black speculative fiction

Black Mirror's San Junipero or how to dismantle the Bury Your Gays trope [Heavy spoilers]

I’ve written a little about the BYG trope before and if you follow media critics at all, you’ll know the death toll of women in relationships with women on TV shows in particular is seemingly ever rising.

Black Mirror is a speculative fiction anthology series known for its grim and dark themes. Originally broadcast on Channel 4, the British series only ran two seasons of three episodes each and one Christmas special, but was subsequently recommissioned by Netflix. “San Junipero” is the fourth episode of the Netflix season.

San Junipero focuses on the romance between two women: a young shy white glasses-wearing lesbian named Yorkie and a vivacious joyful passionate fun-loving black bisexual young woman named Kelly. In any normal Black Mirror, you’d expect a grim ending. And with the prevalence of the BYG trope on TV, this is an even greater possibility. But San Junipero is not a normal Black Mirror episode.

Charlie Brooker, creator and writer of Black Mirror, is obviously aware of the BYG trope. And he has endeavoured to shatter it to pieces. San Junipero is a story about love between two women. But it’s also a story about dying. And both the main characters are dying. This is clearly a conscious decision. Everything about the episode not only alludes to BYG, but calls for it. All the narrative justifications are there for it to happen. But Charlie Brooker decides to show that there is no such thing as “it had to happen”.

When we first meet Yorkie and Kelly, they are two young women meeting in a nightclub of the party town of San Junipero in the 80s. But in true Black Mirror fashion, appearances are deceptive. San Junipero is not a real place. San Junipero is one of the many settings in a virtual reality program. Elderly patients in nursing homes can choose to upload their consciousness to the program after death. And before that they can spend up to five hours a week in it as a test-run. Yorkie and Kelly met during their test-runs.

Yorkie is a quadriplegic 60+ year old woman. She has spent her entire life in a hospital bed  and now she is nearing the end of her life, she has chosen to upload herself to San Junipero. Kelly, also in her sixties, has been diagnosed with cancer and has been given a few months to live. This is the first part of the BYG subversion by the episode. The girls are dying, but they’re old women who have lived  long lives. This isn’t a case of a young woman getting hit by a stray bullet. Their deaths do not feel premature. And they aren’t certain either. Yorkie has chosen the time of her “death” willingly and it is not a death per se, just a passing into the virtual world of San Junipero. As to Kelly, she has outlived every dire prognoses she has been given thus far.

However, Kelly, who is bisexual, is still grieving her husband’s death and when Yorkie asks her to upload to San Junipero with her, she flat out refuses. Her husband did not go into the virtual reality program after his death and she feels like she cannot go when he did not. This decision leads to a fight with Yorkie, after which Kelly gets in her car and speed drives away before crashing and lying unmoving on the road. But this is San Junipero. This is a virtual world. Nobody dies here. Not ever. In San Junipero, women who love women are immortal and invincible and Kelly just gets back up.

Kelly finally comes to the realisation that it is okay for her to move on and thats he isn’t betraying her husband for doing so. The girls go on to live together, in a literal happily ever after - and all too rarely seen - in San Junipero.

Seeing a same sex couple both live through the entire story and end up together would be groundbreaking enough, but seeing this in a narrative that seemed to demand death, in a TV show that has never had a happy ending before (one hopeful ending in episode 1 of season 3) is not just a great decision to see, it’s an indictment of every other show who has killed their lesbian and bisexual female characters and a way to raise the bar for all future show.

Originally posted by silent-force

It’s worth noting that the episode also made a lot of efforts to put forward the validity of the characters’ sexuality and diversify the usual representation of wlw characters:

- wlw characters often tend to be white but Kelly is a black woman.

- wlw characters are often young. The episode played with that perception by making the characters’ youth turn out to be an illusion and both women are actually over sixty, which also shows that same sex attraction is not a phase. It’s a lifelong thing. Yorkie and Kelly loved girls at 20 and they love them still at 60.

- bisexual women are just waiting for the right person to decide their orientation: Kelly’s relationship with her husband and her budding romance with Yorkie are given equal weight. Nobody ever assumes that maybe Kelly was into girls all along and she was just still in the closet when she was with her husband. There is an absolutely magnificent monologue from Kelly towards the end in which she explains to Yorkie just how much her husband and the forty years they spent together meant to her.

- bisexual women are promiscuous: again, the episode plays with the perception. When we first meet Kelly, she is adamant that she is not going to have a relationship, that she only wants harmless fun. But we then find out that she is just finding it difficult to move on from her husband’s death and wishes to be faithful to his memory. Her speech about him also makes it clear that although she has always known she was also into women, she has never even been tempted to have a relationship with a woman because she loved her husband and was faithful to him for the entirety of their marriage.

