Where are all of the women of color in science fiction?

The Underrepresentation of Black Women & Latinas in Science Fiction

Fun facts before I get started: According to “Richard Whettestone of firsttvdrama.com, as of 2005 only 15 science-fiction TV series have featured black women in lead roles. Less than 9% of Science-Fiction TV series have featured black women as main characters… Including recurring characters who were usually tossed in the background.” [Source]

There aren’t that many Black women and Latinas in science fiction and that is a problem, and not a new problem by any means. The fact that we can probably easily name all of the Black women and Latinas in sci-fi that we’re or are lead characters and creators means there isn’t enough. We shouldn’t be able to name them all, there should be so many that we forget. Being a Black and Latina woman and sci-fi fan, I can tell you how important it is to see people who look like me in a genre I love so much.

It does not go unnoticed when people of color are continuously underrepresented in a genre. As self-proclaimed geeks, we read and watch these stories not only because they are fascinating, but because we connect and relate to these characters and their struggles. However, personally, I always seem to hit a wall. I’ll fall in love with strong female characters, but when I try to relate their experiences to my own, I eventually come to a point where I’m not being addressed anymore because I’m a woman of color. My connection to the character I’m watching or reading is over. Their experience can no longer be my experience. This doesn’t happen always, but fairly often. I’m fully aware of women being misrepresented in misogynistic ways in the genres, but unfortunately it’s still a different fight for me. Most of those women being negatively portrayed are white, Blacks and Latinas are barely even in the story. If I fight for women’s rights, or in this case, women being accurately depicted in a genre, I’m fighting for white women because they are what are represented. I have to fight a separate battle for women of color.

Our exclusion from the story is both conscious and subconscious. There are those who say, “Well you have that one black guy or that one Asian, you should be happy.” But in reality there are only a handful of us included and often times, when we are it’s solely for the purpose of adding some color. We’re tokens. You’ll rarely find more than one person of color that’s a lead character, and when they are lead characters, they are often stereotypes.

But then again, we are being represented, but not in the way we’d like. We are “the other” in science fiction. We’re the aliens, literally. Whether we’re being depicted as the Na’vi from Avatar, the wild and violent aliens from Predator or Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars. The fact that undocumented immigrants living in the United States are called illegal aliens has to ring some kind if alarm in your head.

A way to directly change this is for women of color creators to write and direct stories that feature women that look like them. Simple right? Not really. Other than the mountains they’d have to climb to get their story heard, there’s a cyclical problem that even limits them from the genre itself. Women of color are barely represented in sci-fi, so many women who could have become sci-fi creators by first becoming fans avoid the genre because they see it as a “white boys clubs” where they don’t belong and aren’t welcomed. In turn, there is no progress in the amount of women of color being represented in the genre, and the cycle continues.

Science fiction is a haven for us folks of color, the future is one of the ideal fictional narratives we can fit since our past is filled with oppression, colonization and slavery. A lot of us who read, watch and create science fiction see the genre as our possible future. These are worlds that are meant to signify what may come. The fact that women of color, and to be completely honest, people of color entirely, are not included in these futures is scary.

What can we do to change this? If you’re a creator, create fictions that include all people. If you’re a reader and watcher like me, let your voice be heard. A little blog post, email to an author or tweet may not seem like a big deal, but with the the internet you never know who or how many people can come across your words. No matter what anyone says, it is extremely important for everyone to be represented. If we don’t say anything, or do anything, we can’t expect anything to change.

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33 Comments

  1. As a huge scifi and horror fan, and a super-amateur filmmaker, I want so badly to see diverse casts. I don’t live in a white-washed world, and I definitely don’t want to escape o one when I’m reading or watching things. When I write, I try to be as ambiguous as possible with regard to ethnicity. I don’t see what a white dude has that a woman of any color doesn’t.

    Reply

  2. This is far too true. We have been obsolete for far too long. I love the genre and wish to see more, and of course not be killed off during the beginning of a scene. I would like to see more heroes, than victims. I am so glad this was finally mentioned. I hope to see that someone out there notices and makes changes.

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  3. I agree. We have been underrepresented in sci-fi for decades! I love diversity & I adore it in the things I love. I love it when I see more than one person of color on! I start to root for them & then the heartbreak comes.. They axe the character!!! There goes my connection. What is sad is that those who create some of these shows tend to have a narrow/anglo view of the world that does not represent our society. This was proven with the recent elections.. lol. Hopefully this ideal will change & the shows we love on tv will finally represent what we see in our everyday lives.

