Tag Archives: Sleepy Hollow

50 Years After Color TV, TV Networks Finally Putting *Color* On TV

It used to be if you wanted to turn on the TV and actually see non-white characters, your options were telenovelas, BET, or whatever all-Black cast family show was the Black show of the decade.

Seriously. Half of the history of Black folk leading TV shows looks like a bunch of awkwardly missed high-fives, or like the passing of a fairly unheroic torch. It looks a lot like the #ThereCanOnlyBeOne Rule of Black men in The Walking Dead.

onlyone

Just as The Cosby Show dared to add a little more color to TV land in 1984, The Jeffersons called it quits a year later. #ThereCanOnlyBeOne Black family movin’ on up.

On the tail of The Cosby Show‘s wild success, comes Family Matters with the all-too-adorable Steve Urkel in 1989, 3 years later… Cosby who? #ThereCanOnlyBeOne quirky Black Guy with a funny voice.

Then, you get the “glory days” of the early 90’s…

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and In Living Color bring us some funny, some color, and some dope soundtracks in 1990.

Then in 1992 & 1993 Martin and Living Single finally stop futsing around with that big, middle-class family shit, and dare to talk about Black people dating and *gasp* even having sex. Finally it looks like we’re gonna get some diversity of experience in these Black TV shows!

Next thing you know, 1994 brings us some young Black female perspective in Sister, Sister with Tia and Tamara Mowry giving little Mary Kate and Ashley a run for their money. And (it’s possible I’m the only one who actually watched it, but…) Moesha manages to bring Brandi to the small screen without execs screaming #ThereCanOnlyBeOne Black teen female show!.

But, of course, we speak too soon. The same year Sister, Sister launches, In Living Color goes dark.  Then, Fresh Prince bails on us in 1996. Martin a year later in 1997. Family Matters and Living Single in 1998. Finally Sister,Sister  bites the dust in 1999.

Lucky for us, The Steve Harvey Show and The Jamie Foxx Show were kind enough to give us a handful of funny Black characters to last us until the new decade, when they took a dive to make room for The Parkers (1999) and Girlfriends (2000).  Since then, there have, of course, been others, and always a few attempts to branch out into other genres. This is clearly not an exhaustive list… but it’s pretty damn close!

I know, I know, that sounds like a lot, right? Like Black folk should be glad we had so much representation on TV. And a few years ago I’d have been the first one to reminisce on the old days of good (okay, maybe not The Parkers).  But then, what about all the other brown folk that make up this massive chunk o’ land?

All-AmericanGirlWell…Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl, which focused on a Korean-American family, lasted one whole year from 1994-1995 and is pretty much the only show that had dared cast a majority case of Asian characters. Before that the presence of Asian-descent characters on the small screen was pretty much a toss-up between abysmal or painfully offensive. John Cho managed to snag a leading role in Flash Forward in 1996, but that was cancelled after a year too… There are, of course, a couple of odds and ends — a Glenn in Walking Dead here, a couple from Lost there.  But you get the trend…

While I wish I could bore you to tears with the history of the representation of every community of color in TV, I think we get the idea…

Just a year or two ago, the dearth of brown faces on TV was a regular one of those “too true, *sigh*” conversations I’d have with my friends every few weeks.

But then, a funny thing happened…

It was just me, a bottle of cheap chardonnay, and a TV remote on a blizzardy Friday night. Making my usual OnDemand rounds, I manage to spend 5+ hours (yep, and I wasn’t even done yet!) without watching a single show that did not feature a leading character of color.

And it was all over the map here. I got in my high drama with Cookie (Empire) and Olivia Pope (Scandal). I got my mystery-thriller on with Professor Annalise Keating (How To Get Away With Murder), my supernatural freaky with Angelica Celaya‘s Zed on Constantine, straight horror with American Horror Story, some superhero action with Cisco the West family in The Flash. Some hilarious family antics with Fresh Off The Boat and Modern Family. And, of course, got some nerdy historical fiction on with the Mills sisters and Irving in Sleepy Hollow.  If I was really desperate I could even have hunted down some Grey’s Anatomy for some medical drama.

