Science fiction has become a cornerstone in the film industry, offering narratives that explore science, technology, human nature, and social structures against futuristic or fantastical backdrops. This genre, promising viewers an expansive journey “where no man has gone before,” has played a pivotal role in shaping cinematic experiences.
Despite its roots dating back to the early 1900s, early science fiction films lacked diversity, with protagonists rarely featuring leads of color. According to Collider, it wasn’t until 1984 that filmmaker John Sayles challenged this trend by casting Joe Morton as the lead in “The Brother from Another Planet.” This revelation highlights a significant historical gap in representation within the science fiction genre.
As time progressed, there has been a noticeable shift in preferences, sensitivities, and perspectives, resulting in a more inclusive representation of diverse actors across various genres in both film and television. In acknowledgment of this positive transformation, here is a curated list of some exceptional actors and actresses who have excelled as leads in science fiction, contributing to the genre’s inclusivity and enriching its storytelling landscape.
While it took about eight decades for Black artists to gain prominent roles in the sci-fi genre, their talent has undeniably shone brilliantly within this space. This curated list, though not exhaustive, highlights 9 notable Black actors who have made a significant impact in science fiction movies. As the industry continues to evolve, there is no doubt that countless more talented individuals will permeate this space, contributing to a more diverse and inclusive cinematic landscape.
Since his role in the 2011 film “Attack the Block,” John Boyega has firmly established himself in the entertainment industry. In his portrayal of Moses, a member of a London-based group confronting an alien invasion, Boyega showcased his versatility in one of his initial ventures into science fiction. Over the ensuing years, he has diversified his acting portfolio, featuring prominently in sci-fi blockbusters such as “Star Wars” and “Pacific Rim.” In 2023, Boyega assumed the lead role in the urban sci-fi comedy mystery “They Cloned Tyrone.” The must-see film further solidified his enduring affinity for the science fiction genre.
Billy Dee Williams
A distinguished figure in the realm of science fiction is the debonair Billy Dee Williams. Williams initially refined his acting skills on Broadway, making his debut in the 1945 production of “The Firebrand of Florence.” In 1959, he transitioned to the silver screen with “The Last Angry Man.” However while Williams consistently excelled in his diverse roles, it was in 1980 that he etched his legacy in science fiction. And that’s with his legendary portrayal of Lando Calrissian in Star Wars. Despite amassing numerous credits in the industry, Lando remained one of Williams’ most iconic and memorable characters.
Zoe Saldana has risen to prominence as a highly popular actress in Hollywood, boasting a diverse and successful film career. In 2009, Saldana achieved a significant milestone in her career by landing a prominent role in the science fiction film “Star Trek.” In this iconic film, she portrayed Uhura, a character previously made famous by Nichelle Nichols. Despite later starring in numerous films, including memorable roles such as Neytiri in “Avatar” and Gamora in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Star Trek” holds a special place in her filmography. It provided her with a unique opportunity to breathe life into a legacy character. As well as marked a massive moment in her career and contributed to her status as an iconic figure in the science fiction genre.
Laurence Fishburne is a highly esteemed figure in Hollywood, with a lifelong commitment to acting. His journey into the world of performance started at the age of ten with a public showcase “In My Many Names and Days.” By 1973, Fishburne had already made his way to the small screen with a role in the beloved soap opera “One Life to Live.” His early exposure revealed his natural talent. Over the years, he has finely tuned his craft. While Fishburne has graced the screen in numerous dramatic roles, his venture into science fiction began with the iconic 1997 feature “Event Horizon.” But it was in 1999 that he became a sci-fi icon with his portrayal of Morpheus in the groundbreaking film “The Matrix”.
Will Smith has rightfully earned his place as one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, boasting an impressive career and a slew of notable titles. According to Essence, Smith’s films have grossed an astounding $5.2 billion, with seven of them claiming the top spot upon release and earning him two Oscar nominations. Notably, a substantial portion of his filmography delves into the realm of science fiction.
Smith’s initiation into full-feature science fiction came with the 1996 blockbuster “Independence Day,” where he played a pivotal role in saving the world from an alien invasion. This success was followed by his return to world-saving duties in 1997’s “Men In Black,” starring alongside Tommy Lee Jones as Agent J. The actor continued to leave his mark in the sci-fi genre with the lead role in 2004’s “I, Robot,” portraying Del Spooner in a narrative involving robots organizing an uprising as they gain sentience.
