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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Sci fi offers surprising insights on race

Published: March 6, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

Months and months of wading through red ink, volleying e-mails, coordinating, coordinating, and coordinating came to fruition for the Mixed Heritage Club on Friday night, as their much-anticipated speaker, Eric Hamako, gave the talk, “Monsters, Messiahs, or Something Else?” a discussion of mixed race issues in sci-fi movies.

Hamako, a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, intrigued the audience with his observations and theories regarding the portrayal of the “new” and “old” mixed race ideals in popular entertainment. Citing the movies Blade and Underworld, Hamako explained the portrayal of mixed-race people as “monsters” or “messiahs”—with vampires, humans, and werewolves becoming the racial metaphors.

The “monster” depiction of mixed-race people, Hamako explained, comes from the “old” conception of mixed race, which presented mixed-race people as deformed, immoral, or somehow wrong or inhuman. The “new” conception of mixed race, on the other hand, presents opposite stereotypes—that mixed-race people are beautiful, genetically superior, and the easy way to quash racism. Hamako calls this the “messiah” depiction.

Using clips from “Underworld,” Hamako showed the movie’s symbolic pitting of the new messiah version of mixed race against the old monster version. Hamako said that this is a way of injecting the new stereotypes about mixed race into the audience’s mind and attempting to justify forgetting that the old stereotypes existed by symbolically destroying them.

The event, co-sponsored by the Brandeis Official Readers’ Guild, was well-attended by people interested in race issues as well as in science fiction, and Hamako’s lecture was generally well-received, with several attendees expressing interest in a return lecture. This is great news for the MHC, a club still in its infancy, which worked so hard to make the event possible.

Hamako has also developed a lecture about zombies and “Orientalism,” which explores the idea that the recent surge of zombies in pop culture demonstrates “displaced Orientalist anxieties about Arabs, Muslims, and East Asians – particularly Chinese.” From the positive feedback received on “Monsters or Messiahs,” you may want to stay tuned in future semesters for Eric Hamako taking on zombies.