EDIT: upon rewatching, I noticed clues indicating Yorkie and Kelly are actually in their seventies, and not their sixties as I had previously estimated. 

Edit 2: Scratch that, somebody pointed out Yorkie is indeed in her sixties, while Kelly is 73. Also added a gif because it made me smile.

Stand by for further San Junipero posts!

Brief Thoughts in Black Time - A Series of NonLinear Incompletions | by Cheikh Athj

listen. a woman just came into Community Futures Lab and told me that her son, along with three other youth, was killed this past week. she was a bit intoxicated, and selling hygiene products to raise money. asking for donations. we exchanged information and, before leaving, she told me she was single. that she might need to call on me / us for help.i had a conversation with a man today who told me that for every building that goes up in this neighborhood, two fall down. he does not want to see words on paper, to sit in front of notebooks in housing workshops. he wants to see these new developments fall, and for the hood to see the money that is being asked of it. he wants to see resources not on paper but real, tangible material. “this ain’t sharswood. what is sharswood? this is columbia ave.” i really don’t know what to tell you at this moment. black ass beautiful people are under assail and our kids, we are being released from our flesh in these streets. i know this is and *isn’t* common knowledge (cognitive dissonance does not count). i do not wish to trigger you. i just be so confused about what to do with this knowledge. about what to actually do other than sitting in front of my computer / ableton / a notepad and waxing poetic / musical / angry. there are so many facts missing, so many media files uncompleted, the ghosts of anger that undulate and rise and wane like bloody / bloodless tide. telling facebook of these narratives and making this a public post is no form of absolution. it is pixels on a telescreen, it is truth on the internet. i did not know these four youths. i met this woman and i met this man today. i am leaving the lab and i am headed to figure out a portion of my life. i am working on new things. i am in hoods i am not of (have my ancestors traversed these spaces?) trying to tell people who look like me that i am here to help them. i am here to help, and yet absolution is a heavy word on my tongue. liminality is where i stand. this is not absolution, but these stories will not be lost. these people will not be smudged out. they deserve every option, every opportunity, contact with every body gone ghost… fam…

———— 

if there’s anything this election was supposed to teach me, i’ve missed the lesson. white folks want me and people who look like me abolished, which i laugh at. it’s cool, i been known this. a nigga ain’t go to Ferguson and walk all up and down Broadway for nothing.

i still ain’t going nowhere, cept ancestral lands for that deep rejuvenation and deeper reckoning. then back up in this mug to raise a lil lot of hell, sing the graves open, and praise dance the sky red with every flesh ridden matrix of skeleton work released of spirit too soon. gon call apocalypse home and watch every silver spoon fed mouth salivate til they flesh dry up like ocean spray craisins and chime against they bones in the wind.

we been magic. been brothel and boo. been broke mosaic’d, re|paired and sometimes i lose myself in all this deep black and deeper blue. all this deja vu. and there is nothing wrong with the way indigeneity quietly shakes the earth i move along, a bump in every night. how i evade and give reason for sight. i strike fear and call every trigger by name.

it is hard for a bullet to hit you in the dark so that’s where i bool at. no night vision. we ain’t gon be alright but we will be black, will be indigenous. we have always been these things, have always been threats and that is why they want to turn our lights out, keep theirs on. it’s cool. we live here in this subtle dark, are everything that comes before and after the tenuous flip of a plastic switch… 

————

under the midnight haze of another philadelphia crescent moon, fishtown reeks of a similar scent to a close and recent sibling. i won’t conjure its name but will say it sits adjacent to — east of — a floating island we nickname the fruit that got us all here in the first place. another white man is president and this is the first time in (american?) history white folks speak of rebellion. some of us believed a white woman with a feminist lens and a penchant for planned parenthood centers would somewhat save us, and throughout her presidency i could not help but remember when a black gender nonconforming person asked her to apologize for mass incarceration, saying to Hillary’s face, “i am not a superpredator.” 

dismissed. white hands tugging at black words, Hillary’s words, and all of this is and isn’t metaphor. how i have seen folks turn, so quick to palimpsest the sins of a new “savior” helmed and still holding blackness hostage. still ready to deport and decimate, to break families into states: cut, partitioned, bordered. adversarial even. my tongue is tired of waking up to name subjection, again. 

