By: Bradley Jamison
And guess what?! A good amount of them exist.
The amount of science-fiction shows is increasing, which means there are more opportunities for actors and actresses in these futuristic worlds, especially actors and actresses of color. Now we could just pretend that mostly white people exist in the future, or we could acknowledge that maybe some women of color will have made headways by then. Some shows came out of the gate giving them starring roles, while some shows received accolades for being slightly less antiquated — either way we can’t help but appreciate the effort and expansion. So here are our picks for the best shows in science fiction with women of color in feature roles this year:
1. Dark Matter
Dark Matter seems like the epitome of light sci-fi on its surface. It’s on a spaceship, there is some mystery, and it is fun. But what really makes it great are those added moments that cut deep. It starts off with a group of six strangers and an android that wakes up on a spaceship, ‘The Raza’, only to find their memories erased. They soon come to find out they are the galaxies’ most wanted criminals. Without revealing any spoilers, at the end of season one there was a great betrayal that changed the dynamics of the group. The end of season two resulted in yet another betrayal that had serious consequences. This past season, the group was left trying to save everyone as they were the keepers of the most dangerous device in existence.
Undoubtedly, the leader of the group is Two (Melissa O’Neill). She is incredibly smart, has mad skills that can take down basically anyone, and has a heart of gold, which combined, makes her the perfect leader. Her past is more than what it seems, making for one of the most intriguing storylines that progresses throughout the show.
One of the main antagonists in recent seasons is Misaki Han-Shireikan (Ellen Wong), the commander of Ryo Ishida’s imperial guard. Misaki is a skilled swordsman and master manipulator. Her interactions with ‘The Raza’ crew pits them against each other. One of the biggest points in her story arc is when she goes head to head with Two.
Another badass to note this season was Solara Shockley. She briefly joins the crew of ‘The Raza’ as the bodyguard to Adrian Maro, the temporary guy in charge of a criminal operation. She is the strong, silent type and while she thinks her boss is a buffoon, she has a great admiration for ‘The Raza’ crew.
2. The Expanse
The Expanse is a show that takes place across our solar system in the semi-distant future. It involves a lot of moving parts, but in the end everything is connected. First, there is the ‘Rocinante’, manned by four previous ship members of an ice hauler, who seem to find themselves at the center of everything. Then there is the U.N. on Earth that delegates what to do when problems arise amongst Earth, Mars, the moons and asteroids. Which of course means that Mars and the others, in an area known as The Belt, are occupied by human residents. Earth is now overcrowded with hardly any work, Mars is known for its strong military but stalled terraforming project. The Belt is known for mining, though the humans are deformed due to the low gravity and their quality of life is poor. There is an underlying distrust amongst these groups due to seemingly terrorist factions in The Belt and corporations that have a hold across the system with backings from Earth and Mars.
Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) is the head engineer of the ‘Rocinante’. She is incredibly skilled in advanced devices, seeming to have a knack for anything technology related. It is a bit suspicious that she was on a mere ice hauler, but she keeps her past very secretive. Although she is not the captain of the ship, she stood as his partner for his shoulder to lean on and ear to listen to. But she is also the smartest person in the room, often offering encouragement and suggestions.
Arguably the most charismatic and intriguing characters on the show seems to be Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo). She is the only female member of the U.N. (I know, even in the future!) but she demands attention with her inquisitiveness and no-nonsense attitude. As a well versed politician she takes nothing at face value, which makes her superior to her colleagues when it comes to dealing with the unexpected.
Sergeant Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) is a member of the Martian Marine Corps. She is well known amongst her comrades for being strong and adept at strategy. She is one of the first characters to give us a look at Mars. Their strong military is already established and Martians are fiercely loyal, hardworking, and have a great desire to finish their long-awaited terraforming project. At some point she is given the option to lie for the Martians or try to find answers to a larger mystery. This decision is difficult as she has great loyalty to Mars and her superiors but also is looking for answers that can’t be left untouched.
We are first introduced to Julie Mao (Florence Faivre) as a missing person. She was a rich kid who defied the wishes of her powerful parents and joined a crew on a spaceship. Her story is told through those worried and looking for her, but she does play a critical role in unravelling the mystery presented in season two.
Drummer (Cara Gee) is an important belter. She befriended Naomi Nagata on Tycho Station, the nicest space-station in The Belt, where she is second in command. She works with Fred Johnson who runs Tycho Station and is the head diplomat for The Belt. Drummer acts as his bodyguard, despite her small stature, and is the person he most trusts, making her opinions important but also at odds with other Belters.
