Working on a little something about the dialectic(s) between dreadlocked aliens, Rastas in space (in reggae and sci-fi), and Jamaicans/Africans as “aliens” among us/US. If you have any other tips/refs in addition to these provocative pics (thx @rizzla_dj & @dizzyjosh for their Star Wars intel), do tell —
Bonus points for anyone who can name all the above!
Update: download the finished article as a PDF.
49 thoughts on “Trading in Futures”
thx @pushingit for reminding me of these matrix dreads too —
The BLO’s most recent production, Rusalka, featured underwater nymphs and sprites w/dreds as well…(see below)
We all want to forget him, but Jar Jar [and his race] fits the bill.
Multiple generations of wookie: http://www.wookies-etc.com/images/content/wookie-family.jpg
Worf was definitely a Klingon-of-color: http://seznam.startrek.cz/klingon/galerie/st9worf1.jpg
if you are looking for literary depictions, cyberpunk has a lot. i read neuromancer by william gibson years ago and there is a large subplot involving space rastas. here are some quotes:
“Zion had been founded by five workers who’d refused to return [to Earth from the orbiting Freeside], who’d turned their backs on the well and started building. They’s suffered calcium loss and heart shrinkage before rotational gravity was established in the colony’s central torus. Seen from the bubble of the taxi, Zion’s makeshift hull reminded Case of the patchwork tenements of Istanbul, the irregular, discolored plates laswer-scrawled with Rastafarian symbols and the initials of the welders. ”
“”As they worked, Case gradually became aware of the music that pulsed constantly through the cluster. It was called dub, a sensuous mosaic cooked from vast libraries of digitalized pop; it was worship, Molly said, and a sense of community. Case heaved at one of the yellow sheets; the thing was light but still awkward. Zion smelled of cooked vegetables, humanity, and ganja…
‘You ver’ pale, mon,’ Aerol said, as they were guiding the foam-bundled Hosaka terminal along the central corridor. ‘Maybe you wan’ eat something’.’ ”
“The two surviving Founders of Zion [Rasta colony in the orbiting Freeside] were old men, old with the accelerated aging that overtakes men who spend too many years outside the embrace of gravity. Their brown legs, brittle with calcium loss, looked fragile in the harsh glare of reflected sunlight. They floatd in the center of a painted jungle of rainbow foliage, a lurid communal mural that completely covered the hull of the spherical chamber. The air was thick with resinous smoke.
‘Steppin’ Razor,’ one said… Like unto a whippin’ stick.’
‘That is a story we have, sister,’ said the other, ‘a religion story. We are glad you’ve come with Maelcum… I came from Los Angeles,’ the old man said. His dreadlocks were like a matted tree with branches the color of steel wool. ‘Long time ago, up the gravity well and out of Babylon. To lead the Tribes home. Now my brother likens you to Steppin’ Razor.’ ”
i never read bruce sterling’s islands in the net, but when i was looking up its references to rasta culture, i stumbled upon this review of Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet by kali tal that seemed somewhat related to your project
Thanks, Alexis. I’m definitely interested in literary depictions too. It’s quite curious this projection of dreads/Rastas into the future, whether in the images above or in the work of Gibson, Sterling, et al. Prepping for this piece, I read Islands in the Net last summer, which is actually pretty good and definitely has some interesting Rasta/race issues. I’ve been planning to bring both Kali Tal and Lisa Nakamura into the conversation, though I hadn’t seen that review yet. I’d also like to discuss the ideas of Mary Dery, esp when in conversation with Sam Delany, etc. And, of course, a great deal of Afrofuturist discourse centers on these questions of projecting blackness into the future. For this project, I’m less interested in Sun Ra, George Clinton, and Kool Keith, however, and more interested in sci-fi authors, film producers, and reggae musicians / Rastafarians.
What film is that Will Smith still from? Men in Black? Another great example.
Yes, the baby is from Men in Black.
Plavalaguna from The Fifth Element:
I think I’ve read some analysis somewhere of Predator 2 with a similar idea, that movie of course also has real Rastas in it as contrast/comparison.
I’ve discussed Predator 1 & 2 in my work on reggae/JA in the US imagination. The sequel is definitely interesting insofar as it brings “real” Jamaican dreads into contact with the dreadlocked, mesh-marina sporting extraterrestrial — two different kinds of predatory aliens!
Thx for the Fifth Element reference! Man, there are a lot of these…
Oh yeah, it was here I read that. Sorry. :o
There’s a lot of “ethnic” stereotyping going on with alien species, aren’t there? I’d say the “jew”-style species and the “mongol”-style ones are two of the other most common ones.
