Six Badass Sci-Fi Women of Color You Should Know

Here at Autostraddle, we’ve covered fictional kickass heroines, hot sci fi women, fictional female crime fighters and action movie heroines that tickle our queer ladyboners. I’m here today to highlight the kickass women of color in sci-fi – women who sometimes get the short end of the stick in terms of screen time and storylines, but who nevertheless kick some major booty (often without displaying their own).

Sharon/Boomer/Athena/Number Eight

Played by Grace Park in the Battlestar Galactica reboot.

SPOILERS! You have been warned.

Number Eight is a humanoid cylon and one of the main characters in Battlestar Galactica. If you haven’t seen the show, I’m here to tell you that, yes, Grace Park plays ALL of those characters – because they’re all the same… but different. Basically, there are a bunch of Eight Cylon models, two of whom (Sharon “Boomer” Valerii and Sharon “Athena” Agathon) are important recurring characters.

Both Sharons are pilots on the Battlestar Galactica, though their allegiance shifts from the Colonial Fleet to the Cylons and back over the course of the show. Regardless of their moral compass(es), Number Eights are tough fighters and more-than-capable pilots. The Cylons are designed to groupthink, but two Eight models break away and become independent with their own unique personalities.

sharon2

via IGN

Though both Sharons have relationships with men, the dynamic is of the futuristic-gender-blind-society kind. Also, Cylons are presented as genderless – though not sexless – and we know that some Cylons develop feelings for their own sex (I’m lookin’ at you, Gina/Six).

Louanne “Kat” Katraine

Played by Luciana Carro in the Battlestar Galactica reboot.

Kat first appears as a rookie Viper pilot in the Colonial Fleet, but eventually climbs her way up to be named CAG (Commander of the Air Group) on Galactica. At first, she seems to exist primarily to get on Starbuck’s nerves, but we end up liking her more and more as her character arc is more fleshed out. She is feisty, rebellious and just a little bit cocky. SPOILER: In the end, she dies a big damn hero.

Note: The character Kat is portrayed as Latina (though, to be fair, the race designations in the alternate Galactica world are not the same as ours), but the actress is Canadian, of Italian descent. I point this out  because there is a long, racist history of non-white characters on American TV and film being played by white actors.

Zoe

Played by Gina Torres in Firefly (RIP).

Zoe already made our fictional kickass heroines list, but she’s so awesome that her name bears repeating. As first mate to Captain Malcom Reynolds, Zoe is loyal and steadfast. Though she does heed Mal’s leadership, she challenges and questions him when necessary. 

She’s also wife to Wash, Serenity’s pilot, and a veteran of the Unification War.  And can I just say that it’s pretty rad to see a relationship like Zoe and Wash’s? Truly gender-equal heterosexual relationships are already rare on TV and Zoe and Wash present a great take on hetero spousal dynamics. Plus (as suggested by the title of this list) she kicks ass. Like, a lot of it.

Inara Serra

Played by Morena Baccarin in Firefly (RIP).

inara_serra

Discussions of badass women in sci-fi usually features Zoe (and for good reason) but Inara often gets skipped over, possibly because she’s way more conventionally feminine. Like Kat, the actress who plays Inara is of Italian decent (though born in Brazil), but Inara is written as a character of ambiguous ethnicity. So… she’s on the list, ok?

Inara is a Companion, which translates to a classy call girl in the Firefly ‘verse. She’s fierce, independent, gorgeous and knows how to handle swords AND guns. Plus it’s great to see a character who is both feminine and badass.

And while she’s the main love interest for Captain Mal Reynolds, we know she takes both male and female clients. Though she normally avoids physical altercations, Inara is often the one who challenges Mal’s crazy plans and stands up to the rest of the crew. Not to mention, she sometime gets involved in crime too, just to mix things up.

Dr. Allison Blake

Played by Salli Richardson-Whitfield in Eureka.

She’s a medical doctor, a Department of Defense agent and a super intelligent scientist. In later seasons of the show, she’s head honcho of Global Dynamics and later the Medical Director at GD. She’s also a caring mother. What else? Power suits. ‘Nough said.

Again, a lover of men, but even though she gets married (or nearly married) multiple times over the course of the show, she never lets herself or her life be defined by her relationships.

Jo Lupo

Played by Erica Cerra in Eureka.

Beginning as the sheriff’s deputy and eventually becoming head of security at Global Dynamics, Lupo is a former soldier (U.S. Army Ranger or Special Forces…unclear due to continuity issues in the show). She’s the best marksman (marksperson?) in town, extremely capable at any physical challenge and super smart to boot.

lupo2

via IMFDB

And she also loves her weapons. Oooh, baby, I’d support her right to bear arms any day.

