Monday 24th November 2014,
Televisual

Web Shows Trek Past Sci-Fi’s Color Line

Aymar Jean Christian September 28, 2011 uncategorized 6 Comments

Thanks to Racialicious for reposting!

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.

This past week brought news of Al Thompson’s Odessa winning big at the New York Television Festival — a development deal with SyFy — and the release of 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 the 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.

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

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.

(Photo credits: Osiris, ValDean Entertainment)

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

6 Comments

  1. Allison Maguire September 29, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    You forgot to mention Dominion Series. It’s got a wide cast of Caribbean, Black, Asian, white, Indian… check it out.
    http://www.dominionseries.com
    http://www.facebook.com/dominionseries
    http://www.youtube.com/dominionseries

  2. Aymar Jean Christian September 29, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Just added it!

  3. Migg October 4, 2011 at 1:08 am

    Great to see so many series following the trend. Thanks for finding and mentioning Chutes & Ladders. We really wanted to create non-stereotypical roles for our characters.

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