Science Fiction Film & Television

Race and world memory in Arrival

Science Fiction Film & Television (2020), 13, (2), 247–267.


Motivated by Arrival’s articulation of past colonial histories and memories with sf images of fixed futurity, I here undertake an Afrofuturism-inspired investigation into the expressive form and content of a deeply felt scene that appears to erect a Manichean black/white racial ‘montage of history’, before being provoked by the wider narrative to zoom out and expand the range of ethnic considerations to include black people of non-African descent, as well as a range of other ethnicities and geopolitical actors including contemporary China. This critical focus on race initially appears to unmask commonalities with troubling colonial attitudes pervading the sf megatext – including Arrival’s negotiation of the past and future through an implicit web of racial and ethnic hierarchies, and a celebration of ‘advanced’ alien technologies and teleologies. However, while undertaking a critical focusing zoom on race issues within the film, I also enact a telescoping backtrack – as if enacting a virtual form of the Vertigo effect – that draws into relief the Hollywood product’s contemporary production context. This ultimately allows us to perceive the film indexing zeitgeist perceptions of the (white) West (con)ceding geopolitical control of the future to the Chinese.

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Author details

Fleming, David H.