This is the first time that TV hasn’t relegated characters of color either to the margins of an otherwise white cast, as “the brown friend,” but actually has characters of color leading prime time shows. And some are even heroes, villains, love interests… freaking complex, rounded, rich characters!

Seriously, *look* at the cast! Photo Credit: Kevin Parry for Paley Center for Media
Seriously, *look* at the cast! Photo Credit: Kevin Parry for Paley Center for Media

At this point, I’m dosed on half a bottle of wine and five hours of Mexican psychics, Black detectives, Cuban mechanical engineers, Creole superwitches, and Taiwanese Steakhouse owners. And as soon as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is back on, trust that I’ll be cheering every time Melinda May hands some supposed badass his… um… ass.

And the future is looking promising too!

Jill Marie Jones was just cast as the leading lady in the STARZ original series Ash vs. Evil Dead and the cast of the promising new NBC series Doubt is getting browner and browner with its casting of Laverne Cox (Orange Is The New Black), Dule Hill (Psych), and Kobi Libii. And on the geeky side of things (where I live), we’ve got Powers to look forward to with Susan Heyward as Deena Pilgrim.

heyward-pilgrim
via. comicsalliance

Now, despite wine-wasted me fist-pumping and “f*&k yeah!”-ing to my marathon of brown TV, a little sobriety reveals the facts. While we’re making some phenomenal strides, and young brown TV-addled kids everywhere are surely gaining a greater sense of self-worth and possibilities for their life narratives, we’ve got a ways to go.

Before Fresh Off the Boat,  ABC’s Selfie was pretty much the only sitcom with a leading Asian actor, and it still qualifies as the only one with that traditional romantic comedy love story we’ve all come to love. But before John Cho‘s character could get laid, ABC cancelled the show, which had garnered a strong cult following. Now Fresh Off The Boat is on it’s own in sitcom land, while Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has got to hold it down on the action/superhero side with leading actresses Chloe Bennet & Ming Na Wen.

Selma still flopped at the box office, while Taken 3 (Taken number effing 3, people!) kicked the box office’s ass times $40 million…There’s something seriously wrong with that.

But let’s stick to television for now.  While we’ve got some seriously great shows led by folks of color. People of color are still majorly underrepresented, or worse misrepresented on many of the most popular TV shows, restricted to roles of the sexless side-kick, quick-to-quip Black friend, magical negro native, wise asian man, “thugs”, “homies”, criminals, or victims.

It’s time to color prime time with POC characters who can be goodhearted heroes finding their way, stressed out househusbands, know-it-all law students, hot dudes with daddy issues, nerdy girls with dynamic programming issues…

If we can’t even imagine people of color as diverse, complex, three-dimensional, real people in our stories, how the hell are the people who stay snug and terrified in their homogenous lala lands ever going to believe that Mexican women can be described with words other than “fiery,” or that some Black women aren’t actually just waiting for the chance to show-off their snap-eyeroll-suck teeth combo, or that the woman in the hijab is giddy planning her upcoming wedding not plotting the violent destruction of the U.S…. or that sixteen-year-old Black boys aren’t “demons” who deserve to be shot in the street…

We’re at least doing better in this small screen venue, but we need to do even better, ever better

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Geeky Week Round-Up: Rue Joins Sleepy Hollow, Luke Cage Gets a TV Show, & Frederick Douglass Gets the Comic Treatment

Last week brought us lots of Geeky Outsidery awesome. So, we decided to consolidate it all into one giant post of awesome to get your geek on and week started off right. Happy Sunday!

amandlasleepyhollow

Gotta headline with this week’s best news!  Amandla Stenberg, that dope actress who played Rue in the Hunger Games, will be joining the cast of Sleepy Hollow!  After a less-than-awesome (read, horribly racist) experience after her Hunger Games debut, it puts a huge smile on the geek gods faces to see this great tiny actress join a diverse cast on a fun show with an awesome dynamic Black female lead. Win.

