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10 Most Influential African Americans In Sci Fi
Prominent African-Americans’ Contributions to Pop Culture
By Kurt Anthony Krug
February 19, 2010
© Mania/Bob Trate
In celebration of Black History Month, Mania is saluting African-Africans who have contributed to the popular culture landscape–particularly science-fiction/fantasy and horror–no matter what the medium, be it movies, television, music, comic books, cartoons or novels. Here’s the list:
10. Richard Roundtree
This actor is best known for his roles in “blaxploitation” films of the 1970s, most notably as John Shaft–“the private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks”–in 1971’s Shaft and its sequels, cementing his status of a pop culture icon. He also appeared in 1995’s Se7en and the 2000 Shaft remake, playing the uncle to Samuel L. Jackson’s titular character.
9. Avery Brooks
In addition to being an actor, director and musician, Avery Brooks – best known as Captain Benjamin Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Hawk in Spenser: For Hire and A Man Called Hawk–is a college professor at Rutgers University. In fact, he is the first African-American to graduate with Rutgers with a graduate degree in acting and directing. Brooks’ Sisko was the first character of color to be the lead character on a Star Trek series.
8. Michael Dorn
Michael Dorn’s Worf, the Klingon Starfleet officer, has appeared in more episodes of any Star Trek series than anyone else, having been a regular on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He also played Worf in four Star Trek movies (five if you count his cameo in 1991’s Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country as an ancestor of Worf). Pretty good for a character that wasn’t considered to become a regular when TNG started production. Additionally, Worf’s character really opened the door when it came to many, many popular storylines involving the Klingons in Star Trek canon.
7. Dwayne McDuffie
In 1993, feeling that minorities weren’t well-represented in the comic book medium, creators Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Derek Dingle and Michael Davis conceived the Milestone Universe, which was published by DC Comics as a separate imprint.
This line of comics, while critically acclaimed, eventually folded due to the collapse of the comic book industry in the mid-1990s, but the character Static appeared in the Static Shock animated series that McDuffie produced. During his run on DC’s Justice League of America, McDuffie reintroduced the Milestone characters as part of the mainstream DC canon in the past year, while still retaining the rights to them. He also has written Marvel’s Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Damage Control, as well as served as an executive producer on the Justice League Unlimited and Ben 10 animated series.
6. Octavia Butler
One of the few female, African-American science-fiction novelists, the late Octavia Butler won the Nebula and Hugo Awards. Through the science-fiction genre, like many of her peers, she addressed many relevant social issues of today. Most notably, 1979’s Kindred–her most popular novel–which is about a woman time-travelling back to the 19th century when slavery was prevalent and meeting her ancestors, is shelved in African-American literature sections of many bookstores rather than the science-fiction/fantasy section.
5. Duane Jones
Best known as Ben, the protagonist from 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, Duane Jones was the first African-American actor to have a starring role in a horror film. What was so groundbreaking about the role is that he played the hero in a film that was full of white actors. This opened the door a little bit further for African-Americans.
4. Samuel L. Jackson
Having appeared in over 100 films, Samuel L. Jackson is one of Hollywood’s top-grossing stars–if not the top-grossing. Some of his more prominent roles include Jules in 1994’s Pulp Fiction and Jedi Knight Mace Windu in the Star Wars prequel films from 1999-2005. An avid comic book fan, Jackson will play Nick Fury in the upcoming Iron Man 2 (he made a cameo in Iron Man). In fact, Nick Fury was modeled after Jackson’s likeness in Marvel Comics’ Ultimate line.
3. Will Smith
Originally the Fresh Prince, Will Smith successfully transitioned into movies, his first big success being 1996’s Independence Day, which was released Independence Day Weekend of that year. Lightning struck twice in 1997 when Men In Black also was released Independence Day Weekend.
Some of his genre films include 1995’s Bad Boys, 1998’s Enemy of the State, 1999’s Wild Wild West, 2002’s Men in Black II, 2003’s Bad Boys II, 2004’s I, Robot, 2004’s Shark Tale, 2007’s I Am Legend and 2008’s Hancock.
Smith is the only actor in history to have eight consecutive films that he has starred in open at number one and gross more than $100 million in the U.S. box office–four of which have grossed more than $500 million globally, earning him Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations alike.
2. Nichelle Nichols
As Lt. Uhura, the communications officer of the starship Enterprise on the original Star Trek series in the 1960s, Nichelle Nichols was one of the first African-American actresses to portray a character of color who wasn’t a servant–something that had a positive impact on Whoopi Goldberg. Nichols wanted to leave the series, but was persuaded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to remain as she was a positive role model for African-American women. Additionally, she inspired Mae Jemison to become an astronaut.
Nichols as Uhura also had TV’s first interracial kiss with Capt. Kirk (William Shatner), which was unprecedented for the 1960s. She continued to play Uhura in six Star Trek motion pictures from 1979 to 1991. She was succeeded in this role by Zoe Saldana in last year’s Star Trek reboot.
1. Michael Jackson
Jackson has been a driving force in music since he performed with his brothers in the Jackson 5. Thriller became the world’s best-selling album in 1984 and remains the best-selling album ever, making it into the “Guinness Book of World Records.”
Jackson also revolutionized the music video with his 15-minute Thriller video, which served as a promotional springboard for his album of the same name. Further, it is considered the definitive and most successful music video for its marriage of filmmaking, music, and dancing. It was directed by John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) with a voiceover by horror icon Vincent Price and make-up by Landis’ Werewolf effects wizard Rick Baker.