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Altered Carbon Takes Place in the Future. But It's Far From Progressive

Altered Carbon Takes Place in the Future. But It's Far From Progressive
From TIME - February 2, 2018

As a genre, science fiction has never been smarterespecially as a more diverse array of characters have come to populate some of the most successful stories told onscreen. Last years Star Trek prequel cast a black woman as its lead, while the box office grosses of the new Star Wars films proved to studios that audiences are hungry to see female heroes like Daisy Ridleys Rey. Before playing Reys companion Finn in those films, John Boyega broke out in Attack the Block, a movie that skewered class divisions in England as a group of teens defend their housing projects from an alien invasion. And last years X-Men film, Logan, served as a powerful allegory on immigration wrapped up in a slickly violent package. Netflix, which has earned accolades for its dystopian drama Black Mirror, had the opportunity to contribute to the genres evolution with a buzzyand reportedly very expensivenew epic, Altered Carbon.

But despite its futuristic setting, the shows treatment of race, gender and class feels downright retrograde. Altered Carbon, a hard-boiled-detective story with a stylized, Blade Runner-lite aesthetic, begins with an intriguing conceit plucked from a 2002 Richard K. Morgan book of the same name: in the year 2384, wealthy humans can transfer their consciousness to new bodies, or sleeves, every time their old body is killed. The gap between the haves and the have-notsor rather, the immortal and the mortalhas widened significantly. The bored bourgeoisie occupy themselves with gruesome entertainment, like forcing a married couple to fight to the skin death.

Rather than explore the ethical implications of this technology, Altered Carbon focuses on a mystery. Someone has attempted to murder a wealthy man, Laurens Bancroft, by both destroying his sleeve and hacking the cloud system that backs up his consciousness. Bancroft wakes up the mind of an old soldier named Takeshi Kovacs to solve the crime, gifting him a new sleeve.

For viewers, the mystery may instead be why Takeshis sleeve takes the form of Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman (House of Cards) playing an Asian man living in a white guys body. Thats how its written in the book, but onscreen its especially problematic. The creators would have done well to instead cast an Asian actor as the reborn Takeshi, avoiding the same whitewashing controversy that plagued last years Ghost in the Shell. In that adaptation, Scarlett Johansson played an Asian womans consciousness inside a white android.

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