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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sci-fi's big black hole

Posted By on Thu, Feb 27, 2014 at 3:45 PM

Science fiction movies have a long history of political themes. In these sometimes fantastical, often dystopian futures, questions of individual agency, power and oppression are as common as laser guns and time warps. But for the most part, these themes have been explored in a very limited palette. The future, according to most mainstream science fiction films and books, is overwhelmingly white, and though these vehicles push overtly political messages, they neatly sidestep issues of race by near-total omission. But a growing band of writers, directors and fans are challenging this norm.

PolySolo.jpg

A groundswell of creatives is pushing the genre, reimagining ages of invention and exploration through fully realized black characters and generating crowd-funded support for projects like Invisible Universe, a documentary film on black contributors in science fiction, and Atlanta's annual Steamfunk ball. Locally, the Charlotte Black Film Festival will debut PolySolo: Double Minded Friday, Feb. 28, at the UNC Charlotte uptown building.

Micah Lorick, who has been producing films since 2008, wrote, shot and edited PolySolo in just over a month. He also co-stars as the male lead. The cinematic short, which runs a little over 15 minutes, centers around a female government agent who is tasked with tracking down a terrorist who has discovered a way to travel between alternate worlds. Trouble is, he also happens to be her lover, and in these alternate worlds, nothing is ever exactly what it seems.

Lorick calls it a cross between Fringe and Scandal, which may sound strange, but then again, "I'm just a weird person," says Lorick. While the action and setting are futuristic, "It's like in The Walking Dead: Zombies aren't the main focus of the show, but instead how the characters are surviving the apocalypse, issues of trust and security. Here [in PolySolo], you are exploring the other side of yourself; that moment where if you made a different decision, your life would have gone in a different direction."

Accounting for feeding everyone, renting locations, special effects editing and props, including the high-end BB guns used to simulate real firearms, the film's budget came in around $600, not counting the very real blood, sweat and tears - Lorick caught a hard blow to the mouth during one of the action sequences. Regardless, he doesn't regret the fight choreography or his choice of female lead, Charlotte actress Chastity Johnson.

"With a dark-skinned black woman [in the lead role of a sci-fi film], that's two things you don't see. Plus, it's fun to watch women with guns, fighting. It's not like watching the WNBA. Not to be sexist, but people go to male games because it's more exciting. But in movies, the reverse is true; men like to see women get down, just like women do."

Lorick plans to grow PolySolo into a 10-episode web series, tentatively set to launch in the fall. There's more to the story than can be told in one short, he says: "There are some strange people behind the scenes, and another earth with the same technology, but the man is the agent, and here they're married. There are some little twists and turns, playing doubles, split personality-type complications where the alternate character is more aggressive, more dominant."

The Charlotte Black Film Festival is screening approximately two dozen films this Friday and Saturday, including documentaries, comedies and dramas, that present more layered ways for African Americans to see and be seen. For more information, go here.

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