———— 

faced with what has always been 

before you — 

a smoke screen, 

a limber faith made of 

stretch and pray 

hoping the sky don’t go ghost 

behind a blanket of red 

jurisdiction 

on some day you have not 

readied your soul 

for flight, yet — 

you don’t quite crumble 

at the core from the crypt 

of isolation; 

more so, at the inefficiency 

of language. 

tones, vowels, syllables, 

consonants, “english 

words" 

all fall short of explanation 

and how contrary of a 

battle you find yourself 

fighting. 

for the tongue beneath 

the one 

you usually use to talk something 

serious or sexual 

or even just punctuate 

the salt that finds 

exodus down your cheek 

does not speak resurrection, 

but remembrance: 

like: to birth what has not lived. 

like: to water a seed unsowed 

like: the tear drop attempted 

like: a deep and dark loin tempted 

like: how many times you gon say 

nanga def before your mouth 

run away from you, 

back to somewhere more flexible 

like: why you focus only 

on what you know 

like: i got folks down south too 

tho its soil is still a ghost to me 

like: i’ve never worn a rosary 

———— 

taking on the role of the ghost 

while at vassar, i began to experience what felt like being cast into a space of ghostliness. what i meant by this (mostly) is that i was not seen by the white folks on campus. 

the way i see being a ghost has since shifted, not so much to operate in binary opposition of "now i’m a ghost bc you white folks made me this,” but an understanding of how ghostliness can be utilized as a space of regeneration and the activation power. in what i have seen, which is shaky, i mostly cannot see what the ghost is doing — much of their actions are cast into darkness and obscured. this is what i’m interested in. while we see the ways in which the ghost haunts and terrorizes (often but not always) settler colonial bodies, we spend so much time not seeing what the ghost is doing otherwise. 

bullets go missing in the dark, so that’s where i’m at. white folks and murderous cops ain’t gon be shooting shit at me because they might end up shooting themselves. anything can happen in the dark. it is a space of expansive misunderstanding. the dark is faster than the light, which means all the things unimaginable in the light may be possible in the dark. time travel, every horrific monster, connecting with and feeling our ancestors and loved ones, love itself, so on and so forth. 

i am coming to reckon with how as a black person, as a black queer person, i am always already navigating darkness from a “cast into” pov. while i am interested in that because it is apart of my experience, i am navigating further into what it means to intentionally trudge into and out of the dark at will — not solely based on other people’s actions. i want to know what it means to know i am a ghost, to reckon so continually and deeply with this knowledge that i live and create both within and in spite of it. in some ways this way of operating draws on DuBois’ theory of double consciousness. but that’s the other thing about the dark: it is not limited by binaries because ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. the dark can be an important space of presence, activation, and protection esp for marginalized folks who are always negotiating danger and the potential of our own (fleshly) deaths. 

———— 

Bio: Cheikh Athj is young black ghost producing in the tradition of Octavia Butler, Henry Dumas, and loved ones who have left the flesh. Whenever he isn’t theorizing, you can find him making music, crying, or watching black television shows on repeat. 

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Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy Books with Black Heroines

A.J. Locke Books

The Reanimation Files

  1. Affairs of the Dead
  2. Requiem for the Living

“Help ghosts, stop a thief, and try not to die…”

Necromancer Selene Vanream helps ghosts settle their affairs so they can move on. But when breaking the rules gets her in trouble, she’s bumped down to tracking ghosts trying to avoid the afterlife. Ghosts like Ethan Lance, who claims he was kicked out of his body when someone else jumped in.

Black Widow Witch (standalone)

A deadly curse, a deadly assassin, and one shot to save everyone she loves…

Malachi Erami can’t fall in love. After she’s caught with Knave, the witch Queen’s favorite lover, she’s cursed to savagely butcher any man she falls for. Exiled to live among humans, Malachi runs a bar that serves magic-laced drinks, but since her curse labels her high risk, she’s also closely monitored. Julian Vira is her latest babysitter, but he’s also the first man since Knave that she’s been attracted to. Good-looking and nonjudgmental of her horrible curse? Yeah, he’s hard to resist.

Black Mirror's San Junipero and how to blend genres [Spoilers]

EDIT: First post on the episode titled “Black Mirror’s San Junipero or How to dismantle the Bury Your Gays trope is here.

If you’ve followed me a while you know speculative fiction, in all its iterations, is by far my favourite. One of the big reasons for that is that it is an incredibly versatile genre.

Black Mirror, as an anthology series showcases some amazingly original takes on various speculative genres: dystopias, horror, zombie survival, social commentary slice of life stories, sci-fi, time travel, virtual reality, androids, etc… The way it finds the new twists on these genres is beautifully complimented by the way it presents them from a deeply human and personal point of view.

