybrid Anglo-Chinese universe. Many of the background characters and crew could've been Chinese.

Some major world in Star Wars like Coruscant or Corellia could be predominantly black or Asian. Etc.

A lot of the supporting or "guest" worlds on Star Trek could've been black or Asian. Like Betazoid in ST:TNG, Bajor in DS9, or Ocampa in Voyager. These worlds had a range of characters and wouldn't necessarily be pegged as exotic or inferior. Some characters would be good and some would be bad, creating a realistic sense of diversity.

For more on the subject, see Missing Aliens in Star Trek and Colonialism Inspired Science Fiction.

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