jalabert (jalabert) wrote,
jalabert
jalabert

Is it just my imagination?

When I began writing in the Stargate: Atlantis fandom everyone seemed to be rushing to jump aboard the McShep bandwagon. Though I've enjoyed many stories featuring that pairing, I must admit, I don't get it. Anyway, I instead chose to focus my stories around Lieutenant Aiden Ford. Why Aiden, you ask? He was very handsome, in on all the major action, but not the central focus of the story. That gave me a lot of room to not only develop stories from a perspective different from that of the series but also to shape him as I saw fit. I could have done that with almost any of the cast, actually, but Aiden was obviously doomed to be pretty wallpaper. The powers that be did such a lousy job of character development that in SGA's third season they have yet to give the show's ostensible leading man a raison d'etre. Disappointingly, Aiden was dropped from the show when they couldn't figure out what to do with him. There were undoubtedly other factors contributing to the decision to remove him (and the actor who portrayed him, Rainbow Sun Francks) from the show, but that doesn't alter the fact that his character was undeveloped and poorly written to the point of being undermined as a credible member of the expedition. (Of course, the same can also be said of John, Teyla and Elizabeth, as well.)

It really pissed me off that the powers that be chose to replace Aiden with a white man who not only reads as black but whose character better fits all three of the traditional roles to which blacks are routinely relegated in science fiction: alien, noble savage, and bad-assed enforcer. (To their credit, Stargate: SG-1 somehow rose above that stereotype with Teal'c--though I suspect that most of the credit for that achievement lies with Christopher Judge, who--as the bad-assed alien enforcer of the Goa'uld system lord and later as a member of SG-1--never donned the mantle of noble savage. But having taken the extraordinary step of casting a young, educated black man as the second in command of the Atlantis military force, the SGA writers totally dropped the ball and simply didn't know what to do with him. Funny, I can reel off at least a dozen ways his character could have been put to better use in nearly every episode, beginning with the pilot and ending with his last appearance on the show.

Probably the nadir of season one for Aiden Ford was "The Eye"/"The Storm" arc, in which, given an opportunity to allow Aiden to demonstrate his leadership, the writers instead made him look like a cranky, inexperienced kid. I doubt that the SGC would have sent such a person to Atlantis as Colonel Sumner's second in command, much less recruit him into the Stargate program. Of course, we were also supposed to believe that they'd send a whiny, mama's boy wimp of a doctor as the chief medical officer and a loose-cannon Air Force major no one wants to deal with off to the Pegasus Galaxy, too. Someone once theorized that the SGC sent all its expendable people to Atlantis. I don't buy that, although I certainly do buy into the notion that the masterminds behind Stargate franchise probably sent their most expendable writers to SGA.

But I digress; I started this essay to talk about fan fiction, not to whine about the failure of the show, which, for the record, I no longer watch. My point was that I write fan fiction that focuses on a black character. I did not choose to write him simply because I am also black. But when I post stories, the few comments I receive from people often seem genuinely surprised that I can find stories to write about him. (Then again, I am equally perplexed that people can find stories to write about Parrish, who appeared in the series for what, two minutes? He wasn't even around long enough to merit a first name and yet there is far more Parrish-centric fic than Aiden Ford-centric fic out there.) I have heard on more than one occasion the excuse that "I can't get into his head," or "I can't relate to him." And yet, these same people apparently have no problem getting into the head of or relating to an astrophysicist, an Air Force officer, a doctor, an engineer, an alien, an elf, a Hobbit, a vampire slayer, or a teenage boy with magical powers--as long as they're white, of course.

Tell me something: can it be that hard to write a black character? Or is it simply a lack of imagination? Could it really be any more difficult than writing stories from the perspective of a man involved in clandestine gay relationship while living in a city in the middle of the ocean on a planet in a galaxy thousands of light years from planet Earth? Could it be any more difficult than say, writing stories in which men become pregnant or turn into women? (I don't get that, either.) Surely, writing a black character can't be any more difficult for a white woman than it is for a black woman to write white characters? All right, perhaps I have an advantage in this case. I live in New York City and interact with white people all the time and the fact is that many white people live in communities where there are either no black people or de facto segregation limits interaction. But I've written medical stories without having a background in medicine. Five years before I set foot in the United Kingdom I wrote stories set in England. I've written action/adventure stories with no formal knowledge of military procedures. I can go on and on listing things I've written about without any knowledge or training or firsthand experience.

I've never allowed inexperience or ignorance prevent me from writing the stories in my head. I take each idea as a personal challenge and use it as an opportunity to learn. Fan fiction allows me to venture into worlds I could never experience in real life. I've gained insight into other cultures, fields of endeavor, arts, sciences, and a whole host of other things I might never have given a moment's thought to otherwise. Every story I write is an opportunity to expand my horizons just a little or to play with an idea. Sometimes it's about making myself write about a topic that I'm uncomfortable with. Sometimes I challenge myself to write a certain amount per day. My current project involves a Fibonacci sequence and each subsequent chapter is longer than the previous one. The idea is to take myself to a place I've never been before each time I set out to write. I am not afraid of a challenge.

I am not afraid of writing characters who aren't "white enough." As a matter of fact, I am in more danger of writing characters that aren't "black enough" for someone's liking. My most challenging story this year was an AU in which Aiden was a hip-hop artist. I know far more about Chopin than I do about hip-hop--and prefer Chopin--so I was forced to rely on a young woman of Asian and Caucasian descent to not only tell me about the hip-hop scene but to guide me with the lingo. But outside of that foray, the truth is I actually don't write Aiden Ford as a black character, any more than I write John Sheppard or Rodney McKay or Elizabeth Weir as a white character. I write them all as the people they are. In my imagination, Aiden is a young man who manages to balance youthful exuberance with the persona of a seasoned Marine. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., that has nothing to do with the color of Aiden's skin, but everything to do with the content of his character. I write my characters, all of them, as human beings. And maybe, if other writers, including those who are paid to write the show, focused on the humanity of each character, the color of their skin might cease to be such an impediment. It doesn't take some special "in" with the culture or the race. All it takes is a little imagination.

Now, perhaps you read all of this and thought, But I don't want to write about Aiden Ford, or any other black character. He's not part of my OTP. Perhaps not, but that's a rant for another time.

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