Driving Ms. Daisy’s Time Machine
Timeless: Another TV series about time travel… to a period hostile to African Americans. Oh wait. Is there any such period in American history that wasn’t?
The winter season is going to start with a time travel story where a super-historian, Lucy Preston, a Delta-Force Operative, Wyatt Logan, and the Black Guy Who Drives the Time Machine — Rufus <no last name> will ferry our trio in the temporal escapade: Timeless.
Granted, this is only a trailer but it left me asking: Will I devote a single second of my considerable love of time travel stories to this?
Do I need another tale of a Black character impotently driving the other heroes of the stories to places he will almost assuredly find himself arrested, called boy or other colorful terms I simply despise so much?
Look: A trailer. Go ahead and watch it and see if you can see what I am talking about…
Is Rufus a scientist on the project? The trailer didn’t say so. It established the bone fides of the other characters early while he is seen saying the only thing we can both agree on in this story: “I am Black. There is literally no place in American history that will be awesome for me.”
I have said those exact words as to why I study history and would find a time machine to the past to be the last thing I would want for a Christmas present.
Why am I down on this series, sight unseen?
(To be fair, I may watch the pilot and revise my perspectives totally assuming I can make it past this preview…)
Because, there is no era in American history more rife with racial FUCKERY than the period of 1901–1968. More historical movies promoting American greatness while ignoring America atrocity exist in this period than in almost any other.
Movies about World War I and II as well as period piece set in this time have always been a Hollywood favorite because they don’t have to employ many (read as ANY) people of color to appear on the screen.
America promotes the ideals of democracy and liberty while forcing Black Americans to be segregated and support the war effort as “logistical agents.” American history is also rife with opportunities lost to tell those very same tales of Black heroes excelling despite this overt racism.
I think movies set in these periods even eclipses the movie-going audiences engineered thirst for SLAVERY movies because they can happily say when casting: “There just weren’t any indications that people of color would have been present in these period pieces due to the self-segregation of Negros into their own neighborhoods and cultures. Thus we don’t have to worry about representation because everyone agrees that Blacks weren’t involved in anything historic at that time and movie history proves it.”
In slave narratives, they have to actually employ people of color AS SLAVES which undermines their chief socialized narrative: “Black people have never done anything for America we couldn’t do for ourselves.”
Such slave narrative empower the idea of representation of Blacks in media, no matter how derogatorily they are depicted, because in this way, they are said to have existed in American history.
I have always suspected it is this reason that such movies had fallen from favor for quite some time. The mindset had become: “If you acknowledge they were slaves, you acknowledge we MIGHT owe them something. We will never pay reparations so pick other periods to make movies about.” — Mysterious People in Power over Society’s Standards.
If you don’t remember anything about media, remember this: REPRESENTATION MATTERS. Yes, we know representation isn’t the same word as diversity or in the same league as actual inclusion, but the power of media cannot be denied as a driving force in a modern society.
If a person can be removed from the historical narrative, if he can be shown to have no ancestry that matters, no connection to the national narrative, you can shape his perception of self, his belief in the national agendas and cause him to even despise his own brothers as enemies of the state, completely enslaved to Stockholm Syndrome.
Rufus <no last name at the time of this article> may get to be the face of temporal historical shame, likely narrowly escaping death again and again. Wait. That’s no different than his existence in modern America. He’ll do just fine.
Whether televised science fiction can get over its trope blindness especially in how it presents the past as a golden age of Whiteness is looking rather unlikely. Whether this series will acknowledge the failures of historical America is anyone’s guess.
But having Rufus driving the Time-Ship “Rusty Prototype” isn’t a good start.
The Answer-Man’s Archives are a collection of my articles discussing superheroes and their powers in relationship to their respective universes. We deconstruct characters, memes, profiles and how superheroes relate to real world culture. You can find other Archives on Quora and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange or at The World According to Superheroes.
Thaddeus Howze is a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. You can follow him on Twitter or support his writings on Patreon.