Killjoys started off as a fun romp about a team of bounty hunters in space, led by the tough yet troubled Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen). It soon delved into issues of class and politics. Then mysteries about Dutch and her past begin to emerge. At first it seems like a civil war is underway, but ultimately that is just a cover for what is actually happening, which surpasses what anyone could imagine.
It has everything to do with Dutch and her apparent clone and antagonist Aneela, who seems as deranged as they come. However, Aneela does feel something strong about Dutch and develops an infatuation and relationship with Delle Seyah-Kendry (Mayko Nguyen), a former member of the nine families that controlled the solar system. While Dutch remained as the good-badass, Aneela certainly has the same strength and agility as her clone. However, what contrasts her from Dutch is that she also has an unmatched, conniving thought process which was only improved with the help of Delle, who would do absolutely anything for her.
4. Star Trek: Discovery
Star Trek: Discovery is the newest edition to the Star Trek television franchise. It takes place shortly before the original series. It follows, at first, the ‘USS Shenzhou’ and its encounter with ancient Klingons and then the ‘USS Discovery’ as a war breaks out between the Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets. It is different than previous iterations of Star Trek in that the series followed one storyline and is less “Planet of the Week”, kind of similar to the latter seasons of Deep Space Nine. While we know that eventually the Klingon Empire joins the UFP it offers an interesting backstory. It also focuses on the point of view of the first officer of the ship, a black woman, rather than the captain. And while that is all well and good, its redshirts are disappointing choices.
Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is the first officer of the ‘USS Shenzhou.’ While she is human, she was raised by Vulcans. She was taught to suppress her emotions and use logic, which leads to struggles with her humanity. She is amazingly smart and alert, likely with help from her upbringing. This leads her into trouble that eventually landes her on the ‘USS Discovery’ at a lower command.
Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) is captain of the ‘USS Shenzhou’ and is the most decorated captain thus far. Her ship is accidentally the first to encounter a cloaked Klingon ship and acts as a first line of defense. She runs a very open style of command, often wanting input from her top officers, though she is always willing to make the tough decisions.
Besides Burnham and Georgiou there are some secondary women of color including Commander Ellen Landry (Rekha Sharma) and Joann Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo). Landry is the chief security officer on the ‘USS Discovery.’ She has an intense curiosity that fuels her decisions in the Klingon war. Joann Owesekun is the bridge operations officer on the ‘USS Discovery’ and has thus far only had a few speaking roles, but we hope for more.
Humans takes place in the near future in which androids, called ‘synths’, have been created to take over most jobs (looks like the future couldn’t be nearer). While most synths aren’t autonomous, one scientist created a group of six that had all the emotion and free will as a human. Once we are made aware of their status we see how they try to survive in the human world. Some start to try and free other synths, an unpredictable path to go down.
The protagonist is Mia (Gemma Chan). She is introduced as a childcare synth. She does some odd things as a synth, which had to do with her autonomous ability. She then helps the other five independent synths in a leadership role. She is often the voice of reason in the group and while it proves difficult she never waivers.
6. People of Earth
People of Earth is about a support group called ‘StarCrossed’ made up of “experiencers”, or rather people who have been abducted by aliens, in the small town of Beacon. At first it seems these people might be just a tad bit absurd with their descriptions of alien races: the Reptilians who have taken over all aspects of human society, the Grey who look like an alien emoji and are a small, angry species, and the Whites, beautiful nordic-aliens with long white hair who have psychic abilities. However, it does seem that they have shared experiences, like all being told “You are special.”
Yvonne Watson (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) is a mail carrier and is perhaps one of the most skeptical members of the group. She thinks a lot of them seem silly but can’t deny her own experience. In fact, it spooked her so much she has booby trapped her house. She has also secluded herself, where her only real interactions are with the group, whom she does care about more than she lets on.
Special Agent Alex Foster of the F.B.I. (Nasim Pedrad) is sent to Beacon looking for Jonathan Walsh, who supposedly embezzled millions. His only supposed friend is Ozzie Graham, who only recently joined StarCrossed. Unfortunately for her, Ozzie hasn’t been able to get into contact with him after numerous attempts. Still, she remains with the StarCrossed group believing Walsh may get in contact with Ozzie, as she refuses to fail after she literally shot herself in the foot, making her the laughing stock of the F.B.I.
These shows gave us a glimpse of the future and the active involvement of women of color. While appreciate and show gratitude for these women and their characters that entertained us in 2017, there is still room for improvement. And so we will progress through the oncoming year as we do with viewing diversity in our media; with hope.
Editor: Ammaarah Mookadam
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.
From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.