“I wouldn’t ask an apex predator. I would ask a woman of colour because she would have a pair of binoculars that no one else has,” said Jenny Lumet, co-creator with veteran writer-producer Alex Kurtzman of the upcoming sci-fi show based on the 1963 novel by Walter Tevis. the same name.
Someone who “has nothing to worry about”, as Lumet put it, has less information about the real state of the world.
“And I’m happy to discuss this argument,” added Lumet, whose grandmother was groundbreaking actress Lena Horne. “Women of colour are one of the most vulnerable populations on the planet and that vulnerable population has the clearest understanding of what the world is really like.”
The classic 1976 film adaptation of “The Man Who Fell to Earth” starred David Bowie, the original Ziggy Stardust himself. Switching the focus to a black woman didn’t seem risky. It made sense to both Lumet and Kurtzman.
So when Lumet and Kurtzman, who launched a production company together last year, were allowed to continue the mind-boggling story of an alien-looking for some human kindness, the pair knew from the jump that they would be zeroing in on a female character. black. She wouldn’t be a sidekick, a fixture, or comic relief. She would be the central frame.
In the Showtime update, the hero is super-genius Justin Falls, played by Oscar nominee Naomie Harris, who teams up with an alien named Faraday, played by Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, to bring water to his thirsty planet and perhaps save Earth from its environment. apocalypse is on the way. The fact that both main characters are black in some way is not ignored or mentioned. It simply is.
“Diversity is not a benevolent exercise,” Ejiofor said. “The more we normalize the participation of all kinds of different people in our storytelling, the richer our storytelling will be. You wait for the day when it’s not something that people notice. When it’s normal to have all kinds of different people that would be weird otherwise.”
Kurtzman is behind the reboot of the “Star Trek” universe at CBS Studios, including “Stark Trek Discovery,” which features the first black female captain in the mythology universe. the turn the benefits of “diversity” in storytelling in another way. “The more specific a story is, the more universal that story becomes.”
When the audience meets Justin, she is exhausted, nearly turned to dust by a world that has forgotten her. A brilliant scientist who has suffered great professional and personal loss, Justin now works at a hazardous waste disposal facility to support his daughter and buy his sick father’s prescription pills from the local drug dealer. For Justin, the hero’s journey begins every morning when he opens his eyes.
Harris found something deeply familiar in that fight.
“It reminded me of my mom, my aunts and the women who surrounded me growing up,” Harris said. “There are so many single parents who have back-breaking jobs and support a family. How incredibly challenging is that. There is no room for it, there is no complacency. It’s all sacrificial love.”
There’s a quote floating around the web and making its way onto mugs and sweatshirts that says “Fuck I will, black women.” He explains why Justin, with so many pellets piling up on his paper-thin plate, would agree to help a stranger save not just one but two worlds.
“When she sees something she knows is wrong, she can’t stop even if it puts her and her family in danger. She makes her a hero in a unique way,” Kurtzman said of Justin.
It’s that emotional attachment that drew Harris to the project in the first place.
“I like science fiction,” Harris said. “It would be dishonest to say that I am an enormous ventilator. A lot of science fiction is done in such a way that the characters seem remotely emotional. The special thing about this series is how quickly you fall in love with them and want to go on their journey.”
Ejiofor agreed: “I loved the idea. I loved where it went, the ambition and the depth of these characters.”
Neither of the show’s two British stars is strangers to the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Ejiofor is part of the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe appearing as the sorcerer Baron Mordo in the “Doctor Strange” movies, while Harris recently starred alongside Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali in the futuristic family drama “Swan Song.”
And science fiction is waking up to the power of letting black characters breathe. HBO’s one-season wonders “Lovecraft Country” and “Watchmen” were each steeped in American racial politics. However, it is still noteworthy that in “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, race pervades the plot but does not dominate it.
Justin is a black woman who has been chewed up by various systems of disempowerment. Faraday is an alien in a new land, a lizard in a human skin suit. But you can’t forget that Faraday is a black man in America. In the opening scene of the series, Faraday appears naked in a garage in the middle of the night. He calls the police. The weapons are drawn. The potential for racial violence permeates every fibre of the screen, but no dialogue specifically draws attention to the colour of Faraday’s skin.
An earlier review noted that omission as hesitation, a fear of going over where Kurtzman recalled. But both he and Lumet said their take on the race was intentional.
“I thought, my God, every scene is about race, every scene,” he said. “If you’re watching thinking we’re dancing around the race, then you’re missing out.”
Lumet, who wrote the critically acclaimed 2008 film “Rachel Getting Married” and the CBS procedural “Clarice,” put a sharper point on the subject: “It infuriates me. It’s like racism only exists when someone says the wrong thing.” word does not have a white hood.”
The excuse used to explain the lack of diversity in science fiction and fantasy, that people of color are somehow unidentifiable, is simply false, according to Lumet and Kurtzman. And by allowing his black characters, which in addition to Justin and Faraday include Justin’s father, daughter, and neighbour, to exist as they would without a sandwich board that says “I’m black!” the writers sought to normalize the black experience.
The audience sees Justin struggling, but also sees her singing old-school songs in her beat-up truck with her family. Her neighbour gives self-care tips. His father laughed. His daughter dreaming.
“I firmly believe that every time you see a brown face on your screen, it becomes less noticeable,” Lumet said of the creators’ decision to focus the story on people of colour. It was made even easier with the A-list casting, he said. “When Naomi and Chiwetel respond to your material, you just drop to your knees and say thank you.”
Giving thanks when thanks should be given was another reason why Justin’s character was so far behind.
“She has this line where she says, ‘I want one person on this planet to say thank you,'” Lumet said.