45 Women of Color in Science-Fiction/Fantasy Movies

By Guest Contributor Karishma; originally published at Persephone Magazine

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.

  •  Aaliyah as Queen Akasha in Queen of the Damned
  •  Alfre Woodard as Lily Sloane in Star Trek: First Contact
  •  Alice Braga (who I’ve mentioned before) with multiple roles in Elysium, Predators, Blindness and I Am Legend
  •  Amandla Stenberg as Rue in The Hunger Games
  •  Angela Bassett as Det. Rita Veder in Vampire in Brooklyn and Mace in Strange Days
  •  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

  •  Charlotte Lewis as Kee Nang in The Golden Child
  •  Clare-Hope Ashitey as Kee in Children of Men

Clare Hope Ashitey in Children of Men

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

Grace Jones as Zula

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

Maya Rudolph in Idiocracy

  •  Michelle Rodriguez as Captain Trudy Chacon in Avatar and Rain Ocampo inResident Evil
  •  Michelle Yeoh as Corazon In Sunshine

Michelle Yeoh in Sunshine

  •  Momoko Kôchi as Emiko Yamane in Godzilla
  •  Naomie Harris as Selena in 28 Days Later

Naomie Harris in 28 Days Later

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

Rachel True in The Craft

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

Rosario Dawson

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

Tina Turner in Mad Max

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

Zoe Saldana

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  • Motief

    I agree with @toizelle:disqus I wish there was more representation of not just women but people of color in SciFi and Fantasy! I actually just came across this website http://www.fantasywomenbattles.com/women.shtml it’s cool because they show women being powerful and they have a nice representation of women of color.

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  • Chinelo Onwualu

    Let’s not forget Devon Aoki as “Deadly Little Miho” in Sin City and her character in Dead or Alive.

  • Deena Bowman

    Rosalind Cash in The Omega Man! I hated that she and Charleston Heston’s character didn’t ride off into the sunset together (his character died in the movie)

  • emma

    Since when is HIspanic a race? Aubrey Plaza is NOT biracial….Hispanics come in all colors. Unless of course you really can’t tell that Rosario Dawson and Zoe Salana are black Hispanics and Aubrey is not…but then again I always forget how all Hispanics look the same to people with very limited world experience.. I am from London and the diversity in this city is truly to be envied. I know reside in Los Angeles and pity how instead of accepting what Hispanics are a made up term for the census, now it has become a race, amazing…only in the U.S.A.

    • ShortMlee

      Oh come on, don’t generalize the USA. There are PLENTY of Americans who DO know the difference between race and nationality. So just because one person makes a mistake like that, you’re going to mock EVERY American citizen? Really? I’m sure there are ignorant people in Britain as well.

  • MAR_M3anie

    Angela Bassett also played Dr. Kaela Evers in Supernova.

  • klb

    Maria Conchita Alonso – The Running Man

  • Mo

    CCH Pounder as Nurse Shabana, in White Drawf.

    It’s not well known but it’s a good piece of steampunk.

  • Slay Belle

    Grace Jones appeared as Zula in Conan the Destroyer, not Conan the Barbarian.

    • Rowan Rain

      But she would have totally rocked as Conan.

  • kayjay68

    I would add Sanaa Lathan in Blade and Alien vs. Predator, and N’Bushe Wright also in Blade.

  • http://vulvs.tumblr.com/ oofstar

    thandie newton was also in beloved, which I think counts as fantasy.

  • CletusBeauregard

    don’t forget Jennifer Beals in The Bride!

  • http://toizelle.blogspot.com/ Maria

    Just wanted to say I really appreciate that you took the time to compile this list. It’s something I might not have thought about unless presented in this way. This is a really small representation & that’s just sad, but I think places like racialicious and tumblr, where space is made for conversations about representation or lack thereof makes me hopeful as well as aware. Plus, now I have more of a reason to watch some of these films/shows :)

  • Geoclac

    You forgot Moon Bloodgood in damn near every science fiction TV show ever (including Daybreak, Falling Skies, Terminator Salvation (both the movie and the TV show), Journeyman, Pathfinder, etc.

    • eeeeeaaa

      This list is for movies. Says right there in the title………Also first paragraph says she didn’t include everyone.

  • ladyfresh

    I’ve forgotten some of these, thanks =)

  • Ronald Aikens

    A list of “characters” would have to include a numericl value (top 10, top 20, etc.), the order would be debatable and it would likely leave off a number of the characters referenced above. Instead, this list focuses on the women who portrayed the characters instead of the characters they portrayed … and I thought the point was to focus on the actual women of color in sci-fi and not the femaie characters in sci-fi, some of whom may not have been played by women of color. A subtle difference, but a difference all the same.

  • Camille DeBose

    Yo…. Sanna Lathan?!? She was the lead in Alien Vs. Predator. You missed her. ;-)

  • baruchzed

    Linda Park as Hoshi Sato in the series Star Trek Enterprise.

  • http://kingderella.tumblr.com/ kingderella

    i was wondering, why did you decide to make a list of actresses instead of a list of characters?

    the latter would instinctively make more sense to me, but to be honest im not entirely sure why.

    • disqus_N4EigheiZo

      I thought it was interesting how so many of the characters are portrayed by the same actresses depending on the release year. Hollywood tends to pick their one black actress or Latina actress of the moment, and they seem to be in every movie for a while before someone younger comes in to take their place. You can sort of see it in the shift from Angela Bassett to Halle Berry to Zoe Saldana. Yes, there are a lot of characters here, but honestly so many of them aren’t names that are really part of mainstream pop culture. We know Uhura and (now) Mako Mori, but not Dr. Rao or Dimples or Rita. I couldn’t remember the character names of most of them. Also, it was a lot easier to identify actresses I particularly loved or appreciated, and work backwards from there.