Web Shows Trek Past Sci-Fi’s Color Line

By Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, cross-posted from Televisual

From Blacula to Sleep Dealer, filmmakers of color have always been interested in science fiction and fantasy. But these days in Hollywood, sci-fi/fantasy films demand big budgets, and it seems like only Will Smith and Denzel Washington are powerful enough to greenlight a genre film starring an actor of color. The rare project that pushes boundaries can often go unnoticed: stellar alien invasion flick Attack the Block won over critics but couldn’t find an audience here in the States (please see it!).

Of course, on the web, things are different. While most web series are comedies and soaps, a number of creators are bucking conventional wisdom and creating stories for the black, latino and Asian sci-fi fans.

Last month, Al Thompson’s Odessa won big at the New York Television Festival — a development deal with SyFy — and released a well-financed drama, Osiris. Odessa follows the story of a father and daughter with super powers running from the bad guys whose experiments created their abilities; Osiris follows a man who is immortal.

While those two series are among the more sophisticated series to hit the web, I’ve been noticing a string of shows over the past two years looking to break the sci-fi color line. As costs for simple special effects go down, independents can afford to simulate space ships, alien worlds and laser beams. And creators are using low-cost production to diversify the space in numerous ways, adding female leads and blending genres (horror, comedy, thriller, surrealism).

There’s an artistic tradition here. From Samuel Delany to Octavia Butler, sci-fi has long attracted society’s outsiders, who use the imaginative potential of fantasy to create utopian or dystopian worlds and interrogate contemporary culture and politics.

And the audiences are there, enough so that most high profile sci-fi TV shows and films take pains to include at least one character of color. Star Trek (TV and movies) is the classic example, and continues today with shows from Alphas and Falling Skies to Battlestar Galactica and now even Game of Thrones (look out for season two!).

Below I’ve listed what shows I could find in alphabetical order. Please let me know if I’m missing an important or great series out there!


Black Box TV: This anthology series features regular, standalone episodes — a la The Twilight Zone – some of which are led by actors of color. The successful series was created by Tony Valenzuela. For all episodes, click here.

Chick: In Chick, the protagonist Lisa leaves her loser boyfriend to pursue loftier dreams. She hears about a secret academy that trains superheroes, and the story progresses from there. While obviously a narrative of female empowerment, creator Kai Soremekun wanted to story to have multiple layers. The series — whose first season spanned an impressive 20 episodes — is prepping its second.

Chutes And Ladders: A brother and sister discover they can travel through time and embark on an adventure in search of their parents. Episodes are available on KoldCast.

Cursed: This series about an angel incarnate (and single mom) put on Earth to “prove her goodness” should be debuting soon.

A Demon’s Destiny: The Lone Warrior: Kennedy (Devin Rice) is a half-demon sent to Earth to save the world — from demons. The effects-heavy series is inspired by anime. For all 20 episodes, visit the show’s website here.

Episode 1: The Case For Tuesdays from Dominion Series on Vimeo.

Dominion: This noir detective series starts with a mystery of shady “shimmer men.” Episodes — and lots of minisodes — available here.

Infamous: Joey Barto and Greg Washington created this stylized noir-like series about John, who wakes up in the first episode without any idea who he is. He starts to realize he has powers, setting a dark mystery into motion. For all episodes, click here.

Lumina: Lumina is a Webby Award-winning and Streamy-nominated web series that debuted in the fall 2009 on KoldCast TVLumina is a fantasy series of sorts, exploring the story of a woman named Lumina whose life is disrupted when she finds a man in her mirror. Created by Jennifer Thym, the director’s next feature film, Bloodtraffick, stays in the genre with a story about a “sexy Asian female vigilante and a has-been American cop at the crux of a holy war between angels and vampires.”

Odessa: Odessa follows the story of a father and daughter migrating from small town to small town, escaping a “program” which performed experiments on them. Creator Al Thompson describes it as Enemy of the State meets The X-Files. The series will last for ten episodes, each about six minutes. Previously picked up by BET.com, it recently won big at NYTVF.

Osiris: Part detective series, part supernatural thriller, the eponymous lead in Osiris resurrects roughly thirty minutes after fatal attacks. The series will run for ten episodes starting this month. Episodes can be found here.

Rhyme Animal: This urban thriller about a DJ with a taste for cannibalism has strong horror and surrealistic elements. Rhyme Animal, created by Jorge Rivera, who frequently collaborates with star Al Thompson, was a finalist at numerous web series competitions and awards, including Indie Intertube, Clicker, ITVF, NATPE, and HBO/NYILFF. Episodes are available here.

Semi-Dead Episode 1: “If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…Eat ‘Em!” from Semi-Dead on Vimeo.

Semi-Dead: Before zombies became super trendy after The Walking Dead, Chris Wiltz created this horror-comedy, spending his own money filming this buddy comedy about two roommates in living in Los Angeles after it’s been overrun with zombies. Each guy has a very different reaction to the event: one, Joe, “goes into survival mode,” while the other Chris, goes about his life as if nothing has happened. Episodes are available here.

Sheroes: Charlie’s Angels meets blaxploitation (plus superpowers) as black women try to save the world. Episodes available here.

Status Kill: This sadly only three-part series — episodes here — combines comedic social networking with an assassin storyline.

