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.