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Battlestar Galactica

Latinxs in Space

Latinxs in Space

by Cristina Escobar

Sci-fi is singular because of where it can take us— with Star Trek, I get this sense of hope that humanity will learn to rise above the prejudices that define our current world. With Battlestar Galactica, I question fate and the limits of human ingenuity. With Star Wars, I delve into the delightful idea that all living beings are connected and that life itself has its own power (the Force — you dummies). It’s a way to reflect on and examine our current reality without having to look directly at it, like when you watch an eclipse’s reflection rather than looking directly at the sun.

And that holds true even for race. While most shows in space have done away with the social construct of race as we know it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still affect how we view those shows. We, the audience aren’t living in a post-racial reality so, of course, our understanding of say Blackness colors our interpretations of a Lando Calrissian or a Captain Benjamin Sisko. Shows like Battlestar and The Expanse use their futuristic setting to comment on the present in ways that other shows can’t (or won’t), further lending their sci-fi credentials to a social justice framing of our modern times.

All of which is to say, I just want to see some Latinxs in space. In these dark times, I want to envision a future where we keep our culture and our difference but our fates are not determined by them. I want to visit a future where together we “boldy go where no one has gone before.” You know? And I want that future to include Latinxs. For our stories, our bodies, our futures to be just as important as everyone else’s. So join me in celebrating these, my favorite Latinxs in space:

Captain William Adama

Battlestar Galactica: Edward James Olmos as Captain William Adama

Can humanity survive itself? Maybe not! But our chances are a lot better with Edward James Olmos (and Mary McDonnell) in charge. Olmos plays Captain William Adama and while it’s not clear that “Latinxs” exist in a future in which humanity doesn’t even know where Earth is, the name “Adama” paired with the casting of Olmos is surely a nod to our continued existence. Plus, Olmos plays a Latinx type we can all recognize — the sidelined leader sticking to the old ways, long after they fell out of fashion. I certainly wish we had more of this type of leadership, now throwback to Stand and Deliver.

Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres

Star Trek: Roxann Dawson as Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres

Sometimes I think we’d be better off ditching “Latinx” and instead embracing a term like “mestizo” (mestizx?), one that recognizes that our identity is not founded in the place of Latin America but rather in the aftermath of colonization and the ensuing, fraught mixing of our ancestors’ cultures. We’re “ni de aquí, ni de allá” no matter where we are or presumably, how far we go. That’s what makes Roxann Dawson’s half-human, half Klingon B’Elanna Torres so Latina even as there’s no such thing in Star Trek. Played by a Latina, Torres’s name, identity struggles, and stereotypically “hot” temper clearly make her one of ours. And as a kid, I watched her week in and week out, rooting for Engineer Torres without really knowing why (it was her latinidad).

Shout out to Voyager for actually featuring TWO Latinx actors, the other being Robert Beltran as Commander Chakotay. As the first (and I believe still only) Native American main character in the Star Trek universe, we can’t claim him as “Latinx” though. And indeed Chakotay knows clearly who he is and where’s he from, making him B’Elanna’s opposite even as he is her ally. Who else recognizes that dynamic?

Other notable Star Trek Latinxs include Wilson Cruz as Doctor Hugh Culber in Discovery and of course the formidable Ricardo Montalbán as Khan. I will always love Cruz (and Claire Danes for that matter) as watching My So Called Life was a formative experience for me. Doctor Culber starts off boring but gains depth once he comes back to life and must decide which aspects of his former life he wants to resume. Montalbán was amazing throughout, his delicious evilness made the movie, arguably the best of the original series’ films. That said, evil and savage isn’t really the direction I’m looking for. Plus Kahn was white-washed in the reboot with the part played with much less vigor by the Anglo Benedict Cumberbatch (loved him as Sherlock thorough — maybe stay in your lane?). So honorable mentions to both.

Zoe Alleyne Washburne

Firefly: Gina Torres as Zoe Alleyne Washburne

Like so many before me, I’m still lamenting that Fireflyonly got one season (kind of like Pearson) but that doesn’t stop me from celebrating Gina Torres as Zoe Alleyne Washburne (plus, Serenity was fun). Yes, she’s second in command and yes, she’s married to a white guy, but that doesn’t keep Alleyne Washburne from taking center stage and delivering some of the best lines of the show (see “big damn heroes”).