San Junipero is no exception.

At first glance, San Junipero starts as historical fiction. This is the 80s. Alexander O'Neal’s Fake is playing and clubbers are wearing studded and rhinestoned jackets, big curly hair and scrunchies holding sideways pony tails, high waisted jeans, big accessories, lots of colours. Yorkie gets on the arcade machines under neon tubes.

But the hints are there already that this isn’t quite what it seems. Kelly mentions everyone is dressed like something they saw in a movie. The girls mention they only have until midnight. If you’re observant, you’ll note the 80s setting changes. On their first encounter, Kelly’s car has a 1987 registration, but later as Yorkie wanders the street “a week later”, she passes advertising for the brand new 1980 Chrysler Cordoba car. Then we get another time jump, and it is the 90s. Scream is playing at the cinema and Alanis Morissette is singing on TV. Yorkie ends up finding Kelly again in the early 2000s. The Bourne Identity is playing at the cinema and at the arcade, Kelly is playing Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution and both girls are now sporting long wavy hair.

At this point, the viewer is thinking “time travel”. But then Kelly punches and breaks a mirror. She looks down at her hand, uninjured, and looks back up at the mirror, which now appears all fixed. When she meets Yorkie sitting on a roof, she mentions a “pain slider” that needs to be set to zero and Yorkie asks how many of the people below are now dead, which Kelly answers with 80-85%, which if the girls are actually from somewhere around 2040 (Kelly passes at 73 and was in her early twenties in 1987) seems like a pretty high death toll.

Finally, the episode unveils the actual meaning of San Junipero: it’s a virtual reality program which allows elderly nursing home patients to upload their consciousness, for test runs at first, then after death permanently.

San Junipero plays with our perception to make us guess what subgenre it is. But this comes second to the development of the romance. Each big revelation about the world we are in comes first and foremost through the development of the two characters and their relationship. When we’re first dropped into the 80s setting, like Yorkie, we have eyes only for Kelly. When we skip from era to era, it’s because of Yorkie’s frantic search for Kelly who has not been in touch. The reveal that this is a virtual reality world comes only because Kelly wishes to meet Yorkie in person. The setting is incidental. This is all about their love.

what does speculative fiction look like in nonwhite eyes? A facet of reality

a tangible dimension not yet touched
an intangible terror dissected
hyperrealism

In what ways do speculative fiction via writers of color differ from the mainstream? There’s purity to it which comes from the art of empathy

to be empathetic with oneself and others unlike

whereas mainstream can only envision likeness and empathize with oneself

Hey black writers! Get your stories ready for the Black Girl Magic Issue 2, officially open in about a month. My second submission for the first issue - a story that I’m really proud of - has already been guaranteed for this new issue (sobbing tears of joy) and I just gotta advertise~

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Introducing the next level of Black Speculative Fiction, NubiaOne. NubiaOne is a multi-media platform focusing on the development and distribution of Black Speculative Fiction entertainment. The platform consists of various social media sites including this NubiaOne Channel. Stay tuned for original webseries, short films and feature films!

I’m a black girl who loves speculative fiction.  I love anime.  I love video games.  I love things that make you go ‘what if.’   But there are rarely any black people in these genres, and if there were, they were never leads.  When characters like Rue are revealed to be black, there’s huge backlash from that mostly white community.  But by then of course the story is already famous. So in my black-lead fantasy, I won’t call them “black” either.  I won’t use my name, I won’t include a picture.  Let them read the story and love it.  And by the time they see my dark-skinned characters on the big screen, it’ll already be too late to stop me.

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“Don’t miss out on this magical novel by one of the godfathers of Afrofuturism and black speculative fiction–Charles Saunders.”

 –Tananarive Due, American Book Award winning author of THE LIVING BLOOD

“In Abengoni: First Calling, Charles Saunders writes the sort of epic fantasy I want to read. He tells the tale, with its large cast of sharply drawn characters and complex history, in a wonderfully spare and fast-paced style that doesn’t waste time getting to where it’s going. I can’t wait for the next book.”

–Fletcher Vredenburgh, Sword and Sorcery Blogspot

PURCHASE HERE

medium.com
Antiblack Racism in Speculative Fiction — Fireside Fiction
#BlackSpecFic: A Fireside Fiction Company special report
By Cecily Kane

This struck me:

“For this report, we focused on black authors specifically rather than authors of color generally because, while all are important, we noticed several patterns — not limited to the short fiction field — in which “diversity” initiatives excluded black people and hid antiblackness. The terms “people of color” and “PoC” can have a flattening effect, so we took a closer look than the white/not-white binary.”