In the future… people are more likely to be blue or green than Asian, Hispanic, Black, or Native American. At least that’s how it seems when you watch sci-fi movies and TV shows, since the medium hasn’t really been all that representative to people of color. Sure, Star Trek was putting a Japanese man and a black woman on the Starship Enterprise back in 1966 with Sulu (George Takei) and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), respectively. But overall, POC were often more alien in Sci-fi movies and TV shows than the actual aliens themselves.
I’d love to say that things have changed dramatically today, but they really haven’t. Sure, you’re much more likely to see more diverse casts now than you ever did before (and sci-fi shows like Black Mirror are making a better effort than most). But for the most part, the future doesn’t look too rosy if you’re a person of color. That’s why I want to highlight some of my favorite POC in movies and TV. Because in space, nobody can hear you scream Black Lives Matter.
John Cho as Sulu
John Cho had some big shoes to fill when he took on the role of Sulu in the Star Trek remake (reboot? Reimagining?), but thankfully, he managed to fill them quite nicely. John Cho, using his trademark charm and unassuming coolness, made the role his own in all three movies.
Michelle Rodriguez as Trudy Chacon
Michelle Rodriguez might be most famous for her work in the Fast and the Furious series as Letty Ortiz, but she’s also made quite a few contributions to the sci-fi genre as well. She was of course in one of the biggest movies of all time as combat pilot, Trudy Chacon, in Avatar.
She also played Rain Ocampo in the first Resident Evil movie, Technical Sergeant, Elena Santos, in Battle: Los Angeles, and also Ana Lucia Cortez on the TV show, Lost. You go, girl!
Gina Torres as Zoe Washburne
Any sci-fi fan worth their Browncoat knows Gina Torres as Captain Mal’s second-in-command, Zoe Washburne on Firefly. There, she kicked ass and took names, and always looked tough doing it.
But she also appeared in The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions as Cas, and also had roles in the TV show, Cleopatra 2525 as Hel, and as Arnold Weber’s wife, Lauren, on Westworld. Cool.
Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus
Speaking of The Matrix, can I offer you a pill? They come in two colors. Red or blue. Laurence Fishburne, of course, played a prominent role in the Matrix trilogy as Morpheus, the captain of the Nebuchadnezzar.
Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa
Mr. “Let them fight,” himself, Japanese actor, Ken Watanabe, is a serious actor, playing serious roles in movies like The Last Samurai and Letters from Iwo Jima. That said, he’s not above being in a movie where giant monsters slam into each other, as he also played Dr. Ishiro Serizawa in both MonsterVerse Godzilla movies.
He’s also no stranger to other sci-fi films, as he played Lieutenant Hide Yoshida in Pokemon Detective Pikachu, voiced Drift in Transformers: Age of Extinction, and also played Saito in the masterpiece, Inception. In other words, he’s dreamy.
Edward James Olmos as William "Bill" Adama
Set it and forget it, Edward James Olmos has been putting in work since 1974. I first saw Olmos in Stand and Deliver as he played real-life teacher, Jamie Escalante. Great work to be sure, but Olmos will probably most be known for his portrayal as Admiral William “Bill” Adama on the super popular reimagining of Battlestar Galactica. Of note, his son, Bodie Olmos, also played Brendan “Hot Dog” Costanza, another character on the show, so it was a family affair.
Olmos also spent some time in the Marvel Universe as Robert Gonzales in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He was also the police officer, Gaff, in both the original Blade Runner, and Blade Runner 2049. The verdict is still out on whether he’s a replicant or not.
Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe
Mr. Ip Man himself, Donnie Yen is definitely more known for martial arts than he is for sci-fi, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t dipped his space boot into the genre. Case in point, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Yen played Chirrut Imwe, a blind, spiritual warrior monk who is one with the force. The force is with him!
But like pretty much everybody in existence, Donnie Yen is ALSO in a Marvel movie. Just not in the Cinematic Universe. He played Snowman in Blade II. Because if you can act, then you’ve probably been in a Marvel flick. It’s just facts.
Will Smith as Dr. Robert Neville
Big Willie Style. It’s crazy to think that one of the biggest movie stars on the planet is also big into Sci-fi movies. He played Dr. Robert Neville in I Am Legend, Agent J in Men in Black, a drunk superhero in Hancock, Del Spooner in I, Robot, Captain Steven Hiller in Independence Day. God, what else?
Oh, yeah! Cypher Raige in After Earth, Deadshot in Suicide Squad, Henry Brogan AND Junior in the recent Gemini Man, and even James West in Wild, Wild West, which is steampunk, a sub-genre of Science Fiction. I’m sorry, but when you’re starring in sub-genres of science fiction, you’ve made it, man. You’ve made it.
There are other people of color in sci-fi movies and TV shows that I haven’t mentioned (like Michael Pena and Zoe Saldana), but this list wouldn’t, unfortunately, be all that much longer if I had included them. Sci-fi is a fascinating genre, but it would be so much better if there were more people of color in it. Oh, well. Hopefully, this current generation will boldly go where people in the past never went before. So there’s always hope, and hope is good.