Speaking of winning, Marvel gave us the gift of a new badass superhero. The teenage shapeshifter from Jersey will be debuting in her own title series as the new Ms. Marvel in February 2014!  Real name Kamala Khan, this young new superhero grew up in Jersey but has Pakistani roots and joins the ranks of the few Muslim superheroes in mainstream comics! Written by G. Willow Wilson, Khan made her first appearance in last week’s Captain Marvel #17 (yep. Go get it!).  (via CBR)

Awesome freelance artists (and video game industry professionals!) Audran Guerard and Daniel Roy had the beautiful idea to put together a graphic novel adaptation of the life of Frederick Douglass. Based on his two biographies The Life of Frederick Douglass: A Graphic Novel will be published as two 50-page volumes featuring some beautiful watercolor art. Support ’em (and dibs a copy!) on Kickstarter.

Marvel is bringing Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones to the small screen! Specifically, they signed a deal with Netflix for four separate new live-action TV series, one for each of the characters. And here’s the dope – these four shows will lead to a team-up in a miniseries for The Defenders! (via IGN)

And for all the literary geeks out there, we’ve got a Jane Austen video game (we’re totally playing)! And an (ironically) daring theater that’s bringing drag back to Shakespeare! (via kickstarter & WBUR)

via WBUR

Keep it Geeky!

Fantasizing History: Sleepy Hollow, White Redemption, and Literally Empowering Brown Folk

In a recent editorial in The New York Times, A.O. Scott took a few race-centric blockbusters, like The Help and Django Unchained to task, or rather to uncomfortable truths. But not for the reasons one might think.

What Scott pointed out was that these films offer a sense of redemption for white consumers, who attend them out of a sense of duty to acknowledge the very real horrors of slavery and the civil rights era. And in the theater, when the helpful white good guy throws caution to the wind to help their fellow suffering blacks, they can mourn that distant past, identify themselves with this mythic hero, and shame and hate the carcicature-d evil racists, leaving the theater with a relief that such horrors are a thing of a dark and incomprehensible past and that they themselves are morally well-adjusted in an era where race is no longer such a pressing issue.

This pop culture distancing, he argues, is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the conversation about race we’re (not) having in this country.

And he’s right. There are examples everywhere. One recent and hit-you-over-the-head example can be found in the (fun and awesome) TV show Sleepy Hollow.  Created by a bunch of white guys, the show has achieved strides in television history simply in the casting of the show, which features not just a Black female lead (basically unheard of in a supernatural TV series), but a whole host of frequently appearing black and brown faces, and all while actively shutting down racial stereotypes. It’s dope, and it makes one really really like this particular bunch of white guys.

But funny enough the one stereotype that remains is actually smeared all over the show’s side-kick white guy (Seriously. Love. It.) Ichabod Crane, who is basically a progressive white apologist and history revisionist.

Of course, the entire show is a fantastical re-imagining of history as one big shit-show fight-to-the-death with…well, Death and his demon friends. But the particulars of what gets revised is telling.

Ichy getting chummy with his "Mohawk friends"
Ichy getting chummy with his “Mohawk friends” during the war.

Like when Crane gets all “no way!” about the genocide of Native Americans: “What?! The Native Americans were decimated? But they were my friends! We fought alongside them against the evil Brits.” This is true to an extent. Many Native peoples fought alongside the Patriot soldiers, but just as many were siding with the Brits in hopes that a British victory would choke the steady stream of colonists stealing Native lands…

At first, one is inclined to scoff at Crane’s role as adorable white guilt assuager. But actually, in a fantasy television series, alongside historical revisions that place the headless horseman in the Revolutionary War, is the only place such shenanigans belong.

