Lamar Giles
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May, 2012

Could Idris Elba be the secret hero in PROMETHEUS?

*SPECULATION WARNING*

I have not seen PROMETHEUS, the latest sci-fi film from Ridley Scott, the director of the classic ALIEN (to which PROMETHEUS is a prequel). Nothing I say here will spoil the movie for you because it is simply conjecture. However, I am basing the thesis of this post on things I’ve observed in the film’s promotional material. And I will be referring to major plot points in ALIEN and its sequels, which could be considered spoilers if you’re the rare person who cares  enough to read this and HASN’T seen the film (which came out in 1979…if you claim I spoiled a 32 year old film for you, you really had it coming. Also, in THE SIXTH SENSE, Bruce Willis is actually dead the whole time). Moving on…

courtesy of screenrant.com

So, the question: could Idris Elba be the secret hero in PROMETHEUS? I have no idea, but I think it’d be cool for a few reasons, which I’ll get to in a moment. First, why even ask this question? At best, he’s a blip in the trailer. Blink and you miss him.

In trailer 2 he gets a bit more screen time and we get to hear some line readings, but everything we’ve seen so far leads one to believe that Noomi Rapace is the heroine. She’s top billed*, is the one featured prominently in all the trailers, and she even has a passing resemblance to Sigourney Weaver. Surely, she’s the one who will save us all from whatever threat exists in this film. If not her, then Charlize Theron, or Michael Fassbender, or Guy Pearce, all of whom have played top billed, kick-ass heroes in films before. How in the world does Idris Elba–most noted for his role as Russell “Stringer” Bell on HBO’s The Wire–jump to the head of THAT pack?

My Argument

Sigourney Weaver was NOT the star of ALIEN in 1979 – Ripley was. While featured prominently (though with little context) in the trailer, Sigourney Weaver was not the talent we now know her to be. ALIEN was her first major role. Tom Skerritt, who played Dallas in the film, was top-billed. And, until his unfortunate demise in the film’s second act, was presented as the hero. He’s what audiences of the 70’s would’ve been comfortable with in their sci-fi saviors. The rugged, handsome white guy. In a sense, Ripley was a bait-and-switch. If not for the necessity of a trailer, audiences would’ve been blind to the role this unknown actress would play. Ripley being the one to defeat the alien in the end would’ve been considered a twist. † Given the similarities in the ALIEN and PROMETHEUS promotional materials, I think another bait-and-switch could be in the making. What better twist than for the Ripley-like character to not be as Ripley-like as we’ve been led to believe?

Idris Elba seems to  be a non-dumbass in the film, one of the few – Though along for the ride, for whatever reason, Idris’s character is not the one initiating the foolhardy mission of searching for alien life on what looks like a hostile world. In ALIEN and ALIENS, the first two films of the franchise (and the only two I’m willing to discuss because the other two stunk), those insisting on going places they shouldn’t have gone for less than admirable reasons (money, glory, to be ultimate bad asses), turned out to be either villains or casualties. Sometimes both. In both films, Ripley was the cautious individual. The voice of reason. Because of that, she was the only one suited to be hero (also by process of elimination…meaning the aliens eliminating everyone else). Based on the snippets available in the PROMETHEUS trailers and TV spots, Idris plays this same role. He’s the one concerned with contamination, and giving threats access to safe havens. This makes him Ripley-like, more so than Noomi’s character, who seems to be the driving force of this stupid mission.

Why it would be cool if I am right

Because it would mean Ridley Scott’s still got a mean curveball -In a world where whole scripts can leak to the public two years before a movie screens, it’s nice when a director can still surprise us (unless of course you’re reading this, and I’m right, in which case…well…damn it!)

Because Idris Elba is an awesome actor – But Lamar, there are a lot of awesome actors in this movie. Why him?

