“In 1957, if you were black, and you were an astronaut… you were out of work,” recalls a character in the parody film The Old Negro Space Program — and in 2006, out of the Nebulas, too.
The SFWA Awards Rules Committee and the SFWA Board of Directors have announced that The Old Negro Space Program is ineligible for the 2005 Nebula Award and will not appear on the final ballot. The January 31 press release states this decision was made “reluctantly.”
The humorous 10-minute film chronicles African-American astronauts who overcame NASA’s color barrier, telling their story in the earnest style of Ken Burns’ PBS documentaries like Baseball. Primarily distributed on the internet, the film has garnered all the tokens of internet success, including its own entry in the Wikipedia and an online shop to sell its souvenir t-shirts and mugs. Its detractors accuse the film of making racism appear equally fictitious, perhaps unintentionally, and of perpetuating black stereotypes.
Although listed on the preliminary Nebula Award ballot, the film was found not to qualify either because it “did not meet the requirement of professional release, or the 12 month period for nomination (after professional release) expired prior to the film receiving enough nominations to be placed on the ballot.”
The Internet Movie Database lists the film as a 2004 release.
The press release concludes, ”SFWA regrets the difficulty this will cause the Nebula Awards Report Editor, Brook West, the film’s producer, Andy Bobrow and to voters who may already have cast their ballots. This action in no way reflects on the quality of The Old Negro Space Program.”
The SFWA Awards Rules Committee at the time of the announcement consisted of Jeffrey A. Carver (chair), Jim Kelly and Connie Willis. (Jack Williamson’s resignation from the Rules committee and replacement by Kelly was announced January 11, 2006 but no association of his departure from the Rules committee and its latest ruling on The Old Negro Space Program is indicated by the SFWA website.)