Science Fiction Film & Television

Race in the Blade Runner cycle and demographic dystopia

Science Fiction Film & Television (2020), 13, (1), 59–76.

Abstract

This article surveys the existing scholarship that treats racial representation in the original Blade Runner (1982) in order to trace its continuation into Blade Runner 2049 (2017) as well as the three short film intertexts: Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 (directed by Shinichiro Watanabe), 2036: Nexus Dawn (Luke Scott) and 2048: Nowhere to Run (Luke Scott). While the shorts Black Out 2022 and 2036: Nexus Dawn feature black and Asian characters, the dominant racial logic of Hollywood continues the focus on whiteness in Blade Runner 2049. At the same time, the newer films seem to show a response – however muted – to criticisms of the original in relation to race with an attempt to at least show that black people do in fact exist in its future, and half-Filipino and Latina actors (Dave Bautista and Ana de Armas, respectively) are featured in Blade Runner 2049. Nevertheless, I argue that the overriding racial sentiment of the series thus far is the imagination of what Steven Gardiner identifies as a fear of ‘demographic dystopia’, a core logic of white supremacy; indeed, it is precisely the imagination of dystopia as whiteness being overwhelmed by non-whiteness that pervades the Blade Runner diegetic universe. My own argument about the Blade Runner series will focus on it as an exemplar of Hollywood’s racial logic and its attempts to fit its vision of the future of race into both the fears and aspirations of racial multiculturalism in the US.

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Works cited

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Yu, Timothy. ‘Oriental Cities, Postmodern Futures: Naked Lunch, Blade Runner, and Neuromancer’. MELUS 33.4 (2008): 45–71. Google Scholar

Zong, Jie and Jeanne Batalova. “Asian Immigration in the United States’. Migration Policy Institute (26 Jan 2016). www.migrationpolicy.org/article/asian-immigrants-united-states?gclid=CjwKCAjw5dnmBRACEiwAmMYGOWiAguyBkQ1-fugHDPqeSUx2GWJeDT_7yrK1dKVhZLQtJzDedb44rhoCz2UQAvD_BwE. Accessed 11 May 2019. Google Scholar

Appadurai, Arjun. ‘Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy’. Theory Culture Society 7 (1990): 295–310. Google Scholar

Ashcraft, Brian. ‘Who’s White and Who’s Japanese in Anime? Once Again, the Internet Compares’. Kotaku (15 Oct 2012). kotaku.com/whos-white-and-whos-japanese-in-anime-once-again-the-30768260. Accessed 11 May 2019. Google Scholar

Barringer, Robert. ‘Blade Runner: Skinjobs, Humans and Racial Coding’. Jump Cut 41 (1997): 13–5, 118. www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC41folder/bladeRunner.html. Accessed 11 May 2019. Google Scholar

Bruno, Giuliana. ‘Ramble City: Postmodernism and Blade Runner’. Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema. Ed. Annette Kuhn. London: Verso, 1990. 183–95. Google Scholar

Carr, Brian. ‘“At the Thresholds of the ‘Human”: Race, Psychoanalysis, and the Replication of Imperial Memory’. Cultural Critique 39 (1998): 119–50. Google Scholar

Dempsey, Michael. ‘Review of Blade Runner’. Film Quarterly 36.2 (1982–3): 33–8. Google Scholar

Desser, David. ‘Race, Space and Class: The Politics of Cityscapes in Science Fiction Films’. Alien Zone II: The Space of Science Fiction Cinema. Ed. Annette Kuhn. London: Verso, 1999. 80–96. Google Scholar

Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 1968. New York: Ballantine, 1982. Google Scholar

Erigha, Maryann. The Hollywood Jim Crow: The Racial Politics of the Movie Industry. New York: New York UP, 2019. Google Scholar

Fancher, Hampton. ‘Blade Runner’. 1980. Film script. Screenplay.com. www.screenplay.com/downloads/scripts/Blade%20Runner.pdf. Accessed 11 May 2019. Google Scholar

Fancher, Hampton and Michael Green. ‘Blade Runner 2049’. No date. Film script. www.docdroid.net/WWXneXj/blade-runner-2049-shooting-script.pdf. Accessed 11 May 2019. Google Scholar

Fancher, Hampton and David Peoples. ‘Blade Runner’. 1981. Film script. learning.hccs.edu/faculty/bruce.brogdon/engl.2333/bladerunner/bladerunner-script-pdf/view. Accessed 11 May 2019. Google Scholar

