New Book by Diana Mafe Examines Race and Gender in Pop Culture

Diana Mafe’s book opens a new door in literature - boldly going into science fiction to look at race and gender norms.

Denison University Associate Professor Diana Mafe’s new book, “Where No Black Woman Has Gone Before: Subversive Portrayals in Speculative Film and TV,” examines representations of black womanhood and girlhood in British and American science fiction film and television.

“I’ve always been interested in the science fiction genre and pop culture,” says Mafe. “In this book, I wanted to explore how black women have been represented in science fiction films and television shows. I grew up watching ‘Star Trek,’ and was a huge fan of Lieutenant Uhura — everything starts with her, but after her, there’s a huge gap.”

Mafe researched 21st century materials and came up with a compelling list of titles that include: “28 Days Later,” “AVP: Alien vs. Predator,” “Children of Men,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Firefly,” and “Doctor Who: Series 3.”

As a black woman who studies post-colonial and African literature, Mafe was pleasantly surprised at the amount of material she found in her research. “I knew there would be an erasure of black women in this space. For example, there were no black women directors or producers represented in my case studies. But I was still able to find some pretty cool and subversive black female characters.”

The analysis of “Alien vs. Predator” (AVP) proved to be particularly rich. “Initially I was dismissive, because AVP was seen as a ‘money-maker.’ But I found that, unlike sci-fi where the black person is marginalized or dies first, in AVP the black female protagonist leads throughout the entire film. She is the person in power and triumphs in the end. Ultimately, this became an important piece in the research.”

Despite recent gains for black actors, directors and producers, Mafe says society has some distance to go with regard to race and gender. “Because of how power works, we have a formula for who can be the hero. We should be looking at new norms, and we are on that road.”

Mafe hopes readers will find the book enlightening. “I want people – regardless of their background – to experience cinema through a different perspective, one that triggers an understanding that diversity is good.”

March 8, 2018