Why Alien Invasion is the Perfect Metaphor for Growing Up Black in America

Keith Josef Adkins' The Abandon follows five African American men who go on a camping trip together, only to find out that aliens have invaded the planet. The webseries (which we featured in our "crowdfund this" roundup) raised $8000 on Indiegogo, and the first episode launched around Christmas.

Adkins, a former staff writer on The CW show Girlfriends, talks to Colorlines about pitching The Abandon for network television and being told that there was "no reliable demographic" for a science fiction show featuring non-white heroes. And he also talks about how his childhood prepared him to create this show:

I just read an essay in an old issue of Colorlines [Libero Della Piana, "Under Strange Stars," Colorlines, Winter 2002/03] about black people and sci-fi, and that there is this long history of black sci-fi which nobody acknowledges. And it mentions, specifically, the theme of mass alien abduction as resonant for African-Americans within the history of slavery. Now, at the same time, I read an interview with you from last year where you talk about growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio when the Born Again Christian movement came through town, and you make it sound like Invasion of the Body Snatchers - everyone had this glazed look in their eyes, the people you knew weren't the people you used to know. So: why write a sci-fi story about mass abduction? What is that tapping into?

In truth, I'm not sitting down and making a decision to write about mass abduction in connection to the religious craziness that I experienced growing up - it's not that deliberate. But obviously, I've absorbed all those things. And in the midst of all this conservatism, my mother was so different from everyone else that she was also deemed ‘alien.' So I grew up under this, with everyone watching everything she did and said; whether it was about marriage, whether it was about travel outside of Ohio, everything was suspect for her. And as an extension of her, I saw myself as being alien. When I grew up and got a little older and wiser, I started thinking that they were actually the aliens and they were trying to fuck up our lives!

Those two things, married with the fact that I'm a black man working and living and navigating through a white institutionalized country, all those things together, I think it's a perfect formula for a story about some other entity trying to take over. How does one survive that? Whether it's religious, political, social, ideological… sci-fi allows for me to give voice to that without spending a lot of time talking about it didactically or being preachy about it. You understand what I'm saying? It's all there, being channeled into this series. And there's more to come in the next episodes.

Lately in sci-fi, there's a lot of mocking of aliens, laughing at them, but I was so much more interested in aggressive alien invasion. Because, in my opinion, it's reflective of how the world is shapeshifting - one, because of the economy, obviously, how that's aggressively disrupting how people thought their way of life would be, and the aggressive honesty or ignorance of people around ideas of race, gender, representation. I feel like there's so much aggression happening, and I wanted to make sure the aliens were not, uh sweet. [laughs] That they're here to eat us and spit us out, and those who survive, well, that's great, and if you don't, too bad. I really like the idea of people being isolated and forced, aggressively, to rethink themselves and change.

The whole interview is definitely worth checking out.