"Real Life" is not the best episode of Electric Dreams, a new anthology series based on stories by the American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, and distributed by Amazon. But it is the most racially disturbing episode in the series for two important reasons. SPOILER ALERT. One, the first act of its plot involves a white woman (Anna Paquin) becoming a black man (Terrence Howard). Two, for reasons that are not explained, the racial side of this transformation is left unmentioned. But the sexual side is considered.
Indeed, we learn that the white woman, who is a cop in the distant future, is a lesbian; and the black man, who is a billionaire high-tech entrepreneur in the near future, is straight. And not just that. The black billionaire was not only married to a white woman but also had an affair with one—his doctor. Now picture this: A black man who sleeps exclusively with white women, also has his soul abducted by (or transported to—watch the show) a white woman who is sleeping with a white woman. Daaaamn!!! And this white cop from the black billionaire's future enters him by way of a device that, generally speaking, transports one mind into the body of another.
Why is this bizarre to a person like me? A black person? For one: No matter how post-racial you think we are, in reality, we do live in a country where the president can call black African countries shitholes and not lose his job or even be met with an angry sea of democratically-charged citizens. Secondly: White does not mean nothing in our culture. It, like blackness, means a hell of a lot things. For some, it can mean becoming a CEO or a convict. So, if you imagine a society where whiteness and blackness mean nothing, you must explain why this is the case. How did we get to that place, a type of society that has eluded 500 years of American racial history? You can't just make the leap, like some particle in the quantum realm, from one point (racial) to the next (post-racial). There must be a history, a course, an evolutionary path that, step-by-step, leaves our present society and enters the mists of time.
An episode about the abduction of a black man's soul by a white woman would not be problematic to a person who, along with his/her family and village, has just encountered the West for the first time. And this fact tells us something about the popular white imagination that we do not want to admit. It longs for a racial Eden. But why? Because of its racial silence. Science fiction films are, in part, soothing to this class of Americans because all of the people in them have finally shut up about this frustrating black/white shit.
So, along with the spectacle (excitement) of spaceships battling spaceships, or of technologies that de-materialize and materialize bodies, science fiction sells white audiences the peace of race neutrality. And this peace (or sonic tranquility) is so profitable, it has almost entirely erased race from our imagined futures. You have to think long and hard to find in Hollywood sci-fi cinema a scene like this one in James Cameron's 1987 film, Aliens...
Private Vasquez: Look, man. I only need to know one thing: where they are.
Private Drake: Go, Vasquez. Kick ass.
Private Vasquez: Anytime, anywhere, man!
Private Hudson: Right, right. Somebody said "alien" she thought they said "illegal alien" and signed up!
Private Vasquez: Fuck you, man!
Private Hudson: Anytime, anywhere.