Black Americans have been using fantasy and science fiction to rewrite history and write new Conde’s novel takes Tituba out of obscurity and writes her prominently into history, from her youth in Barbados to meeting Hester Prynne, to her escape from being burned as a witch.  Not only that, but she removes the yoke of victim-hood that stalks Black history and endows Tituba with supernatural powers as well.futures quite some time.  One great example is Maryse Conde’s historical fiction novel I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salemwhich draws on the true story of a Black woman who was the first to be accused of being a witch before the Salem Witch Trials got all epic and bloody.  But beyond the fact that she was accused and managed to escape with her flesh intact, we know little else about her.

But what’s the point of such fantasizing? Well Conde’s novel is certainly a metaphorical reclamation of history and it spreads awareness of the fact that Black people were there too.  It’s also a feel-good book (despite all of it’s sadness) for Black readers, because it puts brown faces in histories that we’ve learned had little to do with us.  We root for the hero hard between the tears. Many non-fictional scholarly books do this for other eras and events.

(At this point, can’t help but give a shout-out to this dope Tumblr Medieval POC that aims to debunk the myth that Black people weren’t around in Medieval Europe).

But it’s in the fantastical revisionings that Kindred‘s Dana Franklin gets to kill the white guy who owned her ancestors, or where Harriet Tubman gets to be a pants-wearing steampunk spy, psychic, and freedom fighter.

This gets at the very definition of fantasy for fans — it’s where we can go to utterly escape reality, that includes white guilt. There Black people can turn to fantasy to empower their history literally by imagining superpowers into the hands of their ancestors or just knock-around the mastuh. And white folk can turn to fantasy to pretend it was evil vampires who were the slave owners or make friendlies between the colonists and Native American communities.

cover of Balogun Ojetade’s “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman”

Now, revisions that cleanse whites of historical wrongs are problematic in movies like The Help, where they masquerade as possible truths, because they further obscure the real historical truths that are already obfuscated by incomplete or non-existent records, the dehumanization of whole groups of people, essentially by the white power structures that write history.  And they deny the role of the marginalized peoples of the world in history as anything other than victims.

However, when such revisions appear in the context of ridiculous story lines like those of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Sleepy Hollow it’s basically an admission that notions of the white power structure forged by our messed up history can be warm-fuzzied away are just as ridiculous as an acrobatic axe-wielding Abe Lincoln Matrix-style dodging a horse thrown at him by an angry racist vampire.

So, I roll my eyes a little at the adorable need for such white guilt cuddlies, but I ain’t mad. It’s happening in exactly the right place, right before some other absurd ridiculosity goes down.

The Token Test: A Bechdel Test for Characters of Color in Fiction

So, there I was watching Zod and the caped Mr. Kent plow through 20-story buildings, when the camera halted for a minute and began following an extra at the scene of the destruction for a strangely extended period of time… and the extra was ethnically South Asian.

Finally, the camera breaks the shot and pulls back to reveal more extras, running for their lives, and lo!  many of them were people of color too!

That’s when it hit me, just how hard Man of Steel  was trying to make a more diverse Metropolis!  And between the more colorful crowds and the two major Black characters Perry White and General Swanwick, they did as good a job as one can probably do with one of the whitest superhero franchises out there.

Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) being all heroic.

And they took a shot at gender balance too… But even with a handful of seemingly non-stereotyped women characters, the movie doesn’t quite pass The Bechdel Test.

If you don’t already know it, The Bechdel Test came out of Alison Bechdel‘s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule. Movies or stories that pass The Bechdel Test must meet all of these criteria:

(1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.

So for Man of Steel…  (1) More than two women? Faora, Lois, Mrs. Kent, and Lara Lor-Van, Superman’s mother – CHECK.

(2) Who talk to each other? CHECK

(3) About something other than a man?  Well… no.

