Thursday, February 25, 2010

Black History Month Heroes- Luther Stickell in "Mission: Impossible"

Black History Month has the ignoble task of locating Black people from Pre-Obama America to celebrate during February’s glorious proceedings. We use that word in its literal meaning, for “combing the desert” of history for Black people worthy of reverence hardly seems a dignified task for a proud people.

The falsification of history to bend it in manners befitting Black people creates a situation where the obvious shortcomings of this brave race of people are overtly apparent. The paucity of historically relevant Black people is never more apparent than during the celebration of Black History Month.

The same old tired and worn out Black figures are dusted off, polished and presented to a credulous general public as personages of historical significance. Straight-faced Crusading White Pedagogues lecture their pupils on important contributions of the most trivial variety, which are joyously absorbed and the veracity never questioned.

Yet Black students are aware that they are sadly relegated to only one month of the year for discussion of their historical figures and correctly question this crude practice of summarizing the contributions of Black people into a mere 28 days (29 days).

Thus the need for fictional Black History Month, to fill the inauspicious void of historically significant Black people with characters from popular culture, brought to life with the aid of talented thespians.

Some might call this mission, impossible. We simply call it another entry in Stuff Black People Don’t Like and our look at Black History Month.

Tom Cruise is one of the most recognizable stars on the planet and his larger than life persona has translated into billions of dollars of box office revenue. Among his signature roles includes Ethan Hunt of the Mission: Impossible trilogy (soon to get a fourth film).

The daring exploits Hunt have helped save the world countless times over and the agent of Impossible Mission Force (IMF) is a true hero. Yet, his clandestine activities would scarcely transpire if it weren’t for the computer hacking abilities of Luther Stickell:

Luther Stickell is a supporting fictional character from the Mission: Impossible film series. The character first appeared in Mission: Impossible (1996) and holds the distinction of being the only character besides Ethan Hunt to appear in all three films as well as two video games.

In the films, Luther is an expert computer hacker who works for the fictional "IMF" (Impossible Missions Force) division of the CIA alongside Ethan Hunt.

He has been portrayed in all three movies by Ving Rhames. The character has also appeared in the Mission: Impossible video game adaptation for both the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation as well as 2003's "Mission: Impossible - Operation Surma", wherein Ving Rhames reprised his character by lending his voice.

Luther is chosen to help Hunt crack into the CIA’s list of undercover operatives, in a move that would make Valarie Plame blush:

Luther's first appearance occurred in Mission: Impossible (1996). IMF Agent Ethan Hunt (portrayed by Tom Cruise had been "disavowed" by the CIA following a botched mission in Prague: a "mole-hunt" for an agent who planned to steal the CIA's Non-official cover (NOC) list, which left his teammates dead (including his leader and mentor, Jim Phelps), himself framed for their murders, and the CIA hot on his trail, thinking that he was the "mole".

As a result, Hunt and Claire enlisted the help of two other "disavowed" IMF agents: Luther Stickell and Franz Krieger (portrayed by Jean Reno). While Claire had chosen Krieger herself, Hunt had personally chosen Stickell as "Cyber-Ops" for his reputation as a well-known hacker/phreaker and as "the only man alive who hacked NATO Ghostcom". Reluctant at first, Luther was baited into the hack when Ethan played to Stickell's ego, selling the job proposal as "The Mount Everest of hacks".

Yes, Stickell is so thoroughly talented that he was capable of hacking NATO, a feat already accomplished in the 1980s film Wargames.

Curiously, a list of the Top 5 Computer Hackers of all-time shockingly looks like the competitors of the Winter Olympics. They are all white.

The Mission: Impossible franchise has generated a worldwide box office gross of $1.4 billion dollars, and is a mainstay of cable television. Millions upon millions of viewers see the image of Luther Stickell, a Black hacker, and are unmoved by this curious sight.

Hackers appear to be cut from the same nerdy cloth, an un-diverse bunch of technology enthusiasts who take great pleasure in their art form and have yet to be integrated.

Ving Rhames is an incredibly talented and gifted actor, but even his role as Luther Stickell borderlines on the incredulous.

Not to be outdone, he was cast as the iconic Kojak in a remake of the popular 70s show: Rhames is a commanding screen presence, a dynamic figure capable of carrying his own series.

Ving Rhames is not Kojak, as much as the producers of the new USA revival would like audiences to accept him in Telly Savalas' iconic role. Except for Kojak's trademark lollipop, which is overdone, Rhames might as well be Cannon or Mannix.

USA is a component of the new Universal-NBC conglomerate that inherited the Universal Studio titles, so it's going to make use of them. Get ready for Gary Coleman as Columbo. The thinking is, it's easier to bring back a familiar brand than try to launch a new one.

Rhames is talented and charismatic enough to do the same with an original character. Indeed, the New York detective he plays has less in common with Theo Kojak than he does with Vic Mackey of The Shield -- another breakout basic-cable hit without benefit of a throwback title.

Rhames makes light of the situation with a specious comparison. "Telly's Greek. I'm African-American. If we take that away, we're really the same." This is akin to, "I'm 5-foot-4. Shaquille O'Neal is 7-foot-3. If we take that away, we're really the same."

The demise of the dramatic series that cast a Black lead
is well-documented and sadly, Kojak lasted a mere season on air (it had abysmal ratings).

One organization that discusses the African Diaspora in computer sciences stated that “because of entrenched racism, more Black people have died from lightening strikes than have become professors of computer science”:

Question: I've talked to university computer profs who say that African-Americans just aren't showing up in computer science and tech fields (women only make up about a quarter of their enrollments, too). Could you discuss this issue of the African-Americans?

Answer: People lie but numbers do not lie. According to the Computing Research Association, only one out of 14 blacks that received the Ph.D. degree in 1994 was hired by academia. The same organization reported that only 3 out of 1215 (0.25 percent) full professors of computer science in the entire North America were black. Most likely, these 3 black professors are hired in predominately black universities. These statistics prove that predominately white faculty gives preference in hiring white candidates. Blacks that attempt to become professors of computer science face a concrete wall. The black computer science professor is an endangered species.

The Computing Research Association wrote that the average computer science professor at its 150 member schools earn a six-figure salary for teaching six hours a week and working nine months a year. By an unspoken gentlemen's agreement, white male decision makers have agreed that such plum jobs should be reserved for white males and subjective criteria are used to disqualify qualified African-Americans.

An analogy is a white male that walked three downhill miles gets a gold medal while a black male that ran six uphill miles is denied a bronze medal.

American universities are not equal opportunity or merit-based employers. The fact that only one in 405 computer science professors is black proves that academic racism is pervasive and deeply entrenched. Because of deeply entrenched racial discrimination, more black people have died from lightning than have become professors of computer science."

Market forces negate discrimination. The best and most talented get jobs, or that organization which actively promotes discrimination will be impeded by the clutches of racism and racial favoritism. Why let other companies employ talented Black computer scientists, if they are the best available employee?

The problem facing Black people isn’t racism in the hiring of computer scientist, but the complete dearth of Black people capable of being promoted to these positions (outside of the casting of Black actors in movie).

Luther Stickell is one such character that bucks this trend. Lightening never strikes twice in the same place, but for this Black hacker, it keeps striking.

Stuff Black People Don’t Like welcomes Luther Stickell into the fictional Black History Month celebration, for a Black hacker is a rare sight indeed and it is nearly an impossible mission to locate one in real life.

No comments: