The science fiction genre has been an enduring staple in American culture. Playing with infinite possible outcomes of humanity’s evolution (or destruction), moviegoers open their minds to visions of utopian societies, androids and artificial intelligence.
Unfortunately, that progressive thinking didn’t extend to people of color as most sci-fi movies in the earlier part of the 20th century were overwhelmingly devoid of cultural diversity. Luckily, thanks to forward thinking filmmakers like The Wachowskis (“The Matrix” trilogy) and box office kings like Will Smith, sci-fi movies are entering a brave new world where Black people are not only thriving in the future, but also saving humanity from the brink of disaster.
We’ve rounded up ten of the most iconic Black characters in the sci-fi film game:
1. Agent J, “Men In Black (1997)
NYPD officer James Darrell Edwards III is recruited to join a top secret agency to monitor alien refugees on planet Earth.
2. Mace Windu, “Star Wars” (1999-2005)
A Jedi master of the High Council, Windu was the first character in the “Star Wars” franchise to have a light saber not colored blue, green or red.
3. Lando Calrissian, “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of The Jedi” (1980, 1983)
In order to protect his city, Lando betrays Han Solo by turning him over to bounty hunter Bobba Fett. Lando redeems himself by rescuing his old friend and joining in the fight against Darth Vader.
4. Lonette “Mace” Mason, “Strange Days” (1995)
Angela Bassett redefined the “Strong Black Woman” trope as a gun toting, ass kicking combat specialist in this futuristic thriller.
5. President Beck, “Deep Impact” (1998)
Just ten years before Obama was voted into office, Morgan Freeman played a Commander-in-Chief with the difficult task of choosing who lives and dies in face of impending disaster.
6. Lt. Nyota Uhura “Star Trek” (2009, 2013)
Inheriting the role from actress Nichelle Nichols, this updated Uhura played by Zoe Saldana runs with the big boys and has the usually emotionless Spock weak in the knees.
7. Alexa Woods, “Alien vs. Predator” (2004)
Sanaa Lathan made history as the first Black actress to helm a big budget sci-fi film. Alexa Woods was smart, sensible and quite the formidable foe against the bloodthirsty Aliens.
8. Morpheus, “The Matrix” (1999)
The sage advisor to reluctant hero Neo, Morpheus easily had the most memorable quotes in this genre bending movie.
9. Capt. Steven Hiller, “Independence Day” (1996)
After winning millions of hearts on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” Smith made the seamless transition to movie star in this big budget alien invasion blockbuster.
10. Ruby Rhod, “The Fifth Element” (1997)
Comedian Chris Tucker raised eyebrows in his role as a loud-mouthed, flamboyant radio talk show host with a wardrobe that would make Lady Gaga green with envy.
AND SPECIAL MENTION TO….
General Stacker Pentecost, “Pacific Rim” (2013)
Guillermo Del Toro’s robots vs. monsters mash sleeper hit has one one of the most inspirational call to arms by Idris Elba.