My mouth was agape as I read an article from Paste Magazine talking about the new TV time travel show “Timeless” :
“In one of the episode’s best lines, he tells the guard that he hopes he lives a long life so he can see Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson (“or just anybody named Michael”) and other notable African American figures because, ‘Time is not on your side.’”
Yeah, it’s a light article talking about a sci-fi TV show. We can’t expect an in-depth thesis about anything of real substance because in the end, it’s just…entertainment, right?
The black male character has traveled back in time and a racist guard in a jail cell is spewing the usual disrespectful and derogatory rhetoric at him.
But it’s the comeback that irks me.
And it’s the perspective of the article’s author that amazes me, that this person actually considered this one of the “best lines” in the episode. I thought it was one of the most offensive lines in the episode.
I don’t have anything against Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, or Mike Tyson, but they are not a well-rounded choice for the representation of a significantly changed “black future” that the jail guard had ahead of him.
In my opinion, that line and that perspective constitute in large part not only why movies and television are so lacking in interesting ethnic variety and stories but why we’re also experiencing the on-going tragic issues we have today regarding the ethnic population, often specifically the African-American population, in our country.
Okay. Maybe the character in “Timeless” doesn’t think fast under pressure. He’s an engineer, so he’s not dumb, but maybe that’s all he could come up with on short notice and it was supposed to be light and funny and entertaining. TV. Yay! Time travel. Whoo-hoo! Entertaining.
But what about this: what if he had said, instead, “I can’t wait until you live to see Gerald A. Lawson and Patricia Bath and George E. Alcon. And why haven’t you heard of Elijah McCoy and Henry Brown? Did you forget that Toussaint Louverture led the successful military revolt in Saint-Domingue that ended slavery in Haiti and that Lewis Latimer improved upon the light bulb by inventing the carbon filament to the extent that it became a common household feature?”
Now that’s a TV show I could sink my chops into!
But that would be a different TV show, wouldn’t it? And more than likely, a different world. At the very least, a different America.
Speaking of which, by the way…did any of those names ring a bell for you? ‘Cause none of them did for me, except Touissant, vaguely, but I had to look him up again to get the deets. More into that in a minute.
But the fact that 90% of us, if not more, probably don’t know who any of those people are is blatantly symbolic of where things have gone wrong as far as equal-opportunity information and knowledge is concerned.
I realize that our problems can’t be solved by a sci-fi time travel TV show listing some African-American heavy-hitters instead of a couple athletes and an entertainer (as great as they all might have been) but knowledge begins in school, and I don’t recall learning about any of these folks.
In the same way that some news shows still offer balanced points of view during important discussions which will potentially reach a wide swath of viewers, education must follow suit. And then the rest will follow.
I personally think it’s a shame that the average schoolchild is not armed with the everyday knowledge that their Playstation, Xbox and Wii are based on a business model created by Gerald A. Lawson involving the first home video-game system that used interchangeable cartridges.
They have no idea that Patricia Bath’s cataract Laserphaco Probe, much more accurate than previous drill-like instruments, has not only helped millions improve their eyesight but even restored vision to people who have been blind for decades.
And how much is taught about George E. Alcorn in middle school textbooks? I would have to do a huge survey to find that out for sure, but I can’t imagine his Imaging X-Ray Spectrometer gets equal time with the inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci.
But once that bridge gets crossed where education begins marketing not only African-Americans, but people of other ethnicities, with the same aggressiveness and consistency that European and Western society in general receive, then the trickle-down will happen into the greater consciousness and continue eventually into pop culture, affording us greater choice in subject matter, characters, and story.
Although movie and TV stories like these are fine for what they are…
The Color Purple
12 Years a Slave
Driving Miss Daisy
…I think there’s endless room and interest and material for Henry Brown, the man who invented the modern-day fire-proof safe, Marc Hannah, creator of 3D Graphics technology, Percy Julian, inventor of the process of synthesis (thus far only a 2007 documentary called “Forgotten Genius” documents his life), Mary Seacole, the contemporary of the endlessly-touted Florence Nightingale, Norbert Rilleaux, inventor and engineer. And move over, Oprah: take a look at Sarah Breedlove who founded the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company for hair care products and cosmetics and became the 20th century’s first female millionaire.
So, yeah, come on. Are you really remaking “Roots”? Seriously?
In that arena, I have to give Will Smith props for trying: “The Pursuit of Happyness,” and “Concussion” are unusual topics and out-of-the-box thinking. But although he’s improved as an actor with time, I’m not sure he was the best casting choice for those roles.
Stories about interesting ethnic/black people still aren’t considered money makers and often don’t do well. But then why is a movie about a White House butler so interesting? Or maids in the South?
I think these other stories, stories that don’t involve slavery or poverty or struggling to rise above poverty wouldn’t be considered risks that *don’t make money* if the same care and interest and excitement that’s shoveled into reboots of MacArthur and Marie Antoinette and Lincoln and Mozart was similarly shoveled into the personalities that have given blind people their vision back and revolutionized the way Nasa conducts research.
In the end, that character from “Timeless” was right: time isn’t on our side. But for a different reason, in my opinion. The same old characters and struggles and devices and conclusions are boring and saturated and played out, and we’re all gonna die one day, so let’s do something different.
There’s an untapped vein of creative wealth waiting to be mined out there, and it’s sad almost to the point of incomprehension that it remains steadfastly and willfully undiscovered, unrevealed, and unused.
My loss. Your loss. Our loss.