Captain Andor

Star Wars: Diego Luna as Captain Cassian Jeron Andor

My favorite thing about Diego Luna’s Captain Cassian Jeron Andor is his accent. Imagine a future in which we travel the planets meeting entirely new species with the assistance of sentient robot helpers AND still have to learn English as a second language. It’s delightful! Seriously though, Luna showing up and speaking English like he normally does, even in space, is a powerful reminder that an accent doesn’t define a person, their intelligence, or potential.

And of course, Luna isn’t the only Latinx in the Star Wars universe. We also have Oscar Issac as Pilot Poe Dameron and Pedro Pascal as The Mandalorian. Which means Latinxs TOTALLY exist in Star Wars, just as long as you’re male, white-passing, and incredibly attractive (plus, hopefully, paired with a powerful brunette).

Naomi Nagata

The Expanse: Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata

Dominique Tipper’s Naomi Nagata is a badass. She manages to be the smartest person in the room, the most compassionate, and the best in a crisis while never falling into the trap of “strong Black female.” Nagata’s accent alone deserves a dissertation and The Expanse pairs her with a diverse cast and a troubled premise — in this future, we’ve just found more ways to divide humanity into false hierarchies. So of course, it falls on Afrolatina Tipper to reluctantly save us. ¡Gracias Mamá!

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How Will the Rona Infect TV?

With everything going on, it can seem pretty silly to care about TV. But here I am, daydreaming about my shows. Like the rest of the nation, Hollywood is shut down for the foreseeable future — meaning if an episode wasn’t already shot, who knows when it’ll happen. But it’s not just a question of when, it’s also a question of how. What will the effect of the Rona be on TV? Will shows incorporate it into their plotlines? Do we want them to? We at latinamedia.co aren’t sure but we’ll be exploring what to watch during and after this crisis.

Certainly, medical shows a la Grey’s Anatomy will have to do a Coronavirus arc. How could a hospital drama possibly resist? And for Grey’s, they can’t let dramatic medical news go to waste. I can only imagine how hard it is to come up with new theatrics for our favorite surgical department after sixteen seasons and here’s an unprecedented health tragedy falling in their laps. My only question is if it’ll be one episode or one season. Really, Meredith, Bailey, and the team could do so much.

Outside of hospital shows, family sitcoms are well situated to write about this time. One Day At A TimeBlack-ish, and The Simpsons, shows that already take place in the living room know how to squeeze drama out of the domestic. Watching our favorite TV families exploring what it’s like to be stuck at home for who knows how long could be therapeutic. At least, I’d expect some good laughs as Lydia runs out of makeup or Bo teaches everyone how to wash their hands (again). There’s joy as well as fear for those of us privileged enough to self-isolate and I’d like to watch my favorite TV families laugh and love and cry through it.

And of course, there’s the political show. Since Trump took office, many shows have failed to match the absurdity of reality, their out-of-this-world plots suddenly seeming tame in comparison to the actual headlines. The exception is The Good Fight — they’ve satirized and weaponized the Trump Administration’s failure to great effect, finding ridiculousness and humor throughout. Imagine Riddick Boseman suing the federal government for more ventilators. Defending the mostly brown and black people who will fall victim to the disease. Continuing to lampoon the failures of the White House, just now with a Coronavirus spin.

As great as that would be, the genre I think that’ll give us the most insight into our current predicament is science fiction. Hear me out. Remember when Battlestar Galactica did a whole season on the occupation in Iraq? It had more to say than most ripped-from-the-headlines plots because it was able to take on the whole story, unencumbered by the details. Instead, it focused on the human costs and the emotional reactions. And it totally worked.

So who will be able to comment meaningfully on this moment? My hopes are with dark and nuanced shows. Maybe the fourth season of Westworld could do it. It could be a computer virus or a biological one (or one the jumps from humans to robots). It could unite the two groups and divide them, creating new castes of those with the disease and those without. It could ask what is the moral way to respond and how much should we sacrifice for the herd (the eternal question around Maeve and her daughter). It could ask what we are willing to change and who we are willing to collaborate with. And it could continue to expose who is valued and who is treated as expendable — the show’s true forte.

There’s something about the fictional future that seems best able to handle our unprecedented present. Let’s just hope we get there.

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Judging Humanity with “The Good Place”

NBC’s The Good Place set up its next premise last night with “Chidi Sees The Time-Knife,” the 11th episode in its third season. Read our recap below (warning, spoilers ahead).

