Before we even get into this, let’s be perfectly clear: I really just want to talk about Enemy Mine. Enemy Mine is one of those fantastically bizarre science fiction films that were churned out during the eighties. It had a fairly high concept but nothing too challenging, a bit of special effects, and a cast that is much better than the film warrants. In this case, starring Dennis Quaid and Academy friggin’ Award winning actor, Louis Gossett Jr. ; much more about him in a second. The plot seems pretty straightforward at first. We’re at war with an alien race and a soldier from each side finds themselves stranded and forced to rely on each other to survive. Through shared circumstances, they find commonality with one other and form a friendship that transcends the political differences of their respective cultures.
In 1985, smack dab in the middle of the Cold War and the Reagan years, this aspect of the story couldn’t have been less subtle if the alien race were called, “The Sovietronians.” But, wait! That’s only half the movie. The other half involves the alien dying and Dennis Quaid’s character finds himself raising his new friend’s alien child. That’s right. What started out as an antiwar allegory becomes a wacky tale of a guy, woefully unprepared, thrust into parenthood. Hijinks, as they say, ensue. And then! Quaid gets rescued and his surrogate son gets kidnapped by, uh, I don’t know, space pirates? To finish the film up, Quaid’s character has to rescue the alien child and everyone lives happily ever after. As you can probably tell from the description, Enemy Mine has a whiplash inducing ever-changing tone and Quaid and Gossett’s performances are so earnest and well meaning that they end up being unintentionally hilarious. It goes without saying that I have loved this bonkers ass movie from the moment I saw it. And it seems like it’s tailor made to be discussed on the Micheaux Mission.
There’s just one problem-it’s not a Black movie. Hell, there aren’t even any Black characters in it. Yes, Louis Gossett is the co-star but he plays the alien and is completely submerged in a full prosthetics for the entire film. And, I mean, he is unrecognizable. Yes, Gossett is Black but his racial form is invisible. Did I mention this is a film he made after he won an Academy Award for his performance in An Officer & A Gentleman? (So, funny enough, I always thought this was the movie he made right after he won the Oscar but, looking at his filmography, that honor goes to another “only in the 80’s” film, that’s right, Jaws 3D).
Although we can ask why he took role that completely hid his Blackness-and, honestly, we should ask Gossett why he took a bunch of those roles; I mentioned Jaws 3D but don’t get me started on the Iron Eagle series, or, as I like to call it, “Iron Eagle-For People Who Thought Top Gun Was Too Cerebral!“ (Too late! I looked it up and there were four-FOUR!!!!! -Iron Eagle movies. Four! And Gossett appeared in all four! Jason friggin’ Gedrick only appeared in the first one! Oh, Lou…)-you can totally understand why they cast a Black actor to play the alien. Hollywood has a long and well-documented history of utilizing aliens to be stand-ins for race and you can see how Hollywood culture went the final logical step and started casting Black actors in the alien roles. One of my favorite cliché bits from eighties standup is how aliens are always Black people with some weird butt on their head.
The “alien with the butt on their head” bit is, obviously, about Star Trek. Once Michael Dorn was cast as Lt. Worf, it seems like there was a never-ending parade of other Black actors cast in the role of Klingons (some became famous in their own right. Most of us know Tony“Candyman”Todd had a recurring role as Worf’s brother, Kurn but did you know Gabrielle Union played Klingon officer, N’Garen on Deep Space Nine? And, yeah, she’s kind of sexy too.) Keith David has played a gang of alien/otherworldly beings throughout his career, including voicing the Martian Manhunter on the legendaryJustice League Unlimited cartoon. Speaking of which, DC has continued with tradition as Black actors have played all of the Martians on the live action Supergirl.Whether through prosthetic, as a voice or, sometimes, as in the case of Supergirl, the actor actually shows up, Hollywood loves to cast Black people as aliens.
And it’s not cool. Look, anyone who’s thought about race in America for more than fifteen minutes knows how this works. In America, the default mode is white and, anything outside of whiteness, is automatically racialized. That means that, historically, if you wanted to depict humanity in a science fiction setting, that human would be white. Conversely, race and, specifically, whiteness is predicated on there being an Other; for there to be a “normal,” there has to be something out side of those parameters that defined, “abnormal.” Regardless of how long other minorities have been have-including Indigenous Americans who, literally, have been here before there was a here-nothing encompasses The Other in America like Black people. Thus…we always playing some damn aliens.
Sidebar: This is what makes Men In Black such a radical film. While, yes, Tommy Lee Jones plays a human agent, he’s the “grizzled veteran” who’s more comfortable in the alien world than in ours. There’s only one truly human character in MIB and a Black man plays him.
As we wrap up our focus on science fiction, I have to say, it’s a bit frustrating how much of my favorite genre doesn’t have any Black people in it but is also completely about Black people. Here on the Micheaux Mission, we have a rule about only critiquing Black films. And, unfortunately, a lot of science fiction with a lot of Black people in them don’t fit that criteria.
AND I JUST WANT TO TALK ABOUT ENEMY MINE!
— Vincent Williams @MicheauxMission