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The Hidden Meanings of Gattaca, 25 years later

A film that is most famous in genetics circles is also useful for broader discussions about discrimination, difference, and the future

Passing and Police Profiling

Gattaca’s introduction tells the story of Vincent Anton Freeman, an “invalid,” someone born without the assistance of genetic technology that maximizes favorable traits. At the end of the film’s introduction, Freeman says “we now have discrimination down to a science.”

Borrowed Ladders and Black Exceptionalism

The Gattaca world’s fixation on what people are born with creates exploitable glitches for individuals like Vincent (and fodder for a good story). Part of the reason he’s able to fly under the radar is because his professional performance is so stellar. That is, no one in authority believes an invalid could ever achieve what he has.

Gattaca, an AfroFuturist Classic? (Well, no…but still)

I have joked in my nerdier circles that Gattaca is a work of AfroFuturism. I am allowed to do this because the definition of AfroFuturism is flexible enough that, if I am agile, I might make an interesting point or three. The AfroFuturist tradition, to which I am a self-proclaimed member, can be defined many ways. Alondra Nelson has offered a useful one, suggesting that AfroFuturism offers “visions of the future — including science, technology and its cultures in the laboratory, in social theory, and in aesthetics — through the experience and perspective of African diasporic communities.”

“If it wasn’t for race, X-Men doesn’t make sense. If it wasn’t for the history of breeding human beings through chattel slavery, Dune doesn’t make sense. If it wasn’t for the history of colonialism and imperialism, Star Wars doesn’t make sense. If it wasn’t for the extermination of so many indigenous First Nations, most of what we call science-fiction ‘first contact stories’ don’t make sense.”

That is, many popular science-fiction relics exist in part because of the experiences of the colonized and enslaved. And we need not say this cynically, or suggest that theses stories have been exploitative or extractive (they might be, but we need not dissect that here).



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C. Brandon Ogbunu

Genetics, Epidemics, Evolution, Quantitative Biology. Views are the product of G x E x E x E interactions.