Friday, 8 February 2013
Thursday, 7 February 2013
What An Interesting Monster
I’m just here to inform everyone that I was a fan of Naomie Harris long, long before everyone caught onto her as Tia Dalma in Pirates of the Carribean. I’ve been a fan since ‘94 when she was Ami Jackson on The Tomorrow People.
They just don’t make TV shows like that anymore. So much good stuff was there.
I think TV is backsliding with regards to race and gender, because I don’t think that a show now, even a children’s TV show, would be willing to do what that show (for all it’s issues) did. Which is to present the image of a more evolved human race - literally, a more superior, empowered, intelligent, peaceful human being - in the form of a young woman of color. In essence, to imagine the next step in human evolution (which was the show’s actual, stated premise) as someone like her.
I look at shows like Heroes or even Doctor Who, and they haven’t managed the same thing. The ultimate force in those universes, the most powerful human beings are still white men. Doctor Who’s abysmal treatment of Martha Jones and the fact that almost all the Time Lords are white say a lot about how far TV in the U.S./U.K. hasn’t come. Likewise, Heroes was doubly unwilling to fully empower and portray women of color. While there were great characters of color (Ando, Hiro, Mohinder), they were male. The women of color did not last long and were not as powerful. Simone was not superpowered and was killed before season one ended, Monica disappeared after season 2 despite having really impressive powers that could’ve been used to better effect, and Maya Herrera seemed to bounce around between controlling her brother’s powers and being used Sylar and Mohinder before one of the Petrellis (the Ultimate Embodiment of Superpowers) de-powered her.
Women of color were present, but they were never presented to be the pinnacle of that new stage of human empowerment. They were never the Petrellis or the Cheerleader or even Sylar.
In essence, they weren’t quite the superior human beings that their white male counterparts were.
The Tomorrow People didn’t do that. Ami (the character) was toe to toe with the boys, with any white Tomorrow Person. In many ways, she exceeded them by having a functional relationship with her mother (if sometimes contentious as can happen between teenage girls and their parents), by being very savvy, brave, adventurous, exuberant. She had their same powers, and she used them just as well. She could do all that they could do.
It wasn’t a perfect show. It couldn’t keep a female lead and never had more than one on screen at a time (though of the three main female leads, two were of color, only one was white), and guest cast tended to be more dominated by white people and men and tended to be very Black and white in it’s depictions, apparently not realizing that people of color who aren’t Black exist.
Still, the fact remains that it’s better than some things I’ve seen in recent years, and that clear, undeniable statement made by the simple act of casting the next stage of human evolution as a young woman of color has not been repeated in most of the SF/F I’ve come across.
If there were any show I’d bring back to get the full reboot treatment while keeping the best bits, it would be this one. Because a show willing to throw out premises like having superpowered teens who are literally unable to kill even to save themselves (and in a violent world, such a premise is rife with possibilities), and the idea of the next stage of evolution - contemplating the nature of humanity, evolution, violence, existence, what power means, what peace means. Damn, the things I could do with such a show. But, alas, television doesn’t seem willing to apply the same effort to this as they do costume dramas and elegantly manufactured portrayals of White Men’s Angst.
It’s also worth mentioning that part of the reason I’m a fan is that Naomie Harris held her own as a young actress with two male leads that could’ve really swallowed her whole. Kristian Schmid had his own fanbase from his days onNeighbors. And a lot of the writing and directing was slanted in their favor, plus, they were the ones who stuck around for the entire run of the series and built up that rapport with the audiences while Ami replaced Lisa and was then replaced by Jade so we were constantly having to get to know a new female lead with every other serial.
But Naomie did it with nothing but the powers of her awesome, and Ami Jackson remains one of my all time favorite characters of any show, children’s or adult. She carved out a place of her own in the chemistry between the show’s characters and made it stick.
And she did it again in <i>Pirates of the Carribean</i>, because between Orlando Bloom, Johnny Depp and Kiera Knightley it could’ve been very easy for Tia Dalma to get lost, to shrink into the background, to become so much scenery. The role itself was problematic, no denying, but with what she was given, Harris knocked it out of the ballpark. I’d say that the most powerful scene in the movie was when we watch Harris, waiting as Tia Dalma who’s been revealed to be the imprisoned form of Calypso, to be released from her earthly bonds. The way that Harris has only to let the expression pass over her face to tell a long and captivating story of what it has been like for her, to go from a goddess to a betrayed lover to Tia Dalma. You could write novels about what those few moments tell you as the audience.
But hey, I knew she was going to be awesome from the moment I found out she was going to be in Pirates of the Carribean, because like I said, I was a fan long before that and she was definitely awesome from the first time I saw her on screen.