Andy Bobrow, taking the route Ken Burns never touched, unearths the Old Negro Space Program, which according to his satirical mind, seized hold of the United States in the ‘60s, only to face a massive media blackout enacted by an angry government that didn’t like attention being veered away from its own space program.
NASSA, the Negro American Space Society of Astronauts was actually created by Warren “Suitcase” Johnson (Johnny Brown) in order to bowl over a woman who refused to go out with any man who didn’t have a job. “And I got laid that very night,” Johnson says of creating the society. Archived film clips and photographs are used to show NASSA in action, including photos of a Cadillac Coup DeVille sitting on the moon across from the Sea of Tranquility, and an attempt to attach a rocket engine to a beat-up old car.
Bobrow has the right idea. We’re in a time where alternative historical fiction has gained much attention lately with “The Plot Against America” by Philip Roth in which FDR is defeated for re-election by Charles Lindbergh. While this kind of historical manipulation wouldn’t cut it in a book, “The Old Negro Space Program” is unique by placing fictional history side-by-side with what we know, even going so far as to turn the real men of the space program against their non-existing counterparts, highlighted by a photo which finds two of NASA’s astronauts trailed by the Ku Klux Klan in support. Even if changing history for satirical purposes bugs you, or if you’re absolutely tickled by it, there’s a lot to consider in how documentaries speak to us. When a letter from a black astronaut who died upon re-entry is read, his words to his wife are filled with what you’d expect from a letter like this, gobs of deep feelings until the astronaut reveals how cold it is in space.
“The Old Negro Space Program” is one reason why Internet-based shorts should soar. Late night owls, workers in an “Office Space” mood, teens, and others should now realize that the Internet goes beyond games and MySpace. Fortunately, it’s free and good for the brain. And I’m all for mental nutrition!