Faora chokes out the Kent moms

In fact, the primary form of the inter-woman dialogue was fairly violent… and it wasn’t just about a man, but a super manSo, 2 out of 3. Nice try but no gender balance award.

Now what about the people of color depicted in the film? How can we tell how the film rates there?

Obviously, like The Bechdel Test, the biased treatment of characters of color in fiction is much more complex than a 3-step test can ever capture. But like, The Bechdel Test, a test — let’s call it The Token Test — could simplify and generalize some of the issues in POC treatment in fiction so that we can get the conversations started, talk about the issues more easily, and maybe force creators/publishers/studios to think about these things before putting their beloved brain-babies (or wallet-stuffers) out into the world.

Well, lets try one on for size…

A work of fiction that passes the test for biased treatment of characters of color in fiction will…

(1) have at least two characters of color,

The most obvious issue in the treatment of characters of color in fiction is that, well… there is no treatment.  Many shows/books/movies/video games simply don’t include diversity in the cast list, and those that do tend to be guilty of tokenism. One character of color, included for the sake of diversity.  I imagine this first rule will make most films and TV shows fail right away

who (2) aren’t somehow related or dating

Micky and Martha, Doctor Who’s token black companions navigate space, time, and tv seasons to find each other

TV shows and movies in particular thought they were wising up after they got called out for tokenism, and that’s when the couples and families started making an appearance. TWO characters of color!  But… of course, they were dating each other or the second characters was our token’s sibling or parent… Nothing wrong with POCs dating each other, but it’d be too easy if we let cheap ploys like that pass this test!

and (3) regularly speak more than a few lines

From the token Black woman who pops in for a quick “aw hell no!” to the token Latina who exists to occasionally suck her teeth and roll her eyes, we’re all familiar with the token who’s sole purpose is to be the resident POC with a line or two to legitimize their existence. Rule #3 will be the fail safe against having several tokens conveniently stationed in the background but for a few exhortations.

(4) about something that has nothing to do with race or racial stereotypes

And finally, some works of fiction can get past all of the previous steps, with a diverse cast of characters who aren’t related or dating and actually have a few lines and decent amount of screen time, but every single one of those lines will be laced with racial stereotypes or is only about race. The token Asian guy helps the main character with math homework and kung fu… The token latino is mowing lawns to pay for a house full of kids… The token Indian guy hacks your main character’s computer or yells something from a grocery store doorway… Rule #4 is there to stop that nonsensery.

According to this test Man of Steel  could pass with flying colors, depending on how one feels about the lines allotted to the POCs in the cast.

(1) At least two characters of color? General Swanwick and Perry White. CHECK

(2) who aren’t somehow related or dating? CHECK

(3) and regularly speak more than a few lines? Tough call. Perry White is an iconic character in the Superman universe and received a decent amount of screen time, slightly more than General Swanwick. Both characters certainly spoke more than the usual token, if you ask me so I’ll give it the nod, but it could certainly be debtated.

(4) about something that has nothing to do with race or racial stereotypes? CHECK

What do you think? Letting ’em off too easy?

Let’s see if the test works for works of fiction we know shouldn’t pass the test.

Some will be obvious, like The Avengers movie:

At least two characters of color? Noope.

FAILS.

Or Game of Thrones:

At least two characters of color? Yep. Currently, Grey Worm and Missandei, and I suppose the very rare appearance of Salladhor Saan. Oh right and the horde of brown slaves that the Khaleesi has freed who’ve only spoken the word “mother” in one of the most racially charged scenes of the series.

who aren’t somehow related or dating? Yep.

and regularly speak more than a few lines?  Nooope.  I mean, if the Unsullied are mostly POCs under those helmets, 99.9% of them literally never speak. And sorry, a thousand brown people chanting “mother” to their white savior doesn’t count.

FAILS.