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  4. It is refreshing to read your “womanist” perspective as opposed to your “feminist” one, if you have a feminine one at all. It is important to identify that women of color have issues all of their own that must be addressed, separately from those of women as a whole. I’m proud of you for writing this blog. Keep it coming honey!

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  5. Thank you for writing this, I think there is a MAJOR disparity of Black Women in Sci-Fi films and TV programs. Honestly, the only icon that comes to mind is Uhura from Star Trek and that was ages ago. I guess we could throw Zoe Saldana in there from Avatar, but really—where are the Black female Sci-Fi players? You’re right. We need to keep making noise about this and I will also do my part to share blog posts like this as well as blog about my own concerns about the absence of Black Women. It’s time to get progressive people. Let’s get rif of this archaic mindset and add some diversity for a change!

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  6. I see what you’re saying. I only thought of 1 book (series) I just finished. In Rick Riordan’s The Kane Chronicles, the main characters/ heroes, who are brother & sister, are half Egyptian. So Sadie, the heroine is half black.

    In movies, yeah, I thought of Zoe for that 1 role. I didn’t like the movie, but anyways, another black female would be Halle Berry as Storm in the X-men series.

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  7. What about the amazing Aech (“H”) in Ernest Cline’s
    fantastical “Ready Player One”?
    She is the protagonis’ts best friend and fellow gunter
    smart, savvy and a Black Woman!

    Reply

  8. I love this post. I totally agree with you, the scifi world needs to diversify. I think it’s odd saying scifi, which often has aliens and other-worldly beings needs to diversify, when they show so many species, but lack towards diversity in the human race.

    Reply

  9. Very very true. I don’t even really read a ton of science fiction but you’re so right. But Y: The Last Man does a better job (no spoilers please I’m not done reading!)

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  10. VERY well written! I agree 100%. When there are strong female Black/Latina characters they either get cancelled (Zoe from Firefly, Lana Kane from Archer) or they go crazy (Tara of True Blood). Right now the only Black or Latina Heroine I can think of on TV right now is Michonne (True Blood). And if they kill her off, Imma hurt somebody. In anime the only black/Latinos I’ve seen are from Bleach, Chad, Yoruichi and that random Afroed Shinigami who would show up screaming at folks now and again. The rest were ALL bad guys/gals. The Arrancar, Bounts,Espada (and yes, I’m including Shingami Kaname because he did turn out to be a bad guy, no matter what anyone says about his motives).
    I don’t think mainstream comics see us as a tangible audience. And even when they do, there are some artists’s work that doesn’t see the light of day, or get cancelled. Check out Gail Simone’s work on Secret Six and Bird’s of Prey. DC cancelled them both when they went to release The New 52. Strong, smart female characters of many ethnicities. (Only one or two Black ones and a Latina, but hey progress right?)
    I think we need to find a way to tell the story ourselves. And the stories exsit! Think of how cool it would be to see Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower as a graphic novel series!
    We also need to do like you’re doing, and talk about it more. Great job. Fab site. :)

    Reply

    1. Dutch on the anime series Black Lagoon is a Black American, but not a female (the main character is a female, but she’s Chinese American). While he’s part of the main ensemble, there are a few episodes that he doesn’t have a role in. Of course, all the main characters on Black Lagoon are gangsters, so it has that stereotype to deal with, but Dutch is at least one of the “good” gangsters.

      Oh, and season 3: “Roberta’s Blood Trail” adds some Latin American characters as regulars, with the main one being Rosarita “Roberta” Cisneros, a Columbian, who returned after being a major guest character in earlier episodes. She’s actually on a morally higher level than the main characters on the show (being an idealistic believer in justice as opposed to a mercenary out for money), although she is driven by a desire for revenge in her season.

      Reply

  11. Valjean Jeffers
    Tannarive Due
    Octavia Butler
    L.A. Banks
    Milton Davis

    and more.

    If you don’t look, you won’t find. Appealing to the “mainstream” to solve this problem is basically a worthless pursuit.

    People are doing this. Find them and support their work.

    Reply

    1. Hey Queen, great article! I’m so glad I stopped by! I’m definitely going to tweet it, pin it etc etc. And while I’m here, I’d like to thank Geoffrey Thorne for the shout out. Geoffrey is an exceptional actor and a very, very talented and accomplished SF writer. I’m so honored that he mentioned me.
      I agree with you both: It is an uphill battle, and we are underrepresented. But we ARE here. In vast numbers. And we owe it to our readers, and ourselves to write, to create, the best works we can and then get the word out. Working together we can make a change. They’re thousands of us this year, and next year…? There will be more.

