Email: Dinner Party Download

 

 

Last night as I was driving home I was listening to NPR. They have a show that airs on Friday evenings called "Dinner Party Download".  I tend to only listen when I am in the car, but I like the show and the content is usually pretty good.  The topic of this particular episode was the Oscars and toward the end of the show they had a couple of guests on and they discussed the issue of diversity in Hollywood which has been plaguing the Oscars for years.  The host then turned the topic to Science Fiction and mentioned he had done a google search.  The result was "not good".  And while I tend to agree, I wasn't sure if he was referring specifically to Science Fiction films or Science Fiction in general.  The representation of People of Color in Science Fiction is not ideal, it is the only genre that has consistently produced such representations.  This goes back to an essay I wrote a while ago about how the genre has been coopted by activists looking to insert their cause into Science Fiction.  In any case, I took it upon myself to offer a bit of alternate wisdom to the producers of the show:

 

science fiction rocket"Thank you all for the great show tonight.  However, I do take issue with one point of interest.  I believe that inclusion is an important topic and I found your guests that discussed the oscars to be funny and knowledgeable.  The host, however, made a comment about how he did a google search on science fiction and came up with very little.  As a science fiction writer of color I take issue with this.  Either the host did not look very far, or he did not bother to consult the experts.  I would be more than happy to give him a pass on this comment if he were referring specifically to film.  But just in case he wasn't I would like to offer this brief primer on People of Color in Science Fiction.

Could there be more?  Sure.  There can always be more.  Is there plenty? No, not by a long shot.  But there is more than the brief and dismissive mention of it.  Samuel Delany, the first African American and Gay man to win a Hugo, did so in 1967.  He was also the youngest to win that award at the time.  The following year he would win two more Hugos and two Nebulas, making him the first to achieve such a thing and at the same time became the most prolific award winner in the genre.
The first dystopian novel was written in the late 19th century by an African American man entitled "Imperio, Imperium".

Octavia Butler, one of the most copied authors in recent memory was a Hugo winner and gave rise to an entire generation of Science Fiction writers such as Nalo Hopkinson, Tannarive Due, and N.K. Jemison.  All Hugo winners.  All Black women.  Let me not forget Sofia Samatar, winner two years ago of a Hugo and of African descent.

 

One of my personal heroes, Stephen Barnes, inspired me to take up scifi as a young teen.  His stories even addressed issues that dealt with and crossed gender and sexual identity issues in the 80s before it was acceptable or common to write such things.
Ken Liu and Henry Lien both authors of Asian descent.  Ken is a Hugo award winner, and Henry is currently a finalist for a Nebula.  Harris Durrani, appeared in the Campbellian Anthology because he was a finalist for the Campbell Award.

If that is too obscure for you here are a couple more mainstream references:

Avery Brooks.  Oberlin College graduate in Dramatic Arts had the starring role in "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" which ran for 7 seasons.  That series also starred Michael Dorn starting in Season 3.  "Star Trek: Voyager" had a female captain, a Latino first officer (Robert Beltran),  an African American science officer (Tim Russ), and a Korean Ops Officer (played by an actor of Chinese Descent Garret Wang).  That show lasted for 7 seasons.  And diversity is nothing new for Star Trek.  Though they have certainly blazed a trail when it come to their commitment to it.

In the world of comics:  Black Panther, who is black and comes from the fictional African nation of Wakanda which is known for its superior technology.  A new version is going to be released next year written by Tanehisi Coates, the National Book Award, and Mcarthur Prize winner.  Ms. Marvel, recently a Pakistani American teen.  Previous iterations such as Captain Marvel was a black women.  Power Man, partner of Iron Fist.  That comic has been around since the mid 70s and that character is black.  Miles Morales, the latest incarnation of Spider Man is Latino.  Jim Rhodes, a black character played the role of Iron Man for some time during that series when Tony Stark became ill.

Fantasy, (someone referred to no black elves) admittedly has poor representation in film, however in books black folks have been appearing in works since the 30s.  Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian, wrote often about "Stygians" who were black.  Though he was a deeply racist person, and it even showed occasionally in his works, there were times when he portrayed blacks as competent villains.  Which is more than I can say for most other fantasy.

The list goes on forever.  And this is just the stuff I could come up with off the top of my head.  Someone mentioned doing a search of science fiction and I have to say (without trying to sound to insulting), that person did not look hard enough.  There can always be more and better representation of various people of color.  But one might also put forth the idea that a lack of knowledge of the works that have been done, and have portrayed people from varying ethnic, economic. and gender/sexual identities is doing as much a disservice to PoC and LGBT communities as the actual lack of material representing those groups.

Thank you in advance for your time.  Please continue the amazing job you all are doing."
John
About the author
J. Austin Yoshino
Author: J. Austin Yoshino
Editor-In-Chief
That's what I do; I read and I know things.
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