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SYFY WIRE fangrrls on film

Terminator: Dark Fate and the American tradition of dehumanization

By Monika Estrella Negra
Credit: Skydance Productions and Paramount Pictures

OK, I admit it. I think that Terminator: Dark Fate is one of the best Terminator movies that has been released in the past decade. As a die-hard Terminator fan, I have been lukewarm toward the previous films (Genisys, Salvation) because they just sucked. Fanboys around the world lamented that the franchise had lost its battle against the SJWs and was attempting to destroy the significance of the series.

Though I admire this film's hot take on current and sociopolitical issues, it is not without flaws. There are a couple of lines of dialogue that are ethnically stereotypical (Dani's dog is literally named Taco), and the overall message creepily touts "woke" neoliberal rhetoric, but there are still a couple of redeemable moments that make the modern-day American's eyebrows rise. Since the death of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there has been much debate regarding the future of women's bodily autonomy and the future of Roe v. Wade. Ironically enough, many pro-choice groups have been curiously silent once news broke about the ongoings at Immigration Prisons at the border. The story of forced sterilization is as American as apple pie, and this film showcases the dangers of repeating history.

Our story begins in Mexico City, where Grace (Mackenzie Davis) drops in to begin her mission to locate and protect Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). Dani exudes the same innocent energy Sarah Connor held in the first Terminator film. A stenciled Frida Kahlo is seen behind her, perhaps hinting at her importance in the future's outcome. Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) also arrives in the DF to carry out the assassination of Dani so that the future can be won by AI. Queer subtext radiates between Grace and Dani and is only heightened when Connor (Linda Hamilton) comes to their rescue. If you watched the first Terminator and remember how ridiculously heterosexual it was, this subtext presents a fresh take on gender roles and the impact we all play in the imminent future.

Credit: Skydance Productions and Paramount Pictures

Queerness aside, there has been one real-life issue that was immediately brought to my mind when I saw Dark Fate this past month. The infamous whistleblower, Dawn Wooten, revealed the inhumane conditions that women in immigration facilities were living in. While the U.S. president has been trying every desperate attempt to downplay the numerous scandals within his government, and with breaking news moving faster than most people can keep up, massive hysterectomies that have been performed illegally on the women who are detained at the border received little to no attention.

Considering that the arc of Sarah Connor has always been in relation to her "Mother Mary" status, for Grace and Dani to not center men within their fight for survival sets a new standard for the future yet unwritten. The eradication of the "great man to save us all" narrative brings us to another tangential universe where the old methods die hard. There is no child-rearing or subservience to patriarchy — only self-empowerment. Sarah Connor represents the traditional role of womanhood, the forced destiny of being a mother. She assumes that Dani will share the same fate but slowly realizes that the future is different than the one she saved and imagined. Jumping onto a migrant train and wistfully remarking that "they are not afraid of you, they are afraid of your womb" said more about the xenophobic political ideology of those who support the Immigrant Detention Centers — and those who have remained silent about the forced hysterectomies being performed there. It should be known that most of the quote "pro-life" movement is not interested in Brown children populating the country, because they are afraid of becoming the minority.

Credit: Skydance Productions and Paramount Pictures

There is a harrowing moment where Dani is talking to a Black woman who is a Border Officer. Dani tries to warn the woman that she, too, "is in danger." This nod to the dangers of assimilating into an imperialist society that only utilizes your labor to benefit the powers that be beckons to a call for solidarity amongst Black women and Latinx women. In the United States, Black women and women of color have served as ground zero for eugenical sterilization and gynecological experimentation. Marion Sims, known as the "Father of Gynecology," was infamous for his experimentation upon enslaved Black women, noting that Black women were incapable of feeling pain. This removal of humanity still follows Black women today and mirrors the same fate immigrant women face in 2020. These historical facts bring Wooten's decision to expose the horrors of the detention center as an act of solidarity with women who are being subjected to the same inhumane treatment our ancestors faced.

The reality of the Terminator universe is that human beings will always be their own greatest enemy. The suggestion that people are illegal for just existing is archaic and barbaric. These ideologies end up becoming the catalyst for the forming of creepy, fraternalistic militia groups and the stereotyping of newcomers to this country. Almost comically, the Rev-9 model utilizes the same lingo used by xenophobes in order to justify their hatred and disdain toward the immigrant prisoners being held in cages. By assimilating into this biased culture, though he is visibly Latinx, he is able to access resources used to further abuse among the unlawfully held detainees.

This chapter of the franchise also begs to question: Are human beings the real threat in our lives? There has always been a fantastical element to what the American sees as the "end times." Whether it be aliens, robots, or zombies — the real issue of white supremacy, toxic nationalism, and xenophobia are the true indicators of societal collapse. Perhaps this is the warning of the film — that to continue the creation of disastrous systems will inherently destroy us all. Unluckily for us, the idea of time travel in order to correct our mistakes in the past is not an option. It is better to start correcting the errors of our ways now than to embrace a society guilty of not learning from its sins.

Credit: Skydance Productions and Paramount Pictures