Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Conversation With Professor Adilifu Nama About Popular Culture, Race, and Science Fiction

Adilifu Nama, Professor of African-American Studies at Loyola Marymount University and expert on race and popular culture is the guest on this week's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show.

Adilifu has written several books including Black Space and Super Black.

He has also written a forthcoming book on the films of Quentin Tarantino.

In this fun episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show, Adilifu and Chauncey take a long and winding walk along the colorline and its intersections with race, popular culture, and science fiction. 

Adilifu and Chauncey discuss their mutual discovery of a love of science fiction and film, how to reconcile white supremacy and science fiction as fans who are people of color, talked about their fear of the comic book store and the Whiteness of geek and nerd culture, and shared thoughts on Django: Unchained, teaching film, and the existential dilemmas of "blackness".

Chauncey and Adilifu also share their favorite horror movies--hint: one of them is the recent pathology porn film "Precious"--and mutual love of Clint Eastwood's revisionist Western classic "Unforgiven".

Chauncey shares some thoughts about Ferguson and his recent appearance on Ring of Fire TV, rants about incompetent tech support for his new HD webcam, talks about white Right-wing domestic terrorists, and reads a passage from Ethiop's classic essay "What Shall We do With the White People?"

This episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show with Professor Adilifu Nama can be listened to below or "watched" on the official Youtube channel for

The Chauncey DeVega Show can also be followed on Itunes and listened to via Stitcher on your smart phone or other related technology.


Wild Cat said...

'Nuff said:

chauncey devega said...

The conspicuous disappearing negroes on the Walking Dead. I wonder if the quota is formal or just understood?

Buddy H said...

Saw this in Charles Pierce's column yesterday:

"OK, so I'm watching the tournament on CBS, and there's this guy named Spero Dedes doing some of the games. Earlier today, those scamps over at Deadspin caught him talking in code during the game between Northern Iowa and Wyoming. (Spero has something of a history in this regard.). So imagine my shock when he referred to Cal-Irvine's huge center Mamadou Ndiaye as "the Senegalese behemoth," and "the monster." Spero, I suspect, will be hearing from CBS human-resources this week. Right now, he sounds like he missed his calling as a barker for P.T. Barnum. I mean, Jesus."

Black Sci-Fi said...

Very enjoyable and informative podcast. The subject is close to my heart and soul.
Thanks Again.

Black Sci-Fi said...

Just a slight correction. Cosby's character in "I Spy" was named Alexander Scott and yes, he did have a love life. One of the more interesting episodes was devoted to Scott being in love with an African diplomat. Within the I Spy scripts, that episode was a moving as the Under the Pale Moonlight episode of Star Trek DS9. I encourage you to find and view it. While the I Spy plot revolved around Kelly (tennis pro) and Scott (trainer/coach), I didn't get any racial vibes within their relationship. The set-up was a perfect cover for their task of being jet-setters/spies and the novelty was that Scott was the brains and Kelly was the muscle. For the 60's, outside of Mission Impossible", that was a rare and welcome dynamic. The episodes left no doubt that Scott was getting laid, the reality of the team was that Kelly was getting laid, a lot, in the public eye to maintain their cover. Again, a welcome reversal of roles considering the times.

Black Romulan said...

Dr. CDV, you flatter me immensely with your shout-out on this episode's podcast. Mucho thank you!!

Of course I did love the theme and discussion of this recent offering, and wholeheartedly agree with MOST of you and Dr. Nama's observations on race and science fiction (enough that I did pick up Nama's "Black Space" on Kindle).
I agree with your reading of Django being high revenge fantasy (I like to contrast it to Dave Chappelle's "Time Haters" skit and Tarantino's earlier "Inglorious Basterds" (but for Jews)). I also had to scan the movie itself for the spectral Django scene (at the 2:09.25 mark on Netflix) you two mentioned in the podcast. Creepy!

I was wondering, however, if your read on pathologically insane black male portrayals in the Star Trek universe extends to other characters as well (e.g. Jake Sisko, Tuvok, Travis Mayweather, etc.). My take on Tuvok is that he serves as more "magic negro" to Capt. Janeway than the more flawed and mental unstable male figures you both discussed. Also, I'd be interested in your read of the portrayal of Native American Jakotay, as well.

This is a huge one - nearly two hours of ghetto nerdliciousness - so I'm going to have to listen through it a couple of times to absorb it all. And not just to hear my name in lights... :)

Jolan tru!!

chauncey devega said...

Thanks for the kind energy, words, and honorifics.

Characters can be ideologically mixed in the type of representation and ideological work they do.

Tuvok can be both a magical negro--I never thought of him that way, good catch--and also channel those same types of anxieties about black male sanity. On Voyager he has had those types of episodes too with the Vulcan mating ritual and other moments.

chauncey devega said...

Thank you! I love chatting with the good folks who make the time to chat on the show. So glad it worked for you. Any topics,guests, or the like to suggest for the show?

skilletblonde said...

