Before Joss Whedon was bringing the Avengers to big-screen life, he had a different band of misfit, morally-complex heroes to shepherd: the ragtag crew of TV series "Firefly," later to be given extended life in feature film "Serenity." It may be hard to believe, but "Serenity" came out 10 years ago today. (That's right, the 'verse hasn't been a part of our TV/film lives for a decade now. This needs to be remedied.)
In honor of the anniversary, we're taking the time to recognize just how awesome this film was — yes, for the way in which it represented the revival of a thought-dead cult classic TV show (you're welcome, "Veronica Mars"), but also for the ways in which it inspired us to be kinder, more socially-critical human beings. Here are seven examples...
By painting "The Alliance" as a well-meaning bureaucracy to be rebelled against.
Guys, the 2517 space setting of "Serenity" has some things in common with our present-day sitch. (Surprise! Films and TV set in alternate time periods are actually about the time in which they are made.) "The Alliance," the ruling body that governs the 'verse, is mostly well-intentioned, but fails in its belief that everyone must be governed under its laws, regardless of what those people or planets want for themselves.
At its most essential, "Serenity" is a movie all about uncovering a state secret — i.e. a government project designed to help its citizens that turned horrifically wrong. This more complex rendering of an authoritarian government, and the Firefly crew's position as the rebels who challenge it, has its own implications in a world still very much shaped by imperialist forces. (Bad news bears, guys: We're kind of "The Alliance" in this scenario.)
By representing diversity in space.
This may come as a surprise to you, but TV and film don't have the best track record when it comes to representing diversity. "Serenity" did a pretty great job, though. Not only did it give us a cast that was roughly half female (you know, like the actual human race), but counted two actors of color in its main cast — including the goddess known as Gina Torres.
We still have a long, long way to go when it comes to pop culture diversity and "Serenity" wasn't without its diversity problems (um, for a world where people drop Chinese swears like it's nothing, you'd think there would be at least one Chinese-American actor in the cast), but we'll give props to any movie that includes a pint-sized River Tam taking out a whole army of Reavers with her Martha Graham dance moves.
By highlighting the power of found family and community.
Not all families look the same. In Whedon's fictional universes, families tend to be of the "found" variety — i.e. a chosen community rather than one that has been selected by biology. Though this is a recurring theme in television and film, "Serenity" (and other Whedon works) presents this love and respect and watching out for one another as the thing that can save us. The thing that can withstand loved ones dying and empires faltering.
By inspiring its own charity.
Yep, there is actually a group called Can't Stop The Serenity that raises money for Equality Now through screenings of "Serenity." Equality Now is an organization that works to protect and promote women's rights around the world. Since 2006, Can't Stop The Serenity has raised over one million dollars. Fandom is the best.
By portraying a happily married couple.
Well, you know, until the moment of which we must not speak... But, before that, Wash and Zoe were a rare example of an on-screen loving married couple that the narrative still treated as interesting. Remember, this was before the days of Coach and Tami Taylor on "Friday Night Lights" or the plethora of TV drama couples represented today.
Yet, even now, "The X-Files" feels the need to break up Scully and Mulder, perhaps partially informed by this idea that stories about happy, stable couples can't be interesting. Wash and Zoe managed to be both married and compelling. We need more TV and film examples like this one because, apparently, life continues after you get married. Or so I hear...
By taking on the topic of a socio-economic world, divided.
The story of "Serenity," continued from the "Firefly" TV universe, is about a world divided into the have and the have-nots and the ways in which the government has failed the latter group. It's hard not to see the real-world applications of that theme, amirite? Especially given that "Serenity" premiered just after Hurricane Katrina devastated America's gulf coast.
Most of the characters of "Serenity" have been born into the have-not category. All of them, regardless of socio-economic status, are criminals out of desperation rather than any malevolent desire. In this context, it is not the criminal who is depicted as broken, but the laws they must break to live a dignified life. Mal's crew uses their relative power to fight for those people who cannot fight for themselves against unjust laws.
By going on, no matter what.
On both a narrative and meta level, "Serenity" was The Little Engine That Could. The film was given new life through the perseverance of the creator and the passion of the fanbase. (A life that continues in comic book form.) This echoes one of the chief messages of the story: no matter what, you have to keep on fighting for what you believe in. No matter what, you have to keep on flying. Sometimes, that has to be enough. #Browncoat4Life