Whether it was a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, thousands of light years into the future, or just in an alternate dimension, African-American actors have played a vital role in the many worlds of science-fiction.
We’ve rounded up our favorites to honor them for Black History Month. Although really, we should have a Black Future Month, shouldn’t we?
Geordi from Star Trek: The Next Generation
Get ready to see a lot of Star Trek on this list, because there have been a ton of great African-American actors throughout the franchise. Our favorite from The Next Generation is Commander Geordi LaForge, the technical whiz who keeps the ship flying. Originally he was a bridge officer, pecking away at the consoles. But after the Chief Engineer kicked the bucket in season one, Geordi got to take his place and really geek out.
Lando Calrissian in Star Wars
Suave and sophisticated, we wouldn’t totally mind being betrayed to the Empire if it meant we got to spend a little time in this man’s company — he’s deceptively charming and debonair… and that cape?! Mmmph. Not to mention, actor Billy Dee Williams is just a boatload of fun, popping up in films from Batman to the TV show 227.
Zoe Washburne from Firefly
The biggest badass in the whole ‘verse, Zoe is fiercely loyal to her captain and her family and is also unflappably brave. She can stand her ground in a firefight, whip a disorderly crew into shape, lead a mission, or seduce her adorkable pilot husband with the best of them.
Morpheus in The Matrix
The God of The Matrix’s dreams, Lawrence Fishburne plays Morpheus as a sly, sophisticated master of worlds. It is maybe a little problematic that he spends all of his time searching for a white savior (oh Neo…), but let’s set that aside for a moment and marvel at Morpheus’ ability to lead a rough-and-tumble crew, to train the savior of humanity, and to look really awesome in some sunglasses that would look really dumb on anyone else.
Will Smith in Independence Day
Smith also appears in I, Robot, the Men in Black series, and I Am Legend — all sci-fi blockbusters that have him tackling with androids, aliens and superviruses. Will Smith’s an interesting sci-fi figure, since he’s one of the few African-American mega-stars to have been embraced by mainstream audiences. He also once played Hancock, a kind of drunken superhero that turned out to be an angel… does that count as sci-fi?
Captain Sisko from Deep Space Nine
Another Star Trek trailblazer! Captain Sisko always made us feel secure, because he is completely calm and collected under even the most bizarre of circumstances, whether he’s traveling through wormholes, working as an emissary for a group of intergalactic prophets, or constructing an elaborate ruse to fool a dangerous army of Romulans. And the few times he does raise his voice and shout, he always gains immediate command of the situation.
Neil Degrasse Tyson
Okay yeah we know, Neil’s all about real science, not science-fiction. And we love him for it. But isn’t it about time someone put a Neil Degrasse Tyson character into some kind of sci-fi project? Just a little cameo would be fine. Imagine how cool it would be to see NDT typing away in the background of the next Star Trek film or popping in to witness Will Smith as he tames another runaway alien in the next Men in Black film (because you just know they’re gonna make a fourth one).
Uhura from Star Trek: The Original Series
The original African-American heroine of the Star Trek universe,Lieutenant Commander Uhura occupied a unique position in late ’60s television as a higher-ranking bridge officer and one of the first people to enjoy an inter-racial kiss on television. She’s also one of the only women in the original series of Star Trek ever to speak to another woman (Nurse Chapel in the episode where Uhura’s memories get wiped away).
Michael Jackson from Captain EO
No trip to Disneyland is complete without a visit to the bizarre, extremely dated, and yet somehow still completely vital show Captain EO. Michael Jackson plays a space rogue that has the magic ability to turn robots into musical instruments. He then uses that power to charm Anjelica Huston in a short film that’s so weird and tone-deaf that it could only have been fueled by a cocaine eight-ball the size of the EPCOT globe.
Sun Ra from Space is the Place
We included this one not because it’s actually good, but because it’s incredibly weird. A strange blaxploitation film from 1972, it stars a musician/poet/scholar who went by the name of Sun Ra and a band of African-Americans who settle a new planet. Sun Ra plays himself, naturally, and manages to overthrow a racist power structure. All in a day’s work.
Previously Published February 25, 2015.