Shows or movies with big casts might present a bit of a problem too, like  The Walking Dead which clearly has it’s issues (particularly surrounding T-Dog), and definitely wouldn’t have passed the test in Seasons 1 or 2, but in its current state, actually does manages to pass:

At least two characters of color? Yep. Currently, Michonne, Glenn, Tyrese and his daughter, and maybe Morgan will come back…

who aren’t somehow related or dating? Yep. So far (minus Tyrese and his daughter)!

and regularly speak more than a few lines? Yep. Given Glenn’s leading role, the promise of a more involved Tyrese, and ever since Michonne started talking, it qualifies. Pre-Michonne, T-Dog’s lack of dialogue (ahem, and character development) would’ve disqualified it.

about something that has nothing to do with race or racial stereotypes? Yeps. Mostly.

PASS (and crossing fingers they don’t muck it up next season, the comic sure pushed the line)

And what about Defiance? :

At least two characters of color? Yep. Rafe McCawley and fam and Tommy Lasalle

who aren’t somehow related or dating? Well Tommy isn’t related to the McCawleys, so… yea… just barely

and regularly speak more than a few lines?  Not really. The McCawleys namely Christie, Quentin, and Rafe have been getting a lot of screentime, but most of the speaking is coming from Rafe (Graham Greene). Tommy, however, is more or less a plot tool at this point. Hell, he doesn’t even make the fuller cast promotional posters.

So Nope. FAILS.

But don’t worry there are some geeky works of fiction that would pass the test!  Like, the new Mighty Avengers comic out in September! And possibly the forthcoming Sleepy Hollow TV show. And this season’s True Blood  actually passes the test:

At least two characters of color? Yep. Tara Thorton, Lafayette Reynolds, and Luna Garza played by Indian & Dutch American actress Janina Gavankar. Plus Jurnee Smollett-Bell joins the cast this season as a series regular Nicole

Who aren’t somehow related or datingYep. Tara and Lafayette are cousins, but Luna isn’t related or dating either of them. And here’s hoping Luna sticks around cause without her the show doesn’t pass this rule.

And regularly speak more than a few lines? Tara and Lafayette have been major show stealers since season 1, and Luna was a major character in seasons 4 and 5, though we’ll see for season 6.

About something other than race or racial stereotypes? Okay, so sometimes the “aw hell nahs!” from Tara and Lafayette are a bit too frequent, but they themselves are actually important to the plot and have their own storylines.

PASS!

Clearly, what I’ve come up with isn’t perfect, but, for a general test, it actually kinda works!

But I’m just getting the discussion started. What do you think? Too strict? Too easy? Rules you would add/change/get rid of?

The State of Black Heroes in Science Fiction 2013

Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography by Andrew Helfer & Randy DuBurke

Black leadership in the U.S. has sometimes seemed to be a notion stranger than fiction. That Black leaders like Frederick Douglass and W.E.B DuBois could arise in the midst of intense subjugation is truly incredible. And the legacy has continued on through the civil rights movement and today. In fact, today is the birthday of Malcolm X, one of the most influential Black leaders in history. Yet though there are many real-world examples of Black leaders to choose from, science fiction, one of the most imaginative and visionary genres of art continues to struggle to imagine Black characters into lead roles.  On Malcolm X’s birthday and in this golden moment of immense geekery with a huge line-up of sci-fi and superhero movies and tv shows, what better time to take a look at the state of Black leadership in science fiction?

Of the more than 25 major superhero and sci-fi movies coming out this year, only one, After Earthstarring Will and Jaden Smith, features a Black character in a leading role. A handful of others, including Star Trek:Into Darkness, Iron Man 3, and the forthcoming Ender’s Game, feature major Black characters in their casts.

Black characters in science fiction and comics tend to be relegated to side-kicks or token roles (that is, if they’re not immediately killed off first… (*spoilers ahead) RIP random Black guy in last week’s episode of DefianceBlack guy in the first 10 minutes of Star Trek: Into Darkness, Luke Cage and Black Panther in Age of Ultron). It remains a rarity to see a Black character in a leading role in science fiction or superhero stories.