I really enjoyed this interview. I must admit however, I'm not much of a science fiction fan. Dr Nama mentioned the Twilight Zone. The Twlight Zone is my favorite all time television show. Sterling's prophetic warnings were on point. Global Warming, nuclear annihilation, fascism, racism, narcissistic personality disorder, and even the insanity plastic surgery would become... remains spell-binding to this day. I would love to hear Dr. Nama's critique and favorite shows.

I must also admit that I have not seen any of the recent slave movies. My tolerance for Hollywood and its predictive formulas is gone. A friend did offer a free ticket to see the Help. Of course, I left the theater pissed. I have not seen Precious for fear that I may have a massive coronary. Tyler Perry?, hell no! Unfortunately, movies produced or directed by African Americans depict the same racialized skin tone hierarchy and characterizations as white movies. So my cynical mindset doesn't get enthusiastic when a movie targeted for a black audience is announced.

The last movie I actually like was Spike Lee's "Bamboozled", though I thought Damon Wayans was miscast in the movie. Frankly, I don't think I've seen 5 movies since. I am also old as hell. Dementia is around the corner.

Dr.Nama mentioned the website Racialicious, which I'm also fond of. I think the redesigned of .their website is not as good as the old one, but that's just my opinion. The Dr. may also want to check out the website Sociological Images..

Thank you Chauncey for this wonderful interview. It was informative, funny, and oh so brilliant.

SW said...

Great discussion. It's so interesting how much more accessible a discussion can be when presented a certain way. For example, when Dr. Nama is describing his frustrations with an unresponsive classroom when "he knows he's flowin". I had to laugh, because his choice to use slang provided better insight into what he was experiencing. There were several other examples throughout your conversation that made the discussion more fun, but still smart and relevant.

But what I really want to say is I do like reading Ta-Nehisi Coates. Dr. Nama had deservedly strong praise for Mr. Coates. But he's no Chauncey Devega. Your writing style and insight is unapologetic and always reflects that gravity of the topic you are discussing. Your level of discourse should be a benchmark for discussions of race in this country. Not that Coates is not insightful, or does not tackle tough issues, but your words are more potent and your subject matter is well outside of conventional race dialogue...which is where racial dialogue needs to be if we hope to get anywhere.

I just wanted to say that because Dr. Nama was giving strong praise to Coates, which wasn't a slight to you at all, but seemed a little strong considering the person he was talking to.

OldPolarBear said...

I really want to rewatch the whole of the original I Spy series. It was a favorite of my whole family when it was on originally, but I was only about 10-12 at the time and my memory is hazy. I do know that it is perceived as a jokey, goofy, spy spoof, and there were elements of that, but also that it had really serious plots in terms of dealing with the Cold War and the dark, disturbing elements of same. And Cosby was just phenomenal -- he was so intense, he could convey a whole range of things just by sitting there during their assignment briefings. I have a theory that the show started out quite seriously and then turned goofier and lighter as it went on because it was too intense and serious for people and I want to watch all the episodes in order to test that.

OldPolarBear said...

Chauncey, I really enjoyed this podcast but am only now getting around to saying so. Since I work a later schedule than everyone else, I put it on late Friday afternoon after everyone was gone and didn't have to worry about it bothering anyone.

I noticed that the Ultimate Computer episode came up again -- after the last comment I made about it, I went and found the < a href="">speech (it starts at about 30 minutes in). It was a little different than I remembered. It's after the M5 kills the redshirt who goes to cut off the main power source. Kirk, Spock and Scotty confer on how to shut it off while McCoy goes and tries to talk to Daystrom, who tells him:

I'm going to show you ... I'm going to show all of you. It takes 430 people to man a starship. With this [the M5] you don't need any. One machine can do all those things they send men out to do now. Men no longer need die in space, or on some alien world. Men can live, go on to achieve greater things, than ... fact-finding, dying for galactic space, which is neither ours to give or to take. You can't understand ... we don't want to destroy life; we want to save it.

I still like to think of Richard Daystrom as the lone voice of reason against the neoliberal Federation imperialist project, whose project to stop it went wrong through no fault of his own. The Federation must not have held a grudge; they named the Daystrom Institute after him (it showed up in TNG).

I commented elsewhere in this thread about I Spy and Cosby. Maybe I am way off base on this -- and maybe this has been talked about all over the place, but I've never run into it -- as far as I can tell, Cosby/Alexander Scott was the first black man who was allowed to be sexy on television. I don't know if that guy is selling Jello pudding or what, but whatever it is, I'm having some. Robert Culp is not bad either, of course (we can leave aside further deconstruction of their relative positioning and posing in that image for another time). And that may go for movies, too. Sidney Poitier maybe was a little earlier in that category there, but he was rarely as steamy as that.

Anyway, great job on the podcast as usual. I want to check out some of the sources you both mentioned.

Miles_Ellison said...

Large audiences for shows with lots of black characters are not acceptable to the critical cognoscenti. There is only so much diversity that will be tolerated. As a result, the excess black people on The Walking Dead get killed and we get intellectual exercises like this.

Jonathan Chait would be proud.