10 Most Influential African Americans In Sci Fi - Mania.com

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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

Richard Roundtree
© 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.



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FerretJohn 2/19/2010 12:44:40 AM

Jackson at #1???  C'mon!!!  Granted, Thriller was a ground-breaking and record-setting video, but its impact in the sci-fi genre is tenuous at best.  And what sci-fi film did Richard Roundtree participate in?  Shaft may have been a baaad man but he used a .38, not a phaser.  Kurt, your articles concept may have been good but you really should've done better research.

raa2001 2/19/2010 2:24:29 AM

 Hey big props to Mania for posting this in honor of Black History Month.  Thank you...

ThemanG01 2/19/2010 3:43:31 AM

Nothing like the continuing promotion of racism by using race-based lists.  Good job, Mania.

karas1 2/19/2010 4:08:11 AM

Yeah, Nichelle Nichols was important.  Uhura inspired me as a woman (a white woman, but hey).  She was  strong, competent and versitile.  She was at home in her position on the bridge, under her console fixing things or on a landing party firing her phaser.  Nobody messed with Uhura, particurlarly the mirror version who wore a knife and knew how to use it.  And unlike the other female characters on the ST:TOS, she wasn't obsessed with attracting some man.  She was confident in her own identity without being part of a pair.

Then along came the new version of ST and suddenly Uhura is a whining spoiled twit hanging off Spock's arm and distracting him when he should be concentrating of taking care of business.  A big step backwards for women's lib.

Kara S

skyn3t 2/19/2010 4:11:23 AM

I'm not sure if anyone knows Octavia Butler, I sure don't. So I say drop her from this list and put in Levar Burton. He was better known than Michael Dorn back in the day and he starred in several high profile shows: Star Trek TNG, Reading Rainbow, and Roots.

Either that, or drop Richard Roundtree, as Shaft WAS NOT Sci-fi.

DaylightMoon 2/19/2010 4:14:15 AM

Great list, though I'm not sure I'd put Michael Jackson as #1 either.

Talking about race is not the same as racism which is assigning an inferior status based on race. One thing that is frustrating about the whole politically correct thing is that it makes it impossible to talk frankly about the realities, both good and bad, or race relations in America. It also gives cover to the real racists out there because all they have to do is learn not say n***** in public and everything is okay. As a British reporter once wryly observed, America is a country with racial problems in which nobody now is a racist.

All of this makes the contributions of those on this list that much greater, because not only are they crossing boundaries, they're keeping the discussion alive. Plus, lets face it, guys like Will Smith and Samuel L. Jackson make all us sci-fi nerds look that much cooler:)

Dazzler 2/19/2010 4:41:29 AM

Weslie Snipes was on his way to this list at one point.  He should have handled Blade better and do that Black Panther movie. 

DaylightMoon 2/19/2010 5:40:37 AM

I think including Richard Roundtree is apropriate. Even though his work wasn't really sci-fi, he was the first black action hero to make an impact, and that opened doors that directly crossover into the genre.

Wiseguy 2/19/2010 5:54:05 AM

Will Smith should be #1 followed by Vin Diesel and Sam Jackson then you can add Nichols and go from there

Damn I forgot, you gotta have Fishburne for his turn in The Matrix alone and Denzel too for Deja Vu, Book of Eli, Fallen, Virtuosity and Malcolm X oh wait I confused that last with Weapon X

EagleManiac 2/19/2010 6:11:57 AM

I have to echo the sentiments about Michael Jackson! MJ?? Really? Pleeeeease. He was a freak, and died a freak. He belittles this list being on it. Will Smith, Fishburne, and Denzel are FAR more influential in Sci-Fi than dumb-ass MJ! Bad #1 pick on this list!

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