There are, of course, exceptions spread out over the decades: Abar, The First Black Superman (1977), Steel (1997), Spawn (1997), Blade (1998-2004), and Hancock (2008) are all examples of films with a leading Black hero. Granted, several of them were pretty bad…

In comics Batwing and Miles Morales in Ultimate Comics Spider-man are pretty lonely as two of very few Black characters leading their own major comics. Black Panther and Nick Fury however are at least in leadership roles in the Avengers story lines.

Batwing #10

The small screen today, however, has a lot more to offer. In sci-fi television right now Revolution’s Captain Tom Neville is one of the only Black sci-fi characters in a leadership role. The show also features the mysterious Grace Beaumont in a recurring role. And Merlin was so bold as to cast Black actress Angel Coulby as leading lady Gwynevere  (to much of the usual internet rage and backlash).

Defiance’s Tommy LasalleFalling Skies’s Anthony, Teen Wolf’s Boyd, and The Walking Dead’s Michonne are regularly recurring Black characters in science fiction tv; however, each of them plays a sort of “hired hand” or “body gaurd” role. Game of Thrones recently introduced Grey Wormthe elected commander of the emancipated Unsullied army, who has had few lines and little screen time thus far, and he is quite literally a hired hand. Missandeia translator for Danaerys, was also recently introduced. Though far from being a leader, she does get a bit of screen time. The now deceased Xaro Xhoan Daxos, a leader of Qarth was the only other Black character to be given substantial screen time in the show.

Angel Coulby as Gwen
Angel Coulby as Gwen

Characters like True Blood’s Tara ThorntonVampire Diaries‘s Bonnie Bennett, and  Grimm’s Hank Griffin are all cast in the role of best friend to the main protagonists. Hank Griffin more specifically is the protagonist Nick Burkhardt’s partner in the Portland police force

And there are some exciting new shows with Black leads to look forward to…

Sleepy Hollow, premiering this fall on Fox, is truly unique among sci-fi shows, casting Black actress Nicole Beharie in the leading role of Abbie Archer, a police officer and lead investigator on the supernatural case rocking her town. The show also features Black actor Orlando Jones as Lieutenant Frank Williams. The trailer seems to indicate that Jones and Beharie’s characters are the main characters along with Ichabod Crane himself.

While the idea of a modernized time-travelling headless horseman is a tad ridiculous, it’s such a rare sight to see a Black woman leading a sci-fi series that we’re crossing our fingers pretty hard that it will be good.  . J.J. Abrams’ Almost Humanhowever, looks pretty dope. And the leading character’s robot partner, Dorian is played by Black actor Michael Ealy.

And ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D trailer shows an unnamed Black superhero.  It’s been confirmed that he is not Luke Cage

Science fiction is often a genre that looks ahead, that beats society to the punch, projecting fantastical futures, predicting technologies that will define our future, or showing us the possible outcomes of our current destructive behaviors. While there have been small victories in the inclusion of recurring characters of color in many tv shows, comics, and novels, it is hardly beyond the imagination of such a visionary genre as science fiction to create worlds where characters of color (because this conversation obviously extends beyond Black and white) are the main protagonists of a story, or perhaps *gasp* multiple characters of color are the leads!  Of course, we have sci-fi writers who are placing characters of color at the center of their stories, like Samuel Delany, Nnedi Okorafor and Nalo Hopkinson and more. But unfortunately such stories are often considered “for Black people” rather than for general enjoyment, and so they remain outside the mainstream, never making it to movie adaptations or major network TV series… or even simply into the hands of a wide and diverse readership.

But how do we go about fixing that?  Is this gradual route – slowly introducing more and more characters of color in increasingly leading roles – the right way to go? Is it working? What else might work?

*This is hardly an exhaustive account of all of the Black characters in comics and sci-fi, though we did attempt to capture the major players. Please feel free to add more in the comments! We look at a few current comics with major characters of color here.