Because someone scoffed at the idea that Idris Elba might be the secret hero in PROMETHEUS – Before reading one word of my argument, someone out there will see his name and/or picture, and immediately have a negative reaction to the possibility that this actor might be more than Victim #1, 2, or 3 in this film. I’m not saying it’s you. But, is it? There’s so little diversity in entertainment. So few solid roles for minority actors and actresses. Particularly in science-fiction or fantasy films. Hmmm….it reminds me of a time when kick-ass female characters were the exception, not the rule, in those very same genres. That changed when a certain director launched a certain franchise and blew us out of the air lock with a concept that would become normal, then cliche. The Female Action Hero. Is it so hard to fathom that that same director might do something similar when returning to the franchise? I hope so. Because, just as a generation of girls grew up idolizing a female hero who wasn’t scared to face off with a space demon, it would be nice if a generation of boys, who are IGNORED by Hollywood, could cheer for a fearless alien fighter who, for a change, happens to look like them.‡

In Space No One Can Hear You Dream

I grew up watching movies where the guys who look like me often died horribly. Heck, I still watch movies like that. To avoid them would mean avoiding the stories that speak to me more than any others. So I make concessions, and sit through what could be considered genre genocide. We’ve all heard the jokes. ‘The black guy dies first’. That’s not always the case, but (too) often, in situations of peril, a guy with brown skin is no different than a Starship Enterprise crew member in a Red Shirt. I wasn’t always aware of it, but once it came to my attention, it made me sad in ways most people can’t understand (Or, in cases of extreme insensitivity, they write off as an overreaction). I’ve long dreamed of a day when the hero who saves the world, survives the conflict, and gets the girl§ resembles somebody I might see at a family reunion. I don’t really think it plays out the way I would like it to in PROMETHEUS, but I’d settle for Idris Elba getting a Ripley moment, if only for one film. He’s got his whole career to get his due. Sigourney Weaver went on to lead many films with nary an alien in them. I hope the same fate lies ahead for Mr. Elba, who is a fine actor. And if he gets to kick an alien out of an airlock, I hope we see the old trope of “black guy = cannon fodder” go out right along with it.

If you enjoyed this commentary, please share this post through the social media outlet of your choosing and be sure to LIKE my fan page on Facebook. I’m a writer and I need the buzz. Thank you kindly.

*Billing refers to the order in which actors names appear in the credits. The person whose name appears first is top-billed, the star of the production. In situations where a number of big egos stars appear in the same film, credits might be listed alphabetically to avoid any dust ups about who is the bigger prima donna should be billed first.

I think it was considered a twist. The movie premiered the year I was born, only coming to my attention after Sigourney Weaver was pop-culture icon and “Get away from her you bitch” was one of the most famous lines in the history of cinema. So any opinions/analysis on my part is retrospective. That being said, I can’t think of many other kick-ass female characters from 30+ year old mainstream studio flicks. Thus, this would’ve been surprising in ’79, while we’re all too used to Buffy, and Black Widow, and Trinity here in the 21st century.

If anyone points out Will Smith in the comments, I’m coming to your house and plucking you in the forehead.

§ You may think these three events (wins, survives, gets the girl) happen a lot for minority actors/characters. I could write a whole series of articles on how you’re probably wrong. That’s another discussion.

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For Writers: What you can learn from the MAD MEN

Courtesy of USAToday

Last night I caught INSIDE THE ACTOR’S STUDIO and the special guests were the talented creator and actors behind one of TVs most popular series, MAD MEN. If you aren’t familiar with the 1960s period drama about an advertising executive who is a portrait of duality, no worries, this lesson won’t be lost on you.

Towards the end of the episode, during Q&A, a drama student recounted her experiences in amateur productions, explaining how invaluable she found the weeks and weeks of rehearsals her troupe participated in before a performance. She asked how much rehearsal time the MAD MEN cast had before they shot their scenes. The answer shocked her and most of the audience.

There were no rehearsals on the MAD MEN set.

Jon Hamm, the show’s star, explained that they participated in a weekly table read (think middle/high school English class, where everyone takes a role and reads Shakespeare aloud from their desks), then the next time they got to practice was during the lighting set up right before they shot. No true rehearsal, just a chance to familiarize oneself with the material, then go home and make sure you knew your #&$* before the cameras rolled.

As important as that fact is, it pales to the reasoning behind it. Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator, explained that every minute they’re on set costs money, so there’s no time to waste. Although he pointed out that if a guest actor doesn’t know their lines, he will fire them (at costs of up to 100,000 dollars for the time it takes to replace them and reshoot) because unprepared people cost more in the long run.

