Top Ten African Americans in Cinematic Science Fiction and Fantasy

Okay, so the title is a little long-winded, but some things needed clarification.  I’m doing this list in honor of Black History Month, which, if you don’t know or you live abroad, runs throughout the month of February in the U.S.  It’s a time to honor the rich history of those of African decent here in the U.S.  Now before someone comes along and informs me that we’re all of African decent, yes, I am aware of this.  But I digress.

I wanted to post my personal pick for the top ten African Americans in science fiction or fantasy movies.  Also, one should take note: When I say African Americans, I’m only using it in its PC form, so it could mean anyone of natural African decent who hails from any country, not just the US.  My god this is getting long.  Political correctness forces far too much clarification, but all words are bound to fall into disrepute eventually, aren’t they?  Okay, so here’s the list.

10.  Laurence Fishburne as Morpheous in The Matrix.

Okay, so we’re all pretty sick of the Matrix series by now, but when that first movie came out, I’m sure you would be lying if you weren’t a fan.  It had a little bit of everything.  Granted, the word everything doesn’t just mean good things, but whatever is out there cinematically, it had it.  Looking back on the movie now, a decade later, I actually feel one of the movie’s redeeming qualities is Laurence Fishburne’s portrayal of Morpheous.

9.  Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian in Star Wars.

Billy Dee Williams did a lot for the Star Wars series.  One of the major things he gave it was name recognition.  Everyone knew the king of cool back in the 70’s, and even though he kind of played a bad guy for a brief time in the Star Wars series, his character Lando Calrissian soon redeemed himself, helping to save Han Solo from Jaba’s Lair.  One might say that Billy Dee Williams looked really at home up there in the clouds of Bespin.

8.  Avery Brooks as Benjamin Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

I have to voice an opinion on this one: I really don’t like that Star Trek: DS9 is still referred to as Star Trek.  How can it have the word Trek in the title if it takes place on a space station?  They weren’t really trekking anywhere, with the exception of a couple of episodes.  That aside, I was a fan of DS9, although not as much as TOS or TNG, but I did like it more than Voyager. The main reason is Avery Brooks as Benjamin Sisko.  His acting in the role transcended what was called for as Commander Sisko.  Needless to say, Avery Brooks took the role and ran with it, and although his character technically wasn’t a captain of anything, he’ll always be remembered as one of The Captains.

7.  Every African American actor who isn’t Will Smith.

Look, he’s bad.  He’s just so, so bad.  Independence Day was saved by Jeff Goldblum’s incredible performance, but it just wasn’t redeeming enough for me.  It’s just an opinion, but I think every character Will Smith has ever plaid in a science fiction or fantasy movie has made everyone of these other fine actors look bad.  So, the winner of the number seven slot is everyone from Mace in Strange Days and Joe Morton in Brother from Another Planet, all the way to Tina Turner in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome; so long as their name isn’t Will Smith.

6.  Al Matthews as Sgt. Apone in Aliens.

Too damn tough, was Sgt. Apone.  In a lot of ways, this role was quite stereotypical of an African American military man, but at the same time, does it really matter?  If you’re going to portray a stereotype, at least do it with a well-written character and an actor who can pull it off.  That actor was Al Matthews, and that character was Sgt. Apone.  Such a great character, it’s too bad we lost him in the first movie.  I would’ve liked to have seen him go on and do at least one of the sequels.

5.  Halle Berry as Storm in The X-Men Trilogy.

Come on.  Though she may be overrated as an actress, and though most of us would love to forget that awful Cat Woman movie, she was wonderful as Storm in all three X-Men movies.  If she goes down for any historical claim in nerd culture, it’s that she did a great job in bringing the Storm character to life.

4.  Isaac Hayes as The Duke in Escape from New York.  

Okay, so no immediate disqualification for his involvement in the Church of Scientology  Most kids today would remember Isaac as Chef from the television show South Park, but he had a pretty long and illustrious film and music career.  In this case, he played one of my favorite characters of all time.   As the self-proclaimed Duke of New York, Isaac is the man in charge – a role he was quite comfortable in.

3.  James Earl Jones as Darth Vader in Star Wars.

Who could possibly forget the haunting voice behind the mask in Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope?  I couldn’t.  It haunted my dreams as a child, and it still haunts the nerd centers of my brain to this day.  (In case you’re curious, the nerd center of my brain is, well, the entirety of my Temporal, Frontal, Occipital and Parietalital lobes, actually.  Even my brain stem.  That’s right, I breathe nerdery!)

James Earl Jones did the most amazing voice job as Darth Vader that I’ve ever heard, and I couldn’t be happier that he’s gone on to do so many other voice acting roles since.

2. Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series.

Not just the leggy beauty underneath the short women’s Star Fleet uniform.  Not just the curvy and amazing body above said leggy, leggy legs.  But the woman herself, Nichelle Nichols.  What about her isn’t amazing.  Freshly off the heels of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I thought it would be appropriate to post a video that articulates what I could never say about the importance of Nichelle’s role in Star Trek: The Original Series, as well as the importance of her role to African American culture as a whole.

1.  Levar Burton as Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

How could I put Levar Burton above Nichelle Nichols, you ask?  Well, there’s the aspect of duration in the series, and there’s also the matter that Levar’s character, Commander La Forge, had much more to tackle.  Having been blind for much of his life, his trademark visor is Geordi’s sight in the series, and on top of that, the dialogue of Commander La Forge was pretty far beyond that of anything Nichols’ character, Lt. Uhura, ever had to recite.  Actually, as a personal story, I first got interesting in theoretical physics watching Star Trek: TNG as a child.  Hearing Commander La Forge go on and on about photons, tachyons, and various other subatomic particles, made me want to know what they were and how they worked, so that I could better understand the show.  Granted, I later found that tachyons themselves were entirely hypothetical, and still are to this day, but I’ve always thought The Next Generation was smart in assuming the theoretical and hypothetical physics of today would be the applied physics of the future.  History has taught us this lesson again and again.

On top of learning about physics from Commander La Forge by way of Levar Burton, I also learned to read alongside Levar.  His show, The Reading Rainbow, was a favorite of mine as a child.  So, I guess you could say that in many ways Levar Burton was the father I never had.

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5 comments on “Top Ten African Americans in Cinematic Science Fiction and Fantasy

  1. Whoah, where is Freema Agyeman, who played Martha Jones on Doctor Who? What of Vin Diesel? Where’s Morgan Freeman? How about Shepard Book from Firefly?

  2. Love, love, love number seven. LOL! I agree with the previous comment though as far as Freema Agyeman goes. But Morgan Freeman? Aside from Deep Impact, I can’t think of any sci-fi he’s done. I love his voice and all, but that video he did recently with Fox News where he completely mischaracterized science as a sort of belief system kinda ruined him for me. Especially coming from the host of Through the Wormhole.

  3. Halle Berry was “wonderful as Storm in all three X-Man movies”?

    This one statement nearly invalidates your entire article. She is awful in the first movie, just terrible.

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