      Reply

  12. OMG!!! Jamila you are a genius!!!! i have searching for a black woman or man even lol that i can share my love for sci fi with… arrrgh i feel like i finally reached home lol i have found my people within my people lol if anyone is interested in being friends please follow mw on twitter @padmelejarjar or @starwarspetra on instagram i shall defo follow back

    Reply

  13. To some this may just be a good post but to me its life support.. i have struggled with a lot of things in my life thef biggest thing being fitting in, the reason is because i am a black girl obssesd with star wars nd sci fi.. u must be thinkin thats nt a big deal, well heres the thing.. I am African & in my culture thats as weird as it gets. I cant fit in with most people because i cant relate. Most people just dont get me, some call me an oreo some say i try too hard to be white some say im a joke nd so its a lil harsh on me, iv never dated lol coz all th boys think im either toooo weird or too cool and so i get friend zoned or left for someone thats more “down to earth” i felt traped, then i came across this blog *sigh* my eyes lit up lol i felt like Jamila was luke skywalker bringing balance to my sanity lol i feel safe knowing there are other pipo like me. Never stop loving wat u love, u never know how many people u can help… thank you!

    Reply

  14. >> The fact that we can probably easily name all of the Black women and Latinas in sci-fi that we’re or are lead characters and creators

    Challenge excepted:) Off the top of my head, this is all I have:

    Uhura (of course)
    Belanna Torres (Star Trek Voyager)
    T’Pal (Star Trek Enterprise)
    Martha (Dr. Who)
    Zoe (Firefly)
    Storm (X-Men)
    Max (Dark Angel, played by Jessica Alba)
    Dualla (BSG, not exactly a lead, but a fairly major character)
    Dr. Karen Jensen (Blade, again stretching the term “lead”)

    Misc.
    Demon Knight randomly comes to mind for featuring _two_ Black women, and CCH Pounder has, like, the best one-liner ever to grace a low-budget horror flick. I haven’t seen this movie since I was 12, though, so I can’t vouch for it, since my pre-teen tastes tended towards the terrible

    Writers:
    Octavia Butler (Aside: The “Bloodchild” collection… Wow. )

    Other women of color in sci-fi / fantasy TV:
    Toshi (Torchwood)
    Dichen Lachman’s character (Dollhouse)
    Grace Park’s characters (BSG)
    Hoshi (Star Trek Enterprise)

    There are a few more on the tip of my tongue, but not many.

    – E. P.

    Reply

  15. I’m a science fiction author and I write women of color. My second novel “Spin The Sky” featured a Latina protagonist. Not for nothing, but it would be nice if some of you guys bought books like mine so publishers would print more. Or write reviews so that people could find books like mine.
    And I have created a small press company for the express purpose of publishing multicultural woman positive science fiction. So if you want to promote women of color in science fiction, write a novel. Send it to me. Welcome to the secret door in the glass ceiling.

    Reply

  16. I like Dust from the X-men, and The Movement from Dc is a pretty cool story with mostly female leads. The team leader is African American , and the only white female is disabled, but still powerful, the other leads are Thai, and Indian.

    Reply

  17. Love your blog. I mean obviously this post is now a bit outdated, as a few good examples have come forward recently. Gewn from Saga is a clear example – and she is super kick ass. Dee from the Rat Queens is another.

    You know Marvel now has joined that business of changing stereotypes and representing diverse ethnic groups.

    https://wuhstry.wordpress.com/2014/08/24/black-representation-in-marvel-and-dc-comics/

    I am a gender and comicbook scholar myself and I’ll be talking about how this is changing in a symposium just this coming march in the UK. Dee is my key figure. I guess I am more going on the trend of Otherness, not just racial traits.

    Also, have you seen Killjoys? Dutch, the main character is most certainly not your usual American lead white girl.

    Anyway, nicely done, enjoyed it.

    Reply

    1. Thanks so much! And yes, I read Saga and Rat Queens and love them. There are a lot of great examples of women of color in mainstream scifi. But despite having more positive examples, there isn’t nearly enough. Especially when it comes to film. But things are a-changing. I haven’t seen Killjoys but I hear about it. Glad to know there’s a dynamic female lead!

      Reply

      1. Excellent :)
        Well I think things are moving forward. I mean Firefly was a great precursor with Zoe and Inara. I think we will see this more as the years go.

        If my audience this weekend is as responsive as you then I’m sure we will see success!

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