It’s always a good episode of The Good Place when Maya Rudolph is on, and “Chidi Sees The Time-Knife” did not disappoint. This episode, we saw Michael and crew meet with Maya’s Judge Gen in the Interdimensional Hole Of Pancakes (or IHOP to set up a slew of breakfast-franchise jokes).

There, they present Michael’s new (problematic from a timeline perspective) theory that modern life is too complicated for humans to ever earn enough points and encourage Judge Gen to go down to Earth to investigate for herself. She does and comes back with the best line: “I guess I’m black and they do not like black ladies down there.” Life on earth is complicated. We’re a mess. Something must be done.

Or must it? Judge Gen brings in Shawn from the Bad Place to present a counter-argument. His case against humanity? Limp Bizkit. Slavery. Enough said. Even Michael has to lament that we have “Nazis again somehow.” Perhaps humanity as a race is terrible, not worthy of redemption. It’s a great question and one The Good Place is poised to bring new insight to (adding upon the canon of other shows that have asked it such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead, and all the other post-apocalyptic shows worth their salt).

The problem is that humanity hasn’t gotten worse over the last four hundred years or so. We’ve gotten better. We abolished slavery. We enfranchised huge portions of the world’s population. We defeated the original Nazis. Although, counterpoint: Limp Bizkit is still touring… Taken all together, the record challenges Michael’s latest theory, particularly in that it would need to apply to all of humanity for centuries and that just doesn’t make sense (think of the indigenous population of the Americas wiped out by European disease or the millions who died in slavery’s Middle Passage – surely the old point system would apply to them and some would earn their spot in heaven). No, the modern-life-is-complicated theory just doesn’t add up.

But it does set up the show for another great twist after a history of great, show-changing twists (remember when we learned Chidi and friends weren’t in the real Good Place? Or when they went down to Earth? Or when we thought we might get a plotline in the actual Good Place?). This time, we see Michael and Shawn agree to recreate the four human’s original experience with Judge Gen refereeing. The idea is to see if, removed from the interconnected boobytraps of modern-day living (Eleanor’s example: “There’s a chicken sandwich that if you eat it means you hate gay people! And it’s delicious!”), humans will show their natural, good natures. Here are the new rules of the game:

  • The people have to be the same general level of “badness” as the original four (or as Judge Gen says no “serial killers, dictators, or anyone who has managed a boy band”). And they will be selected by the Bad Place.
  • Michael gets to build the neighborhood and our four humans will help populate it along with a race of not-robot robots created by Janet with the help of her original model and ex/son/booty-call Derek.
  • The whole thing will take place in the backyard of everyone’s favorite 80’s lawyer (and somehow the only person to get CLOSE to entering the real Good Place in 400 years) Mindy St. Clair.
  • Michael and team get 100 Earth years to prove their hypothesis. With the first human in the waiting room and the clock ticking down, Michael panics, too scared to welcome his first guest, effectively spooked by the taunts of his old colleague Shawn.

And there you have it – the set up for the next season of The Good Place or perhaps the next scene. It’s hard to tell with this show. Regardless, the premise has legs and I’m excited to meet our four new humans. In “Chidi Sees The Time-Knife,” we get a glimpse at the first subject – he’s a basic, 30-something white guy played by Brandon Scott Jones (not sure why everyone who dies on The Good Place is SO young but anyways…). What strikes me about this is how none of the original four are white guys. In fact, the only white male characters I can think of have been literal demons (thank you Ted Danson, Marc Evan Jackson, and Adam Scott for your service).

What if all four of the selected humans are white guys and none of them can get past their privilege and learn something new? That would be a pretty hilarious point for the show to make although perhaps not the best TV. Also, for a show that’s clearly been intentional about diverse casting, adding four white guys seems highly unlikely.

So what will these four new humans be like? I’m expecting a new and diverse quartet that will challenge our original four’s bond. With Jason paired back up with Janet, I’m particularly interested in the four new guinea pigs giving Jameela Jamil’s Tahani something more to do than look amazing. Perhaps they’ll find someone as charming as the brilliant Simone Garnett played by Killing Eve’s Kirby Howell-Baptiste. Or as hilariously enigmatic as Rebecca Hazlewood’s Kamilah Al-Jamil. They both would be FANTASTIC choices that would help keep the original four in the foreground. With only two more episodes left, I’m just sad that we’ll probably have to wait until next season to do much more than meet the arrivals.

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