Gardiner, Steven L. ‘White Nationalism Revisited: Demographic Dystopia and White Identity Politics’. Journal of Hate Studies 4.1 (2005): 59–87. Google Scholar

Huntington, Samuel P. ‘The Hispanic Challenge’. Foreign Policy (Mar/Apr 2004): 30–45. Google Scholar

Joo, Hee-Jung Serenity. ‘Flexible Chaos: Globalization and Race in Los Angeles Disaster Film and Fiction’. Literature Interpretation Theory 23.3 (2012): 246–66. Google Scholar

Kawashima, Terry. ‘Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference’. Meridians 3.1 (2002): 161–90. Google Scholar

Kirby, Jen. ‘Trump Wants Fewer Immigrants from “Shithole Countries” and More from Places Like Norway’. Vox (18 Jan 2019). www.vox.com/2018/1/11/16880750/trump-immigrants-shithole-countries-norway. Accessed 19 May 2019. Google Scholar

Leong, Karen J. The China Mystique: Pearl S. Buck, Anna May Wong, Mayling Soong, and the Transformation of American Orientalism. Los Angeles: U of California P, 2005. Google Scholar

Locke, Brian. Racial Stigma on the Hollywood Screen: The Orientalist Buddy Film. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Google Scholar

Lowe, Lisa. Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke UP, 1996. Google Scholar

O’Brien, Connor. ‘Kaine: Trump’s Rhetoric “Emboldens” White Nationalists’. Time.com (17 Mar 2019). www.politico.com/story/2019/03/17/kaine-trump-white-nationalists-klobuchar-1224199. Accessed 13 May 2019. Google Scholar

Palumbo-Liu, David. Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999. Google Scholar

Park, Jane Chi Hyun. ‘American Anxiety and the Oriental City’. Yellow Future: Oriental Style in Hollywood Cinema. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2010. 51–81. Google Scholar

Prater, Tzarina T. and Catherine Fung. ‘“How Does It Not Know What It Is?” The Techno-Orientalized Body in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Larissa Lai’s Automaton Biographies’. Techno-Orientalism: Imagining Asia in Speculative Fiction, History, and Media. Ed. David S. Roh, Greta A. Niu and Betsy Huang. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP 2015. 193–208. Google Scholar

Rottenberg, Josh. ‘Denis Villeneuve Explains How “Blade Runner: 2049” is No Replicant of the Original Neo-noir Sci-fi Fan Favorite’. Los Angeles Times (1 Sep 2017).www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-ca-mn-0903-sneaks-blade-runner-gallery-20170903-story.html. Accessed 6 Mar 2017. Google Scholar

Sammon, Paul M. Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, Revised & Updated. 1996. New York: HarperCollins, 2017. Kindle edition. Google Scholar

Silverman, Kaja. ‘Back to the Future’. Camera Obscura 27 (1991): 109–32. Google Scholar

Tasker, Yvonne. ‘Contested Masculinities: The Action Film, the War Film, and the Western’. The Routledge Companion to Cinema & Gender. Ed. Kristin Lené Hole, Dijana Jelača, E. Ann Kaplan and Patrice Petro. New York: Routledge, 2017. 111–20. Google Scholar

Villeneuve, Denis. ‘Director Denis Villeneuve Proved to Us He Loves Blade Runner More Than Anyone Else’. Interview with Nash Jenkins. Time (3 Oct 2017). time.com/4964530/blade-runner-denis-villeneuve-interview/. Accessed 6 Mar 2017. Google Scholar

Wagner, Jans B. Dames in the Driver’s Seat: Reading Film Noir. Austin: U of Texas P, 2005. Google Scholar

Weheliye, Alexander G. Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human. Durham: Duke UP, 2014. Google Scholar

Yu, Timothy. ‘Oriental Cities, Postmodern Futures: Naked Lunch, Blade Runner, and Neuromancer’. MELUS 33.4 (2008): 45–71. Google Scholar

Zong, Jie and Jeanne Batalova. “Asian Immigration in the United States’. Migration Policy Institute (26 Jan 2016). www.migrationpolicy.org/article/asian-immigrants-united-states?gclid=CjwKCAjw5dnmBRACEiwAmMYGOWiAguyBkQ1-fugHDPqeSUx2GWJeDT_7yrK1dKVhZLQtJzDedb44rhoCz2UQAvD_BwE. Accessed 11 May 2019. Google Scholar

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Author details

Chan, Edward K.