Photo by JD Hancock
The other day I was listening to the podcast The Auteur Cast. In discussing The Empire strikes back, one of the hosts used the character of Lando Calrissian to question why there are so few black people in science-fiction. It’s not a new question. In 1976, on the album Bicentennial Nigger, Richard Pryor observed “I don’t like movies what don’t have no niggers in them. I went to see a movie of the future called Logan’s Run. Ain’t no niggers in it. Well, white folks ain’t planning for us to be here.”
It would be nice to say that times sure have changed in the 37 years since then. There’ve been nineteen black astronauts in NASA, there’s a black president, a black attorney general and countless other black people have attained positions of power or advanced science. But that's science-fact and in Hollywood science-fiction the future remains so white you’ve gotta wear shades.
Most space operas depict a universe populated by aliens with prosthetic alterations to their eyes and ears and in all shades of skin tone… almost invariably played by white people. If one tries to think of an alien played by a Latino, I can think of Edward James Olmos (in blue contacts) in Battlestar Galactica as Caprican (of Tauron descent) Commander Bill Adama and that’s it (OK, and Tahnee Welch in the Cocoon movies). Ricardo Montalban as Khan doesn’t count. Firstly, Khan Noonien Singh was apparently supposed to be South Asian, given his title “Singh,” and a native of earth -- not an extraterrestrial. Speaking of Asian aliens – are there any besides Flash Gordon’s Ming the Merciless, emperor of the planet Mongo (obviously meant to be the face of yellow peril and who was also always played by white actors)?