My first take on The Creator was that it was written as the PR that Artificial Intelligence desperately needs right now. ChatGPT is being heralded as the biggest threat to writing and critical thinking anywhere. WGA and SAG-Aftra contract negotiations were and still are stalled by the question of how AI will figure into future Hollywood productions and how that will impact the role and compensation of artists up and down the slate. To be frank, AI hasn’t been having the best year, at least not in creative circles. The Creator enters into this landscape—and I don’t think that this is a spoiler—urging us to see AI differently.
In the vein of its AI-related filmic ancestors, like I, Robot, Ex Machina, and Her, The Creator encourages audiences to see the human in the machine and to ponder questions such as at what point does machine sentience also necessitate human rights protections. While there is a lot to be said for how the film enters into the cinematic dialogue on AI, there’s another Will Smith movie invoked by The Creator that provides an entirely different slate of provocative comparisons: Independence Day. (From here, spoilers will abound, so proceed at your own discretion).
But L. M., you say, what does one of the top-grossing alien invasion films of all time have to do with a movie about AI? I would wager before the question even fully forms, you are already making the connections. So many alien films are, at their core, projected white anxiety tales around the possibility of sharing the same fates of displacement, subjugation, and extermination, which they have wrought for more than half a millennium as global colonizers.
In so many of these movies, Independence Day included, the point of invasion becomes a rallying call for humans worldwide to put aside their differences and band together to save the species—of which, so frequently, the avatar is, yes, a white person. The Creator is an alien movie in this same vein, with the AI species becoming a terrestrial “alien” onto which all the same fears are mapped. So much so that when a catastrophic event happens at the beginning of the film (I won’t say exactly what), we anticipate a narrative that follows the well-trod terrain of human unity in the face of an existential, non-human threat. But The Creator has a different story to tell. To do so, it deliberately and strategically invokes Independence Day to revise the utopic sub-plot of that film and offer a more clear-eyed and perhaps more realistic story about the true threats that so many of these invasion films seem to obscure.
The Creator’s harkening to Independence Day is not accidental or incidental but deliberate and sustained. From the opening moments of the film, when the U. S. S. N. O. M. A. D. (North American Orbital Mobile Aerospace Defense) launches an attack on a group of AI and AI-allied insurgents, to the climatic ending, the imagery of the film recalls the attacks of the alien ships from Independence Day. The beam of light shooting down from the heavens, which warns that NOMAD’s attacks are imminent, is markedly similar to the beam cast down by the alien crafts in Independence Day.
This light presages the destruction of entire cities. Though just one ship, throughout the movie, NOMAD roams from location to location, wherever AI is reported to survive, and unleashes destructive attacks that leave both human and AI casualties in its wake. By the last scene of the film, which I will not fully detail here, it is pretty clear that the creators of The Creator want us to have Independence Day firmly in mind.
The Creator, however, is not simply a retelling of Independence Day; it is a provocative revision. Independence Day, and other invasion films like it, lean hard into the idea that a kind of utopia can emerge among people of all races, nations, and creeds in the face of existential threats to humankind. The Creator calls BS on that idea. There is no globe consensus about the danger in the film nor any alignment in strategy to combat it. The war against AI is very much a Western endeavor, and the places where AI is embraced and thrives—the areas subsequently under attack—are the browner parts of the globe. To fight this war, NOMAD routinely glides into sovereign nations without invitation, all to serve its mission of wiping AI from the face of the earth.
This is where The Creator explores its most interesting (in this viewer’s mind) theme. Instead of allowing audiences to sink into comfortable fantasies about the sources of existential threat to humanity, the film insists that we look at the reality, which we see in action day in and day out. White, western paternalism and imperialism, writ large, along with the U. S. war machine, symbolized by NOMAD, is the persistent, destructive threat of the film, just as it has been for much of human history over the last 600-700 years.
It is not aliens from another galaxy or from within the core of the machine, but humans from our very own nations (first and foremost America) that need to be stopped. Moreover, the revolt is led by a black man named Joshua (played by a charismatic John David Washington), and there are no redemptive Bill Pullman types giving speeches that reaffirm the centrality of white leadership on the side of right, which only underscores this critique. That perhaps is the most salient point of the film, particularly when we discover the cause of the catastrophic catalyst at the beginning. No matter how the authors and perpetuators of white Western empire attempt to externalize the threat, the truth remains that the call has always been coming from inside the house.
L. M. Davis is a speculative fiction author who writes about shapeshifters, aliens, immortals, and witches. Her novels include INTERLOPERS, POSERS, FORGERS, and skinless. Her writing has appeared in PASTE MAGAZINE and on BlackSci-Fi.com. She is the writer and director of the award-winning short film, “Fevered Dreams.” Currently, she is working on several projects including two novels and multiple ventures for television and film.