Ukraine in the year 2036 is the setting for the new movie on Netflix, whereby the U.S. peacekeeping forces have intervened in a war between Russian-backed secessionists and local Ukranian resistance groups. Played by Anthony Mackie, the main character in this movie is a technological creation but otherwise fully human-looking and with the capacity to empathize with and experience human emotions. In the war-torn region, he is on a mission to stop Koval, a marked terrorist, from gaining control of missile silos. This he does under the guise of a humanitarian, delivering vaccines to a refugee camp. If you have already watched the movie, you probably already know that I am referring to Outside the Wire. You might also already be familiar with the dialogue that takes place at some point in the movie between the main character, Captain Leo, and Lieutenant Thomas Harp when Harp is sent to the warzone to train with Leo, whereby Leo asks Harp: Do you ever wonder why I look like this, Harp? By “this,” Leo is referring to his black skin and thus further challenges Harp to think, “Why would the Pentagon pick my face to represent the United States Marines?” Leo probes why the Pentagon wouldn’t make this powerful yet peacemaking intelligence-gathering machine in the form of someone who is, in Leo’s words, blue-eyed and blonde-haired. Harp attempts to answer but Leo quickly gets to his point, “Psy-ops. My sleeve might say US but my face conveys neutrality. Makes people calm.” Very interesting! In other words, Leo perceives that the U.S. military is aware that his black identity makes it easier for the warring factions to view him as “semi-American,” at least to the point of potentially holding loosely what would be considered the U.S. stance or side on the conflict. This relatively short dialogue is quite fascinating in that it subtly highlights the centuries-old question of blackness and citizenship in the United States.
Black Freedom in the United States
It’s a question that is as old as the Union itself, beginning with the captivity in enormous numbers of African people in the 1600s, which set in motion a horrendously and inhumanely brutal period of enslavement in the U.S., a period that endured until the ratification of the 13th amendment in 1865 which officially abolished the institution of slavery. Now, it would be dangerously naive to think that the abolition of slavery, in and of itself, meant that Black people in the U.S. would automatically, immediately, and henceforth realize full citizenship and the “all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto.” It would soon be apparent that the official end of slavery was just the beginning of a long, hard, and terror-ridden journey to the full realization of freedom. It’s a path that would be paved with an ever-uncertain relationship between Black people and the American state and society, a relationship which, even in 2021, necessitates the confirmation and repeated proclamation — since it is not irrefutably observable — that black lives indeed matter! It’s a relationship that has evolved tremendously over the centuries, crowned with celebrated victories and, in equal measure, scarred with devastating setbacks in the face of evolving forms and methods of subjugation. Because the relationship was forged in the context of captivity, freedom — the desire for freedom, the cry for freedom, the fight and the struggle for freedom — is indeed an enduring theme in the lives and the history of Black people in the United States.
Freedom of Black People around the World
Beyond the United States, freedom is, as well, an ongoing theme among Black people across the world. Ironically, the very century that saw the abolition of slavery in the United States also witnessed the scramble for the African continent that led to the partition of the continent among European powers through the Berlin Conference in 1884-85, ushering decades of brutal colonial control and plunder of the continent and its peoples. The heritage of colonialism across the African continent is as alive today as the heritage of the enslavement of African peoples in the Americas. It is by no means ancient history! Most African countries have maintained to this day political systems and borders, education systems, and economic ties and networks that were established through colonialism! Indeed, some African countries gained independence as recently as in the 1980s and Black people in South Africa regained political control of their affairs, or some semblance thereof, in the mid-1990s!