- The Old Negro Space Program
The Old Negro Space Program
Directed by Andy Bobrow Written by Andy Bobrow Narrated by Rodney Saulsberry Starring Johnny Brown, Andy Bobrow Running time 10/11 minutes Country USA Language English
The Old Negro Space Program is a short mockumentary in the style of a Ken Burns film. Imagining a black space program, whose "blackstronauts" were excluded from "White NASA", the film lampoons Burns's history of the Negro Leagues, a subject of his 1994 series, Baseball.
The piece has received mixed reactions from bloggers and minority rights activist groups. It was nominated for a 2005 Nebula Award but was reluctantly ruled ineligible. The SFWA stated that the disqualification in no way reflected on the work's quality.
- Jordan Black ... Sullivan Carew (voice)
- Andy Bobrow ... Dr. Warren Fingeroot
- Johnny Brown ... Wallace "Suitcase" Jefferson
- Rodney Saulsberry ... Narrator (voice)
The following members of NASSA were shown or named in the film:
- Wallace "Suitcase" Jefferson - co-founder, landed on Moon
- "Loopie Louie" Hayes - co-founder, immortalized in song, landed on Moon
- "Rocket" Randall
- Sullivan Carew - died in reentry
- Peter "Stinky Pete" Carver - performed at least one space mission
- Buzz Aldrin - Co-opted by NASA during the "black blackout", since he could pass for white
- Gordon Cooper - Co-opted by NASA during the "black blackout", since he could pass for white
To impress a girl that he likes, Wallace "Suitcase" Jefferson applies for a job at the newly-formed NASA. Unfortunately, since America's "love affair with racism was in full swing", Jefferson learns that NASA is whites-only. Undaunted, Jefferson and his friend "Loopie" Louie Hays form their own astronaut group. Their creation—the Negro American Space Society of Astronauts (NASSA)—is a resounding success, with more than 240 "blackstronauts" signing up by 1960. The venture also brings personal success to Jefferson—he wins the girl's heart and later marries her.
Using spaceships cobbled together from old rocket engines, landing capsules, a school bus, and a used Cadillac, NASSA quickly becomes a major player in the space race. Its members farm out across the country, barnstorming in small towns to raise money and becoming minor celebrities. In Washington, the US government worries about losing the space race to the Soviet Union, but is "ten times as worried" about losing the race to NASSA.
Like NASA, NASSA suffers some significant setbacks. Sullivan Carew dies a hero's death when his rocket-powered school bus burns up in the atmosphere, while Peter "Stinky Pete" Carver catches fire in an Illinois parking lot. Unlike NASA, however, the blackstronauts refuse to slow the pace of their program (Stinky Pete is dusted off and makes another launch the following day).
The film features a letter from Sullivan Carew to his wife written two days before his death. It is a parody of the real-life letter by Union Army soldier Sullivan Ballou, which was used by Ken Burns in his documentary The Civil War.
NASA attempts to lure away those members of NASSA who have light skin and can pass as white, including Gordon Cooper and Buzz Aldrin. When this fails to produce the desired effect, the government issues a "black blackout" and forces the mainstream media to focus only on negative issues affecting the black community. Soon the newspapers are full of stories about crime and riots, and the achievements of NASSA go unreported.
On September 31, 1966, Suitcase Jefferson and Louie Hayes land their rocket-powered Coupe de Ville on the surface of the Moon and return safely to Earth. Their amazing feat is buried by the black blackout, and appears on page 34 of the Cincinnati Enquirer (and, presumably, gets the same treatment in other papers). The article reads as follows:
“ Negroes Land on Moon
Talk about getting lost! Wallace Jefferson and Louis Hayes, both negroes, have wandered all the way to the moon!
The hapless pair entered lunar orbit late yesterday afternoon and finally landed on the surface of the moon several hours later. They plan to return later this week.
The incident is not a total tragedy. "We may want to talk with these negroes," said NASA mission commander Deke Slayton. "Their mishap may just help us in our goal to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade."
Saddened by the nation's lack of interest in their heroics, Jefferson and his friends decide to shut down NASSA.
- ^ Andy Bobrow at the Internet Movie Database
- ^ "The Old Negro Space Program ruled ineligible for 2005 Nebula Award". Sfwa.org. 2006-01-31. http://www.sfwa.org/news/2006/oldnegrospaceprogram.htm. Retrieved 2010-10-07.
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