Consider that. The amateur actor (that’s not meant as a dig, just pointing out that the student who asked the question is not yet a professional) admitted that extensive rehearsals increased her comfort. The pros let her know that they don’t get that luxury. Yet, MAD MEN is one of the most critically acclaimed, award-snatching shows on television. A lot of that has to do with stellar scripts, but without talented (and prepared) people to do the work on a tight schedule, the scripts wouldn’t mean a whole lot.

How’s this relate to you, dear writer? After all, you won’t be dressing up in a retro suit and pitching ads for LIFE cereal and Vick’s Cough Syrup. You’re not performing.

That’s where you’d be wrong. You’re not an actor, but your profession requires that you perform on demand. Or, it will. When you crossover from amateur to pro. Think about it. Deadlines. Proposals. If you want to be a book-a-year writer, then you have to be prepared to write fast, fast, fast.

You have all the time in the world to write book 1, your baby, that masterpiece your Muse faxed you from Heaven. As soon as you sell it to Massive Publishing House X, you’ve got people to answer to. Deadlines to hit. It’s a role you better damn well know.

If not, you will be replaced. It will cost them less in the long run.

But, if you can manage to do the job in the time allotted, not second guessing, and trusting that preparation is better than comfort, then who knows…maybe when they come up with INSIDE THE WRITER’S STUDIO*, you’ll be able to shock a few amateurs with what you’ve accomplished.

*Yes, I’ve fantasized about it. And yes, I’m the first guest. 😉

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Readers, why I haven’t been very good to you…

Hey, there. I know it’s been awhile. But look, I bought you flowers.

Now, listen. I know I haven’t been around much,  I understand if you don’t want to take my gift, and you’re tired of my disappearing acts. Just…just give me a chance to explain.

See, first, the good news: I’ve been in my cave, producing a bunch of new stuff. Now, the bad news: I can’t really show you any of it yet.

Here’s the sitch: I used to be an independent author. Solely. That meant I could write as fast as possible, publish just as fast, and, generally, keep $*&# moving. That was fun, and kept me in close contact with you. But, the downside involved me being a one-man band. Writer/Cover Designer/Marketer/Editor (well, editorial isn’t necessarily a strong suit, so I did farm that out when I could, but I had to make corrections based on feedback myself, which has resulted in the thing all indie authors fear the most…typos).

As you know, I signed a publishing contract with HarperCollins, one of the largest publishers in America, last August. Harpers will publish my debut YA mystery novel sometime soon (the dates aren’t nailed down). This is something I’ve been working for my whole life, and I’m looking forward to being in bookstores all over the country. BUT, seeing this lifelong dream fulfilled doesn’t come without hiccups.

Harpers is huge, and I’m not even a small cog in their machine. I’m more like lubricant (slosh that around in your head for a minute). I’ll have to work my butt off to be even a low priority there. I’m not complaining, I just want to explain why you, the loyal readers who have supported LIVE AGAIN, THE DARKNESS KEPT, and THE SHADOWS GALLERY, haven’t seen a new book from me in over a year.

There are new books. I’ve finished drafts of 2 novels that aren’t contracted to Harpers. And, though not in their final states, the books are kick-ass. My band has expanded, though. I now have really good beta-readers (for those unfamiliar with the lingo, these are people who aren’t necessarily editors, but who give pro-level critiques) to help make the books better than I ever could on my own. I’ve got two agents (lit and film) who want to see clean versions of the books before anyone else. Then, finally, I’ve got my editor at Harpers, who took a chance on me, and deserves first dibs on these books if she decides they’d fit her list. Bottom line: for those books, I no longer have the ability to hand them directly to you, to be read on your Kindles or Nooks the way I used to. I’m sorry about that.

I don’t mean to neglect you. I should never have neglected you. I’ve come up with something that might help.

I just released a new suspense story, “When Scary People Know Your Name“, to Kindle (A Nook version is coming in a few days). It’s only .99 cents and I think you’ll like it.

I’ll continue to release short, inexpensive stories. Maybe as often as once a month. For you.

Also, since my representatives are focused on my Young Adult work, I’m going to brainstorm something outside of that realm–something longer than a short story–that will please you, too.

See, I haven’t forgotten you, or where I came from.

Please forgive me. Take the flowers. Check out the new story. And be on the lookout for other gifts, coming soon.

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