8 Great Black Science-Fiction Films

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Flavorwire is taking the final week of 2017 off, because God knows we need it. But all week, we’ll be reposting some of our favorite pieces from the year. Read them all here.

Game of Thrones is quickly coming to an end (well, in a year or two, anyway), which means the network is seeking its next big hit, and HBO just landed a deal for a new George R.R. Martin-produced TV show, reported by Deadline. Who Fears Death is a new drama series in development, based on Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor’s 2010 award-winning novel of the same name. Amazon tells us more about the story:

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways; yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert, hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different—special—she names her Onyesonwu, which means “Who fears death?” in an ancient language. It doesn’t take long for Onye to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her conception. She is Ewu—a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by her community. But Onye is not the average Ewu. Even as a child, she manifests the beginnings of a remarkable and unique magic. As she grows, so do her abilities, and during an inadvertent visit to the spirit realm, she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her. Desperate to elude her would-be murderer and to understand her own nature, she embarks on a journey in which she grapples with nature, tradition, history, true love, and the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately learns why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death.

The premise is intriguing, and the AV Club notes that “with its Afrocentric focus and predominantly black cast and creative team, there’s also an implication buried here that the network is hoping to deflect some of the criticisms that have plagued HBO since it announced its modern-day slavery drama Confederate, the follow-up series from Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss.”

Black science-fiction stories are nothing new, and have examined race, identity, and social issues with tenderness, humor, and more. We highlight just a few of those noteworthy movies, below.

The Black Film Critics Circle said it all about Joe Cornish’s movie, which is set in South London where an alien invasion takes place: “Attack The Block is a genre film that defies a number of conventions, not only by having a primarily black cast but portraying each character with a dignity seldom seen on screen and even more rarely in a Science-Fiction film.”

Captain Eo

Eight reasons to watch Captain Eo:

1. Michael Jackson stars in and choreographs the film. He also contributed to the soundtrack.

2. Francis Ford Coppola directs.

3. Anjelica Huston, Anjelica Huston, Anjelica Huston.

4. Famed cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.

5. George Lucas produces.

6. The film cost one million dollars per minute of film, which is insane.

7. It features a bunch of actors from the best ’80s film, Breakin’.

8. This is the movie that bears the same name as the Disney ride.

Space Is the Place

Afrofuturism pioneer Sun Ra co-wrote this 1974 classic, which features music by the artist. Producer Jim Newman first took note of the Sun Ra when he was the artist-in-residence at University of California, Berkeley.

The Brother from Another Planet

John Sayles’ film stars actor Joe Morton, who plays an alien that lands in Harlem. Roger Ebert discussed the film’s social commentary in his review:

There is also a curious way in which the film functions as more subtle social satire than might seem possible in a low-budget, good-natured comedy. Because the hero, the brother, has literally dropped out of the skies, he doesn’t have an opinion on anything. He only gradually begins to realize that on this world he is “black,” and that his color makes a difference in some situations. He tries to accept that. When he is hurt or wronged, his reaction is not so much anger as surprise: It seems to him so unnecessary that people behave unkindly toward one another. He is a little surprised they would go to such an effort. His surprise, in its own sweet and uncomplicated way, is one of the most effective elements in the whole movie.

Son of Ingagi

This 1940 film was the first science fiction-horror movie to feature an all-black cast.

Afronauts

More from this 2014 short directed by Ghana-born filmmaker Frances Bodomo: “16th July 1969: America prepares to launch Apollo 11. Thousands of kilometers away, a ragtag group of Zambian exiles is trying to beat America to the Moon.”

Sleight

From Slant Magazine on J.D. Dillard’s 2016 film, in which writer Sam C. Mac (unfavorably) compares the movie to Jordan Peele’s horror sensation, Get Out:

Dillard’s basic template here is the comic-book origin story: There’s the reluctant hero, the convenient love interest (who, to be fair, is superficially given her own arc, one vaguely involving the abuses of a mother we never see), the scheming villain, and the sci-fi-worthy (and silly-as-expected) explanation of the hero’s superpower. But it also can’t be discounted that Dillard, and about 90% of his film’s cast, are black—and that Sleight is taking a traditionally white genre and diversifying it. Unfortunately, unlike Jordan Peele’s superior Get Out, Sleight never shows much interest in exploring how blackness can inform its genre’s tropes, or even the realities of its characters.

The Daily Beast, however, called Sleight the “first great black superhero movie.”

Black Orpheus

Critic Peter Bradshaw wrote on Barack Obama’s reaction to Marcel Camus’ 1959 film, which reimagines the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval. The film is perhaps more “fantasy” than “science-fiction,” but it still inspires important and relevant conversation:

For what it’s worth, I think Obama is wrong about Black Orpheus – he’s too tough on it. And yet for me this passage exposed, more dramatically than anything has in a very long while, the fact that critical perceptions are governed by class, by background and by race. I saw Black Orpheus as a white man, a white liberal. Of course I did. The assumption of progressive good faith on race, and the indulgence of potential condescension or even stereotyping in an old movie is something that a white liberal can afford, and as far as the arts and culture are concerned in the prosperous west, white liberals are in the ascendant. But Barack Obama responded to the film quite differently. He responded with impatience, with scepticism and with pain; he saw no reason for black men and women to be objectified – and now, as the president of the United States, he is the subject, the most important subject in the world.