I think The Phantom Menace takes the cake on that charge, Birdseed. In addition to Jar Jar’s West Indian tropes (and yes, Daniel, you’re right: we can’t forget; though, notably, no dreads on Gungans), there’s also the East Asian and Semitic characters, as critiqued here for instance.
There is this dude Ron Eglash who you may want to contact. Some of his articles talk about Afrofuturism and he is up on his sci-fi more than I am. Although I do fundamentally question the nature of your project because of the connection between some of the old visual sci-fi and the aesthetics of rasta and/or dreadlocks. I mean, when did the latter become prevalent and actually enter the conscious of US filmmakers? If you are gonna throw wookies in there (star wars was 77, Marley died in 77) I do not know if I necessarily see the racial connection (if it has to do with kinky hair and black power stuff then the wookies would have maddd curly hair or somethin akin to a fro). I think a more refined (and ultimately better) joint would involved the rise of dreads on aliens representing otherness tied to the rise of rasta/reggae popularity (rather than ‘african’, as the rise of dreadlocks on the continent have been slow goin and mainly limited to big urban places, in a lot of the bush dudes with dreads are viewed as insane outside of specialized cases, and a lot late 20th century black new world hair-styles try to evoke an african past that might not be there *big daddy kane/high top fade). just my 2 cents.
Thanks for the thoughts, Winslow. Right now, this is just for a “think piece” in a non-academic venue, so I’m not too concerned about making this the most comprehensive or rigorous study. I will check out Eglash’s stuff, though.
I think you’re right to emphasize historicity/periodization, esp since, by my reckoning, it’s not until the mid 80s, when dreadlocked posse members “terrorized” the Eastern Seaboard, that dreads became the popular signifier they are (though it’s worth noting that the Mau Mau made them into a fearful symbol long before reggae or Hollywood). Indeed, ALL of the pics above are from 1983 or later — most of them far more recent.
To my recollection A New Hope (1977) does NOT have any dreadlocked aliens (and this makes sense against the backdrop of JA immigration and place in the US imaginary), but it’s interesting to note that in more recent years (as pictured above), wookies have been sporting dreads. And Gibson’s space-rastas date to 1984, which may be a little early, but not for a prescient observer of urban spaces. Return of the Jedi, where we’re introduced to the quasi-dreadlocked Twi’leks via Bib Fortuna, was 1983; and though we might not see Fortuna as very dread, I think it’s arguable that Twi’lek hairstyles have become more and more like dreadlocks in the years since (as seen on Kit Fisto). So, yes, there’s a periodization to be done here, but I think the early/mid 80s is precisely the moment when we start to see new representations of alienness via dreadlocks (in film and journalism alike).
By the time we get to Predator (1987), which is admittedly a subtle instance (though the mesh marina puts it over the top for me), and Predator 2 (1990), which includes JA posse villains, I think the regime of representation I’m curious about is well in place. To what extent these representations are “conscious” products of filmmakers is another question; I think it’s a lot easier to make a case in science fiction writing, where the figurations are a lot more explicit (including references to reggae, Rasta, West Indies, etc.).
Dang you are up on your stuff (good look on the Mau Mau). Also, one thing that I am curious about: how many Canucks and Brits who worked in Hollywood had a hand in designing the aliens? The Canuck experience with West Indians has been different than with the US (and perhaps the dreadlocks symbolized something far more sinister in T-dot than it ever did in NY) while the brits, because of tinyness of their island and the density of london, prolly saw a lot more locked peeps than did hollywood cats. oh the levels of analysis!
The creatures from the 8th dimension in “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai…” sport rasta hairstyles… can’t find any pics though…
Yes, can’t believe you left out the aliens from Buckaroo Banzai!
and the BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (one of my favorite movies of all time)
which came out in 1984, and is sci fi but already in some ways addressing a lot of the issues around race, although I’d need to see it again to figure out if there is a specifically Jamaican/Island/Colonial aspect to it. IN way obviously given who the brother is fleeing from.. (and adding another layer of brilliance, the film’s director plays one of the cats he is fleeing from). Oh I need to see that movie again!
not exactly and alien, but:
not exactly an alien, but:
actually, alexis, that’s a great reference! as i wrote in the blurb at the top (and as you noted wrt gibson, sterling, and afrofuturism), rastas in space/future are, for me, the other side of the coin to dreadlocked aliens. this is an example that i wasn’t considering at all — not that i know what to make of it. perhaps i need to return to futurama for some analysis…
and leor & ripley, thx for the tips; i’ll have to check those out too.
Have you seen these?
Cool reggaeton book! Must get a copy.
