It’s the year 20XX, and what greets you is the vacuum of space. Maybe some monsters, a mysterious island, and I think I can definitely confirm more than one spaceship in the aforementioned endless vacuum of space.
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Such is the familiar landscape of science fiction, right? I mean, the only things missing are some dragons and – oh yeah, a cast made up of entirely white people.
In worlds that include orcs, elves, and aliens, where are my people of color? Where are my queer people?
Will you really have me believe that in places like Hogwarts, there’s literally only one Asian character (whose name, incidentally, is composed of two Asian last names, both from different ethnicities) and maybe an estimate of five Black people?
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What this tells me is that writers think it’s more believable to include races that don’t even exist than to – god forbid – put a darker skinned character in your fantasy world.
Other scenarios don’t escape scrutiny either. Are only white people equipped to survive post-apocalyptic and dystopian societies? What, do the non-white population of a country just die off?
When most sci-fi books and TV are represented by figureheads like the racist H.P. Lovecraft, Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Steven Moffat (Doctor Who), it’s hard for writers that aren’t white men with beards to slip into the fray. Of course, every now and then, you get white writers and directors that make an effort to care.
Here are all the TV shows and movies, in no particular order, that’ll rekindle your hope if you’re tired of watching Daenerys Targaryen crowd surf over a sea of Black bodies.
1. Star Trek (1966-1969), created by Gene Roddenberry
A pioneer true to its progressiveness to even this day if you keep up with the books it withstands the test of time. In response to a lesbian (and fictionally interracial) romance, a reader wrote to the writer of the plotline, David Mack stating that he would be boycotting his books.
His response perfectly sums up Star Trek better than I can: “Although the various television series could have done more in their respective times to portray ethnic and gender diversity, those of us who write the licensed Trek fiction continue to do our best to depict a more progressive, enlightened, open, and harmonious future, not just for humanity but for all sentient beings. One in which love, equality, and compassion are the touchstones of civilized society.”
This is coming from someone who writes for a series that featured the first televised interracial kiss and the iconic female captain Janeway. Also, be sure to check out the series’ numerous movies, books, and comics.
2. Sunshine (2007), directed by Danny Boyle
Sunshine, a movie that exposes the human condition through a plot that centers around an expedition to detonate a bomb on the Sun, finally sends Asians to space. Honestly, what a relief. I was tired of watching patriotic Space Race reruns with stoic Russians and tense Americans against the backdrop of Oscar-winning CGI.
I can only watch a white man make contact with alien lifeforms so many times before I call E.T. down to take me off this godforsaken planet.
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While the crew is half American, the other half is predominantly Chinese, because of the filmmakers’ belief that China would be one of the most developed economically and scientifically in the future. Michelle Yeoh, who acted in movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2001) and Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), was in the forefront of Danny Boyle’s mind when he was casting the movie. He offered her any role in the film that she wanted, a rare chance for an Asian actor.
3. Lost (2004-2010), created by J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and Jeffrey Lieber
Practically a household name, Lost is a TV series (conveniently on Netflix) about the survivors of a plane crash that end up on a strange island. The show features tons of different storylines both on the island, in the future, and from the past.
The real MVP here is the character building. We have an Iraqi man, a Korean couple who don’t really speak English, a Black father (!) and his son, an interracial couple, a thick Latino man, women with fully fleshed out backstories and of all different personalities, and even more, as time goes on. I can’t even extrapolate on the finer details, as it’s one of those shows that are ample with possible spoilers.
Each and every character gets careful attention and aren’t token characters. They’re real in the most subtle of ways, and their differences are very calculated and not always rooted in the dominating minority subjects of race and gender.
Pack up, go home. Hell, throw some Game of Thrones DVDs at me.
Do you know how long it took me to write this article? Do you know how many people I consulted? I even asked a filmmaker, and two of the three films she came up with ended up being slightly racist anyways.
Call me back when you find a sci-fi series with well-written, accurate, non-offensive, longstanding and diverse characters.
I’ll anxiously wait here, in the void known as genre movies.