Stream: Whoopi Goldberg, of Star Trek fame, has always been a fan and supporter of sci-fi — not to mention quirky TV projects. Stream – distributed here on FearNet – focuses on Jodi (Goldberg) who is struggling to uncover the mystery behind the hallucinations she’s had her whole life.

Vexika: Easily among the most insane fantasy web series online, Vexika went mildly viral and became a bit of cult phenomenon from its unhinged storytelling, campy graphics and mainstream media exposure on G4. Episodes are available here.

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/weiwentg Weiwen Ng

    BSG – great show, and Eddie Olmos is a great lead actor (and he’s Latino), but in other respects, their portrayal of people of color isn’t ideal. Aside from Olmos, all the main characters are portrayed by White actors. Many of the redshirts (the expendable minor characters who get killed off) are people of color.

  • Minakhan

    Misfits is a brilliant UK show, with POC in the cast (main characters) and excellent storylines, it is on Hulu, and, alas, unfortunately, there will be an American remake by Josh Schwartz of OC/Gossip Girl fame, let’s hope he does not whitewash it!  And why can’t British shows be aired in America, I mean, American shows are hug in the UK!

    • liveloveteach

      I absolutely LOVE misfits. It is such a good show. I can’t wait for this next season to come on. They also have a lot of interracial relationships on the show. 

  • Anonymous

    Thanks so much for this list! I’ve been looking for good webseries to get into, and this is perfect. 

    Funny story (and when I say funny, I mean that it actually pisses me off): I initially skimmed the beginning article and so I searched for “Odessa” on Netflix and this is the summary of the movie “Odessa”(2004) that turned up:

    “In 1969, Odessa, a wise, fortyish black woman, moves into the Spinelli household in upstate New York to care for their 10-year-old daughter, Lisa. The two learn about forgiveness, desegregation and family values during a particularly turbulent time in American history. Lisa mirrors Odessa’s strength and wisdom; Odessa, in turn, is inspired to stand up for her son Leonard, who’s serving a 10-year jail sentence for a crime he didn’t commit.” 
    (bold definitely mine – though I kind of wish I could just bold the whole thing, I mean, did I use too much bold? I kind of feel like it’s not bold enough.)

    Wow. I don’t even know where to start with this movie summary. We have in the summary itself the “wise” (twice!) black woman servant Mammy character. The young, sweet white girl (also, I love how they don’t bother to write Lisa’s race, because obviously she’s white like all “raceless” people are who don’t need their race specified because it’s the default) or maybe she’s initially spoiled until she’s shown the way by her loyal, wise caretaker. 

    But even at only 10, Lisa is successfully starting on her career to be a white woman savior of black people, inspiring them to do right by their family. I’m guessing that’s the “learn family values” part, because duh, black people don’t know about family values! And of course, of course Odessa’s son is serving a jail sentence. I’m not even going to go into the 1969 “turbulent” backdrop. And I bet it is just a backdrop for this oh-so-sweet story about people of two races learning from each other. Made in 2004! But why is that even still surprising to me. 

    I seriously just cannot believe the irony of me finding this summary after coming off of Racialicious and looking for a series with PoC in great lead parts. Holy crap. Oh, and the picture on the movie cover is great, too. This black woman with her arms around the little, white girl, their faces leaning into each other. Gag. 

    Thank God I have this awesome sci-fi, PoC-rich list to turn to after reading this bullsh*t summary. 

    PS. Sorry about the font (and the somewhat unrelated rant), it got a little weird after I cut and copied the summary. 

  • Hunter

    Thank you for this.  I’m going to share these links with everyone I know.

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  • Anonymous

    I love that you posted this! I also kind of hate you, because just when I was kicking my Hulu habit, I now have a list of webseries to start watching. I love seeing how webseries are really becoming viable, dynamic, and interesting. But I also wish there was a way to move them to network status (in terms of budget, episode length, film quality, etc) without imbibing them with all the capitalism that comes with that.

  • maurine

    While Game of Thrones does have People of Color taking fairly major roles, I could barely watch it; those who belong to the one group that isn’t white are portrayed in a way that is somewhere between Orientalizing and dehumanizing.  Even in later episodes where they become somewhat more familiar, they still are the only group that doesn’t speak English, they have traditions that seem foolish, they glorify violence (including sexual violence.) All the white groups, on the other hand, seem to have a similar degree of “civilization.” Maybe the series goes on to problematize this portrayal, but it’s been pretty frustrating with what I’ve watched so far.  

  • maurine

    While Game of Thrones does have People of Color taking fairly major roles, I could barely watch it; those who belong to the one group that isn’t white are portrayed in a way that is somewhere between Orientalizing and dehumanizing.  Even in later episodes where they become somewhat more familiar, they still are the only group that doesn’t speak English, they have traditions that seem foolish, they glorify violence (including sexual violence.) All the white groups, on the other hand, seem to have a similar degree of “civilization.” Maybe the series goes on to problematize this portrayal, but it’s been pretty frustrating with what I’ve watched so far.  

    • Eugene Blackman

      For those who have not seen Game of Thrones Maurine is right and i noticed it from the very beginning. They make all the groups who are people of color downright barbaric and into some sorta voodoo magic, raping and pillaging other tribes. Then you have Khal Drogo character who is the leader of his people who then weds the angelic white queen of another kingdom who magically is able to put him in check and get his temper under control. I though Unbelievable!