Race and World memory in Arrival



Fleming D (2020) Race and World memory in Arrival. Science Fiction Film and Television, 13 (2), p. 247–267.

Drawing inspiration from Benjamin’s analysis of the small ‘crystals of the total event,’ and Barthes notion of imagistic punctum, this essay examines an irritating ‘cinematic splinter’ derived from Arrival (Villeneuve US/Canada 2016). The grating key scene witnesses the film’s only significant African-American character, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), remind the white linguistic professor, Louise Banks (Amy Adams), that ‘a more advance race nearly wiped out the [Australian Aborigines].’ Exploring this excruciating spec helps to explode a kaleidoscopic image of our epoch, within which we can perceive a contracted ‘montage of history’—that counterbalances the sf story’s teleological projection of future. Among other things, the Manichean scene foregrounds how—as has historically been the case with Hollywood fare—perceptions of past and future become negotiated through a shifting web of racial and ethnic hierarchies. Recognising this, the essay explores how the scene’s contrived mise-en-scene amplifies Banks/Adams’ otherwise ‘invisible’ white profile, while using Weber/Whitaker to enfold divergent Black histories associated with past colonial contacts. This in turn helps conger images of a more complex and contested global history, or what Deleuze calls a ‘world-memory,’ that forces us to consider the real-world context of the here-and-now, wherein China appears on the ascendance.

Science Fiction Film and Television: Volume 13, Issue 2

Publication date31/07/2020
Publication date online01/07/2020
Date accepted by journal26/07/2019

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Dr David Fleming
Dr David Fleming

Senior Lecturer, Communications, Media and Culture