Brother from Another Planet (one of my all-time fave movies) I don’t think works so well figuring rastas or proto-rastas. The Brother’s hair has some knots, if I recall, but no proper dreads. He basically moves between 125th St. & Times Square, so he’s not physically in any Jamaican immigrant spaces.
I’m trying to think of specific examples, but I seem to recall some ‘locked white characters in sci-fi, usually hackers.
see also: http://io9.com/338662/predator-vs-real-rasta-only-lasts-25-seconds
[can’t embed the video here, unfortunately]
Not sure if this falls in line with the Sci-Fi theme, but one of my absolute favorite TV shows ever made, the Mighty Boosh, has a few bizarre dreadlocked characters to flaunt…
The Spirit of Jazz
Old Gregg (drinks Bailey’s from a shoe)
here’s another Old Gregg link for the hell of it:
jar jar has got to be the worst racially stereotyped alien. he speaks patois for christs sake. i dont know if you are familiar with the troubadour music of haiti but they sound JUST like mr binks.
awe, man…my pix didn’t post! user error i’m sure…here are the original links for the hell of it.
The Spirit of Jazz
the boosh is more frequently fantastic/magical/absurdist than sci-fi…and the characters aren’t particularly “jamaican”…too good to ignore though, best thing since pee-wee’s play house!
Intro to the dreaded Spirit of Jazz
Thanks to Isaiah for adding Star Trek’s Nausicaans to the list (at least their 24th millennium instantiations):
Given the questions of historical specificities/trajectories raised above, this seems like a significant example insofar as, far as I can tell (from browsing a Star Trek wiki — I’m not a Trekkie in any way, rly), the Nausicaans don’t adopt dreads until the later series / millennium, suggesting that, as with Wookies in the Star Wars franchise, we watch dreadlocks gain currency in representations of the alien at the same time that they become more present in US culture and society (and represented as symbols of the violent and exotic).
Finally got a chance to read Tal’s review of Nakamura; this passage is spookily germane —
thx again, alexis!
the villain’s guards in the movie Freaked were Rastafarian Jamaican accented walking eyeballs: Eye & Eye
I think they were technically not aliens but mutant freaks are pretty close.
that’s an amazing reference, rafi. thx!
I’m told that the black vampire in Twilight has dreadlocks. Not quite an alien (and I haven’t seen the movie) but maybe that helps.
Wow, Aaron, I think you may have provided the long lost (and sought) link between my point of curiosity, dreadlocked aliens, and Gary Dauphin’s interest in colored vampires! I’ll have to check that out. I guess.
Laurent the Twilight Vampire (in the film):
There was a rasta alien in Buckaroo Banzai named John Parker with a Jamaican accent.
Interesting stuff. on a side note, just seen this article about dreads being “the latest and greatest trend in urban hair styles”
“latest and greatest”? this could have been written 20 years ago, 15, 10…
Via my man Gabe, a Dr. Who devotee, here’s another for the archives, if tipping into the subtle/stretchy side —
He also reports “Destiny of the Daleks had these kind of androids who me and my brother always called Terrence Trent Darby. Thay had silver kinda braids and I believe they were all black.” After a little searching, I think he was referring to the Movellans —
Of course, this was from 1979, so my periodization theory — linking the rise of dreadlocked aliens with the increasing presence of Jamaicans in the US (and the 1980s posse scare) — doesn’t quite hold up. Then again, Dr. Who was a British series, and dreads were more prominent there earlier.
Not Rastas or Jamaicans, but black people in Space connected to Africa, roots-space theorizing, in music form!
thx to my man E for sending in yet another example, via email —
just adding another footnote/tip, this time c/o /rupture via email, who reports that Desmond “Coyote” Hawkins from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy is
and here’s the latest (via):
[ah, too bad the video stopped working. for the record, it was a trailer for Avatar.]
Thanks again to Josh Diaz for alerting me to yet the latest example of this well-worn trope:
A few choice bits of analysis:
Here’s another great example of Jamaicans doing their part to project themselves into space:
Thx to Daniel Thorn for putting me on to this one, from Jayson Musson’s Too Black for B.E.T. project:
thx to Dizzy Josh for spotting yet the latest iteration: a portrait (for sale!) of famed Other-killer, Andrew Jackson, holding the Predator’s decapitated, dreadlocked head in his hand:
just stumbled upon this latest bit of “affirmation”: “Predator – The rasta story”
“Everyone knows predeators a rasta”
& here’s another submission that must join the gang. thx to alexis for sending my way. as posted here:
Someone else found some eerie test footage featuring Badejo in partial costume:
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