Smith’s venture into science fiction continued with other well-known features, including “I Am Legend,” “Bright,” “Gemini Man,” and “After Earth,” where he played a supporting role to his son.
The incomparable Annie Mae Bullock, widely known as Tina Turner, captivated the music industry with her exceptional talent and boundless energy. Her success went beyond mere musical prowess; it was the depth of her soul that set her apart. In 1985, Turner showcased yet another facet of her multifaceted talent.
In that year, the mesmeric rock star took on the role of Aunt Entity in the 1985 science fiction adventure “Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome.” This marked a departure from her musical persona as she ventured into the realm of acting. As Aunt Entity, a formidable force in an iconic sci-fi feature, Turner left an indelible mark in Hollywood, proving her versatility and commanding presence extended beyond the world of music.
Idris Elba, a talented actor hailing from England, embarked on his career early by securing roles in a soap opera and various features on the small screen in London. Transitioning to Hollywood, one of his initial standout roles was in the 2002 award-winning series “The Wire,” where he portrayed the no-nonsense character, Stringer Bell. This marked a significant shift in Elba’s journey, offering a glimpse of the compelling performances he would continue to deliver in Hollywood.
In 2012, Elba took a significant step into the world of science fiction with a role in “Prometheus.” While science fiction may not dominate his filmography, the notable contributions he has made to the genre are certainly worth mentioning. Elba has played primary roles in major science fiction films such as “Pacific Rim” and “Star Trek: Beyond,” showcasing his versatility and impact
Jada Pinkett Smith
Jada Pinkett is a talented actress who, despite the current media focus on her personal life, has undeniably left a lasting impact on the world of film. With 54 acting credits to her name, her portfolio may not be as extensive as some, but it is marked by versatility across various genres.
Pinkett is particularly recognized for her portrayal of Niobe, a role that, despite potentially seeming insignificant to some, holds substantial importance in the broader context. As noted by Gamerant, Niobe appears in the second, third, and fourth movies of the Matrix series, with Jada Pinkett Smith consistently portraying the character. Niobe’s recurring presence extends beyond the cinematic realm, as she also features in video games, playing a pivotal role in the history of Zion and contributing to the lore of The Matrix.
Zoë Kravitz, whose artistic talent runs in her blood, is the granddaughter of the late Roxie Roker, a starring actress in “The Jeffersons.” Her parents, the renowned musician Lenny Kravitz and the equally talented actress Lisa Bonet have further enriched her artistic heritage. However, Kravitz has not relied solely on her ancestry; she has consistently seized opportunities to showcase her mettle.
Kravitz’s acting journey began in the 2007 film “No Reservations,” and since then, she has accumulated an impressive 43 acting credits, as per IMDB. Among these credits, she has made notable contributions to the science fiction genre. In 2011, she took on the role of Angel Salvadore in “X-Men: First Class.” Two years later, she joined the cast of “After Earth,” sharing the screen with Will and Jaden Smith. Her foray into science fiction continued with a role in the acclaimed “Mad Max: Fury Road” in 2015. In 2018, Kravitz added another sci-fi credit to her name by portraying Milly in the science-fiction action-drama “Kin.” Through these diverse roles, Zoë Kravitz has proven herself as a versatile and accomplished actress in science fiction.
John David Washington
John David Washington, a relatively newer name to many, comes from an esteemed acting pedigree and has been carving his path in the industry. His early introduction to the world of cinema was as a student in the 1992 film “Malcolm X,” which also starred his father, the legendary Denzel Washington. Since then, John David Washington has been gradually making his mark. One of the films where he has chosen to leave a significant impact is the 2023 science fiction film “The Creator,” in which he takes on the titular role of Joshua. The importance of his role in “The Creator” goes beyond his performance; it symbolizes the progress we have made and continues to make in the film industry. Washington’s involvement in a science fiction film adds to the evolving landscape of representation in cinema, reflecting the industry’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity. His contributions contribute to a broader narrative of change and growth in the world of film.
Lupita Nyong’o made a stunning acting debut that left a lasting impression on audiences with her role in “Twelve Years a Slave,” earning her an Academy Award and solidifying her as one to watch in the industry. With 29 credits to her name, Nyong’o continues to showcase her exceptional talent. Among her notable filmography is a significant contribution to the science fiction genre. In 2015, Nyong’o took on the role of Maz Kanata in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens a pivotal role. It was Nyong’o’s performance that added depth to the already-established character.