…[some] may not remember what made Iran-Contra such an extraordinary scandal. The Reagan administration “raised money privately” by selling weapons to a sworn enemy of the United States. Why? Because it wanted to fund an illegal war in Nicaragua. And when I say “illegal war,” I mean that quite literally—Congress told the Reagan administration, in no uncertain terms, that Reagan could not send money to the Contras. Period. The Reagan administration, unrestrained by laws and the Constitution, did so anyway, and much of the president’s national security team ended up under indictment.
Reagan knew everything. However, I bet this Time magazine piece doesn’t get into the juiciest part of Iran-Contra, which is that in the 1980s the CIA put into operation a crack cocaine pipeline to import narcotics from Central and South America and distribute it in US inner cities. This is not a “conspiracy theory”, this is a documented conspiracy, most rigorously researched and reported by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Gary Webb, whose series in the San Jose Mercury News and subsequent book “Dark Alliance” literally got him killed. To me, that’s the story of Iran-Contra: not that Reagan sold weapons to Iran, but that the US government imported and sold crack to Black America, as part of an arms and drugs trade which funded war in the Third World and which devastated lives and filled prisons in the USA.
I’m old enough to remember this and it’s depressing that everyone forgot.
This conflicts with the neo-con narrative fiction that Reagan was the best president ever…so of course its been filed out of sight and mind. If a democrat had done it though, the outrage would be heard to the high heavens…
Melanie Fiona’s Open Letter to Lauryn Hill
After meeting Lauryn Hill at a recent show in Brooklyn, Melanie Fiona was moved by the performance and decided to open up about the Fugee…
“I have had many blessed, spiritual, and unforgettable moments in my life… But none more inspiring and life altering than last night. For those of you have ever listened to my music as a full body of work, heard any of my interviews, or have been to any of my live shows… Knows, that Lauryn Hill is a driving force of inspiration in everything I do. There would be no first audition for me if couldn’t sing her version of ‘his eye is on the sparrow’… There wouldn’t be ‘Felony Miona’ …. There wouldn’t be the artist you see today who isn’t afraid to bare her soul about life and love. And last night, I got to tell her that. After seeing her murder the stage…I personally got to express my teary eyed gratitude. A REAL dream come true for me. Lauryn Hill is the true essence of artistry that I aspire to represent… One who can break barriers, colour lines, industry standards, and ignorant minds… All while making amazing heartfelt educated music. My life will never be the same… It will be better… For what I received last night in energy and inspiration will most definitely make me a better artist and woman in this industry. You will feel it. Thank You #LaurynHill… You are singlehandedly, hands down, the greatest to ever do it ALL… Triple Threat… And to inspire a musical generation so starved that we still anticipate any and everything that you will do in the future. With Love, Respect, Support and Gratitude, MF xo”
If there’s one thing that most fans of Star Trek will agree on, it’s the fact that Gene Roddenberry’s vision for the show — and, more optimistically, for human society — was predicated on the idea that all life is valuable, and that the worth of a person should not be judged by their appearance. Much of this was done through the old sci-fi trope of using aliens to stand in for oppressed groups, but Star Trek didn’t rely on the metaphor; it had characters who were part of the ensemble, important and beloved members of the Enterprise crew, who were people of colour. It had background characters who were people of colour. And, here and there, it had anti-heroes and villains who were people of colour … one of whom, Khan Noonian Singh, became well-nigh iconic.
Image 1: “Who is your favorite villain?” ; Actor John Cho (Lt Sulu) answers.
Image 2: TOS Khan looking at a watercolor of himself. Yes, he’s wearing a dastar (Sikh turban)
Image 3: Cumberbatch and Montalbán (as Khan)
And who is now being played by white actor Benedict Cumberbatch in the new JJ Abrams reboot movie, Star Trek: Into Darkness.
We’re all cynical and jaded enough to know the standard dismissal when it comes to matters of media representation: Paramount Pictures and most film studios are not interested in diversity or visibility, they only care about the bottom dollar. Star Trek as a franchise is too much of a juggernaut to affect with boycotts. There are too many people who love it, who love those characters and that world, and will go to see the movie. And for some of these people, this devotion to the idea of a future where even South and East Asian men get to pilot a starship and love swashbuckling, where Black women make Lieutenant on the Enterprise and actually get the boy, will be trivialized and eroded and whitewashed when the most formidable and complex Star Trek baddie becomes a white man named Khan.
It wasn’t perfect in the 60s when Ricardo Montalbán was cast to play Khan (a character explicitly described in the episode script of Space Seed as being Sikh, from the Northern regions of India). But considering all of the barriers to representation that Roddenberry faced from the television networks, having a brown-skinned man play a brown character was a hard-won victory. It’s disappointing and demoralizing that with the commercial power of Star Trek in his hands, JJ Abrams chose not to honour the original spirit of the show, or the symbolic heft of the Khan character, but to wield the whitewash brush for … what? The hopes that casting Benedict Cumberbatch would draw in a few more box office returns? It’s doubly disappointing when you consider that Abrams was a creator of the television show Lost, which had so many well-rounded and beloved characters of colour in it.
Add to this the secrecy prior to release around Cumberbatch’s role in the film, and what seems like a casting move that would typically be defended by cries of “best actor for the job, not racism” becomes something more cunning, more malicious. Yes, the obfuscation creates intrigue around and interest in the role, but it also prevents advocacy groups like Racebending.com from building campaigns to protest the whitewashing. This happened with the character of the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, as well as ‘Miranda Tate’ in The Dark Knight Rises, who ended up being Talia al Ghul but played by French actress Marion Cotillard. This practice is well in effect in Hollywood; and after the negative press that was generated by angry anti-oppression activists and fans when Paramount had The Last Airbender in the works, studios are wising up. They don’t want their racist practices to be called out, pointed at, and exposed before their movies are released — Airbender proved that these protests create enough bad feeling to affect their bottom line.
So the studio has now found a way to keep it secret and underhanded. Racebending.com was there for most of the production of The Last Airbender, and were even able to correspond with Paramount Pictures about it. This time, for Star Trek: Into Darkness, their hiding and opaque practices has managed to silence media watchdogs until the movie’s premiere.
As I said, this racist whitewashing of the character of Khan won’t affect how much money this Trek movie makes. And I’m happy that the franchise is popular, still popular enough to warrant not only a big-budget reboot with fantastic actors but also a sequel with that cast. I’m happy that actors I enjoy like Zoë Saldaña and John Cho are playing characters who mean so much to me, and that they, in respect for the groundbreaking contributions by Nichelle Nichols and George Takei in these roles, have paid homage to that past.
But all of that will be marred by having my own skin edited out, rendered worthless and silent and invisible when a South Asian man is portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch up on that screen. In the original Trek, Khan, with his brown skin, was an Übermensch, intellectually and physically perfect, possessed of such charisma and drive that despite his efforts to gain control of the Enterprise, Captain Kirk (and many of the other officers) felt admiration for him.
And that’s why the role has been taken away from actors of colour and given to a white man. Racebending.com has always pointed out that villains are generally played by people with darker skin, and that’s true … unless the villain is one with intelligence, depth, complexity. One who garners sympathy from the audience, or if not sympathy, then — as from Kirk — grudging admiration. What this new Trek movie tells us, what JJ Abrams is telling us, is that no brown-skinned man can accomplish all that. That only by having Khan played by a white actor can the audience engage with and feel for him, believe that he’s smart and capable and a match for our Enterprise crew.
What an enormous and horribly ironic step backwards. For Star Trek, for media representation, and for the vision of a future where we have transcended systemic, racist erasure.