*****MY POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FILM “PROMETHEUS”. DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WANT THE FILM RUINED BEFORE YOU SEE IT. PLEASE READ MY POST AFTER YOU VIEW THE FILM*****
Last weekend, my husband and I went to see a much anticipated film, “Prometheus”, directed by Ridley Scott and hailed as a prequel to the sci-fi films “Alien”, “Aliens”, “Alien 3” and “Alien Resurrection”, the first film featuring in 1979. As an “Alien” and “Alien 3” fan from the 1980s, I was also pretty excited, as the trailers featured a magnificent mystery left unknown to us fans, which came to be known as the “space jockey” or “the pilot” in sci-fi geekery. This alien entity was discovered in the “Alien” movie as a fossilized, enormous humanoid creature, with an elephantine head; a face resembling an elephant with a trunk. This person seemed to have perished via the infamous chest bursting caused by our familiar antagonists, the xenomorphs (the “aliens”).
The trailer promised an answer to this 33 year old question, but I ended up exiting the theater with a few more questions…that outshined the puzzle of the deceased “space jockey”. Not questions about the film -well…actually, I thought the film was a disappointing confusion of impossible leaps of logic and absurd behavior, so that isn’t actually true, but not the point of this post…this time- but questions about how the film reflected certain social concepts, the most important being race and gender.
The introduction of the film is a splendidly beautiful and morbid depiction of an “Engineer” visiting a primordial planet (R. Scott does not reveal if this is Earth or not, but perhaps), and then ingesting a strange material which proceeds to break his body down, presumably acting as the first burst of amino acids and proteins which causes organic life to begin to develop. The “Engineer” is a very tall and extremely muscular human male, with unpigmented, paper-white skin. Beautiful, I thought. Until I later saw that ALL of the “Engineers” where exactly the same. Huge, muscular, white males. And, before you ask, no, there was no shot of this giant human’s genitals, but visually, the “Engineers” are all male.
Yes. All male, huge, muscular and white.
Sociologically -which is a large part of my educational background- seeing this depiction in the film, along with the lore that these huge space men are the progenitors of the entire human race on Earth, I left the film cringing at the implication of this visual Genesis.
Anthropology holds several explanations of how humans came to be humans as we are today on Earth, but the generally agreed upon history involves humans first evolving in Africa, and then slowing moving out to populate the world in something like an exodus. This movement later results in physical differences in humans, such as skin color, which is associated with geographically where a group spends tens of thousands of years. A group that traveled to settle in higher elevations with different amount of sun exposure will likely cause a group to favor lighter skin and more compact bodies for survival. This is natural selection, the mechanism for evolution.
Since it is generally agreed upon that contemporary humans are an extremely diverse group that had its ancestry in Africa, it is safe to assume that early peoples, such as Homo habillis and Homo erectus, had very dark skin and likely very lithe, slender bodies (strong, however).
So why then would Ridley Scott or perhaps the writers, Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof decide to invent a creation story that specifically posits the “gods” of human beings as such extraordinary examples of whiteness? Where to some this may seem to be over-analysis, in the social sciences, a critical lens into our daily life is essential to discovering what is taken for granted in society. Or worse yet, what is accepted as normal or natural in society.
Of course, as a sci-fi fan I acknowledge that “Prometheus” is essentially a fantasy and within that category is afforded creative license to invent or reinvent -even human history. Despite this, it is meaningful that the “Engineers” of the “Prometheus” fantasy literally flies in the face of everything we know about actual human history (scientifically speaking). Humans were very dark skinned -black, essentially, until we did some traveling. Considering how Black Americans are still undermined in U.S. society, especially by our new dialogue of colorblindness (please review this excellent article on the problem of ignoring race), this new story of giant white men creating humans can be construed as offensive in nature.
Which brings me to my next social question about the film: why is “Prometheus” so male-centered? Aside from the “Engineers” being pure white muscle men, even the language surrounding the existentialism which is the major theme of the film, is riddled with inappropriate language such as “mankind” and “man” as a noun for all humans. Before second wave feminism in the 1960s, this kind of language was still common, but thanks to the efforts of outspoken and equality-minded women and men, we now demand that literature no longer refer to all human beings as essentially male –“mankind”.
So what in the world is up with “Prometheus?” Not only is the language moving women in to a position of un-existence, women aren’t even represented among the creators of human beings. All the “Engineers” are male. This is bizarre, considering the focus of the movie, around the protagonist Elizabeth Shaw -played by Noomi Rapace- who plays an archaeologist who visits the far off world to find her “Makers”.
This is further compounded by the very fact that the nature of the “face huggers” of the “Alien” series, who forcefully impregnate victims with their young –a particularly male ability.
In the end, Shaw may be the single surviving (organic) character, who zooms off with the aid of David the synthetic, to find the homeworld of the “Engineers” to get her unresolved answers, but I think she ought to be going to ask how in the world women fit into the lore of “Prometheus”.
Ah! This just in: another great blog reviewed “Prometheus”, and it is indeed a good thing. Check out northierthanthou blog and read, it is so very very satisfying to hear someone else say/type what we are all thinking.