10 July 2007

An Un-Flashy new Flash Gordon Series

SCI FI Channel, Reunion Pictures and RHI International are in production on a new incarnation of the Flash Gordon Series, set to air on SCI FI Channel sometime this summer. The new series stars Smallville's Eric Johnson as Flash Gordon, who describes the character not as a superhero but as a "regular guy trying to do the right thing." In an interview with Entertainment Weekly.com, Johnson goes on to describe the other changes written into the storyline that the execs and writers thought would make a 1930's originated Flash character more relevant to a modern day 2007 audience. Flash's claim to fame professional Polo career has been forfeited for that of a marathon athlete, as well as making Flash a car lover who works on them probably as a hobby. Flash's historical adversary, "Ming the Merciless" is still present. This time, however, due to modern day "racial sensibilities", the alien character Ming will no longer be known as "the merciless" and will be portrayed as white by white Canadian actor, John Ralston. (Note: Ming the Merciless was portrayed by white American actor, Charles Middleton in the serials and white Swedish actor, Max Von Sydow in the 1980 film version) As SCI FI Channel's executive vice president, Mark Stern, put it, they wanted to stay away from any of the issues of race in the new show. Stern goes on to describe the original Ming character as thin and one dimensional and said they wanted to replace him with someone charming and blond. How quaint!

And how convenient the paradigms of racism and double standards are in the world SF entertainment. SF often reflects the moods and thoughts of the time in which it was created and Flash Gordon is no different. First of all the original justification of the character's adventure and the hero worship of Flash Gordon was premised on a racist stereotype. Ming the Merciless is a character originating in American and European mythology, as a figure of the Asian as a physical, social, sexual and/or racial inferior type, bent on overrunning Western autonomy. The thin and one dimensional character type, though technically an alien in the series was created in the minds of white men because of their fear and hatred of Asians and which came to be known as the Yellow Peril. It was based on earlier, character types created by white writers, that eventually culminated into the infamous, "Fu Manchu" character, the role model of Ming the Merciless. Ming is still and will always be grounded in a racist thought and be a reminder of that ignorance. It's like exclaiming "nigga" is not the same as saying "nigger." It doesn't really get to the reason of why the terminology was created in the first place. My opinion is if the executives responsible for the creation of the new and "re-imagined" version of Flash Gordon were really honest with their intentions to not offend the "racial sensibilities" of todays modern audience, they would take a leap and re-imagine Flash Gordon as a non-white character. How about Flash Gordon as an citizen of the United States of Chinese or Japanese descent? I honestly don't know if that really would justify bringing the series back either.


See links:
Flash Avoids Stereotypes
EW.com's First Look: Flash Gordon
On Yellow Peril Thrillers
Wikipedia's Flash Gordon page
Flash Gordon press release

1 comment:

J said...

I suppose if there is any little reprieve, the new "Flash Gordon" series is atrocious. I genuinely don't expect it to last into a second season. Although, granted, I also don't really see why it needed to be reborn in the first place.

However, on the topic of Sci-Fi's newer programming and race, I'm curious on your take - if you watched the series at all - of the Martha Jones (played by Freema Agyeman) character in the newest season of the revived "Doctor Who" series? Although I do commend the BBC and the revival's production team for casting a black actress as the first primary black female companion in the series (all too white and sometimes all too racist) four decade history, I also admit, unfortunately, I'm a bit disturbed about some of the aspects of how the character was written / received by other characters (namely the Doctor himself). As I was also disturbed by all too similar issues in the first black (although cast as a more secondary character) companion of Mickey Smith (portrayed by Noel Clarke).

If you're interested, there have been various discussions going around regarding the portrayal of these characters and some problematic race & gender issues in the new "Doctor Who":