Pop Culture

45* Women of Color in Science-Fiction/Fantasy Movies

This isn’t a definitive list of women of color in film. This isn’t a “best of” list, or a list of the most complicated or progressive characters in science-fiction or fantasy. This is simply a list of women of color in science-fiction and fantasy films. I tried to make it as full as possible, but ultimately had to decide on some parameters. These are women who are either secondary leads (because there are almost no women of color leads) or supporting characters. To better see how small the visual representation is, we have to be willing to look at all of the characters, in spite of their flaws, or limited screentime, or problematic nature. It helps paint a more accurate picture of the women we do see, and helps us understand why characters like the girls of Attack the Block never seem to break out into fan favorites, or why perceptions of Mako Mori becomes such a hot button topic in the weeks after the release of Pacific Rim.

Looking my previous post on the topic, after asking for suggestions, the answers didn’t really surprise me. Doctor Who’s Martha Jones, and Star Trek’s Uhura were repeat suggestions, but again, they were primarily TV-based suggestions. (I should clarify that even the Uhura suggestion pointed more at the TV-iteration of the character over the current Hollywood portrayal). In searching for a more complete list, what I found, unsurprisingly, is that most of the women of color on film are mostly background players, filling highly stereotyped and exoticized roles. I reached out to sci-fi and fantasy fans on tumblr, and pored through cast lists of the “100 Best Science Fiction Movies,” “Top 100 Science-Fiction & Fantasy Movies,” and “50 Greatest Fantasy Films.” Again, many people were stumped by the question, or reluctant to pick favorites, as women of color served to fulfill stereotypical roles, i.e. meek Asian woman or Magical Negro mystic, that furthered the white, male heterosexual narrative.

Fans often have to isolate the parts of the narrative they find compelling within these problematic portrayals, or be willing to look past the negative aspects of the narrow characterization to find something to relate to. Even in worlds where crime can be predicted before it happens, and lightning can be bottled and sold, women of color still cannot be protagonists, or have complicated and compelling backstories. It’s frustrating when I look at the casts of some of my favorite films and wonder what about the role seems to require a white actress (or actor). As much as I love Stardust, I’m not quite sure why Yvaine had to be played by Claire Danes, or why there weren’t any people of color in the fantastical candy-colored world of Edward Scissorhands, besides Officer Allen. We are slowly moving towards more visibility for women of color, as crowd-sourced films and more venues for the fan conversation call for better characters and more visibility. Just look at the conversation around this summer’s Pacific Rim, led to the creation of an alternative Bechdel test, the Mako Mori test.

Mako Mori in Pacific Rim
Mako Mori being great.

Without further ado, here are 45* women of color in science-fiction and fantasy films. Again, this role isn’t exhaustive or anywhere near complete, but serve to illustrate the types of roles that women of color get in these genre films. All of these women and characters should have greater visibility as we continue this conversation about women of color in Hollywood. (*Two women on the list, Mary Alice and Gloria Foster, share a character, so they have been grouped together, only because I think 45 sounds better than 46.) It should also be noted that superhero/comic-book movies have also been grouped in with the overall sci-fi and fantasy category, if anyone wants to get nitpicky about it.

  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Aaliyah as Queen Akasha in Queen of the Damned
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Alfre Woodard as Lily Sloane in Star Trek: First Contact
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Alice Braga (who I’ve mentioned before) with multiple roles in Elysium, Predators, Blindness and I Am Legend
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Amandla Stenberg as Rue in The Hunger Games
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Angela Bassett as Det. Rita Veder in Vampire in Brooklyn and Mace in Strange Days
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Aubrey Plaza as Darius in Safety Not Guaranteed (character isn’t obviously a woman of color, but is played by a biracial actress)

Audrey Plaza in Safety Not Guaranteed

  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Charlotte Lewis as Kee Nang in The Golden Child
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Clare-Hope Ashitey as Kee in Children of Men

Clare Hope Ashitey in Children of Men

  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Danielle Vitalis as Tia in Attack the Block
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Doona Bae as multiple characters in Cloud Atlas and Park Nam-Joo in The Host
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Eva Mendez as Sand Saref in The Spirit and Roxanne Simpson in Ghost Rider
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Frieda Pinto as Carolina Aranha in Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Gina Antwi as Dionne in Attack the Block
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Gina Torres as Zoe Washburne in Serenity and Cas in the Matrix movies
  • Gina Torres in Serenity
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Gloria Foster and Mary Alice share the role of The Oracle in the Matrix movies
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Grace Jones as Zula in Conan the Destroyer

Grace Jones as Zula

  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Halle Berry as Storm in the X-Men films, Catwoman in Catwoman, and multiple characters in Cloud Atlas
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]J.L. Reate as The Golden Child in The Golden Child
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe in the Matrix movies
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Jennifer Lopez as Catharine Deane in The Cell
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Katie Leung as Cho Chang in the Harry Potter Movies
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Maya Rudolph as Rita in Idiocracy

Maya Rudolph in Idiocracy

  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Michelle Rodriguez as Captain Trudy Chacon in Avatar and Rain Ocampo in Resident Evil
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Michelle Yeoh as Corazon In Sunshine

Michelle Yeoh in Sunshine

  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Momoko Kôchi as Emiko Yamane in Godzilla
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Naomie Harris as Selena in 28 Days Later

Naomie Harris in 28 Days Later

  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Nona Gaye as Zee in the Matrix movies
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Paige Meade as Dimples in Attack the Block
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Pam Greer as Hershe Las Palmas in Escape from L.A.
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Paula Kelly as Karen Anson in The Andromeda Strain and as Martha in Soylent Green
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Rachel Ticotin as Melina in Total Recall
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Rachel True as Rochelle in The Craft

Rachel True in The Craft

  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori in Pacific Rim
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Rita Fukushima as Yukio in The Wolverine
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Rosario Dawson as Laura Vasquez in Men in Black II, Gail in Sin City and Persephone in Percy Jackson & the Olympians

Rosario Dawson

  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Samantha Mumba (remember her?) as Mara in The Time Machine
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Shohreh Aghdashloo as Dr. Rao in the X-Men films
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Sophie Okonedo as Faia Raige in After Earth
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Tao Okamoto as Mariko in The Wolverine
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Thandie Newton as Dame Vaako in Chronicles of Riddick and Yvette in Interview With the Vampire
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Tina Turner as Auntie Entity in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Tina Turner in Mad Max

  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Vanessa Lee Chester as Kelly Curtis in The Lost World: Jurassic Park
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Zoë Kravitz as Angel Salvadore in the X-Men: First Class and Senshi Raige in After Earth
  • [icon name=”icon-circle”]Zoe Saldana as Neytiri in Avatar, Uhura in Star Trek/Star Trek Into Darkness, and Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy

Zoe Saldana

By Karishma

Karishma is a twenty-something living in New York City and is trying her hardest to live out every cliche about Millennials. This involves eating her feelings, drowning in debt and mocking infomercials. She likes sociology so much that she has two degrees in it, and is still warding off her parents' questions about a real career.

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