Note: Again, Erica Cerra is Canadian, of Italian descent, playing a Latina character on American TV. See a pattern?


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48 Comments

  1. 0

    Ooh, nice list!

    A bit of a throwback, I’d add Damphousse from Space: Above and Beyond. I really liked that show, I very much enjoyed looking at Lanei Chapman in it. I think she also made a few guest appearances on Star Trek.

    Which neatly brings me on to…

    UHURA !!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  2. 0

    Eureka definitely deserves a special shout-out in terms of the women of color. I mean, it’s still not perfect, but in addition to Alison and Lupo, there’s also Grace Monroe (Tembi Locke), Michaela Wen (Ming-Na Wen), and Kim Anderson (Tamlyn Tomita). All are smart, independent women. ♥

  3. 0

    I think one of my favourite scenes in Firefly is when Mal is asked why he dressed up as a woman instead of having Zoe be the decoy-female. “Well, who else is going to be our backup?” That’s right – a WOC is the recognized best shooter in the crew, so obviously her job depends on her merit, not her gender.

  4. 0

    While I appreciate the fact that you drew attention to it, it’s kind of sad that half of the women on this list are actually of Italian descent. They are great actresses with wonderful roles, but their inclusion here makes me a little uncomfortable.

    I’d also like to agree with everyone else – it would have been great to see Uhura on this list – her role in TOS was truly groundbreaking and iconic.

  5. 0

    I think including Italian actresses (as awesome and though they may be) on a list specifically for WOC is doing nothing to help combat the “long, racist history of non-white characters on American TV and film being played by white actors”

    If we wouldn’t tolerate them playing roles designed for black or asian women, why is it okay for them to play latinas?

    • 0

      Ok, so I’m European and only relatively recently came across the idea of Latino as a race, and fully admit that I’m nearly as ignorant about American discrimination of Latino people (I mean I’m aware of terrible stop-and-search measures, attempts to stop people voting etc) as I am of Japanese discrimination of people of Korean descent living in Japan.

      Don’t they have the same sort of roots, people of Spanish origin and people of Italian origin? As a British person I can just about tell if someone looks Mediterranean (but really that includes south of France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Egypt, etc) although it would seem super weird to me if I started talking about them as being a race to themselves.

      Surely if someone looks Mediterranean (i.e. like they could be Latino), couldn’t they face the same discrimination, based on how they appear?

        • 0

          Latino is not truly a racial category, though it is often used that way. It refers to people of Latin American origin. Many Latinos have some European and some indigenous ancestry (e.g. the people who lived in Central and South American countries prior to European colonization), and sometimes African ancestry as well. However, latinos can actually be of any race or combination of races. As Morena Baccarin is Brazilian, she could identify as Latina (I don’t know if she does). The inclusion of the other two Italian-Canadian actresses seems odd however.

      • 0

        Surely if someone looks Mediterranean (i.e. like they could be Latino), couldn’t they face the same discrimination, based on how they appear?

        I’m not even going to go into this but there’s so much more to discrimination then how one appears.

        When I wrote that comment this is what I was thinking:

        Latino people make up 15%+ of the US population but only about 5% of roles are written for them. Most of these roles are poor and one dimensional. On the very rare occasion that a well written latina character is made I think it’s important to fill that role with a latina actress. How else are we going to get more A list latinas if they can’t even get the roles specifically for them?

        My main point and problem lies with the italian actresses having access to white roles AND latina roles. I think racism is the reason that it doesnt go both ways.

        Someone from the mediterranean could look hispanic but so could a black person and so could a blonde haired blued eyed person. Who looks like who is a bit irrelevant, what matters more is who gets to play who. If itailians and hispanics can look the same then why are there no latinas playing italians or other white people for that matter? If blacks can also look latina, then why are black actresses never cast as them?

        I personally don’t want to see white/black/asians playing latinas. I don’t see what’s so hard about casting latinas as latinas, white people as white people, etc.

        To me there’s a certain level of racism and colorism that goes into these casting decisions that shouldn’t be ignored or condoned (which I believe this list does).

        • 0

          You’re absolutely right in that there is a whole lot of racism at play in how these roles get cast. Whether it’s Latino/a roles, Middle Eastern roles, or South Asian roles, these usually go to darker-skinned white actresses, and this is a fact that shouldn’t be ignored. But the list is about the characters themselves, as they are written, not the ethnicities of the actors. The casting of the characters is not ignored, and is not condoned, either. I want to make that clear. Sorry to get defensive, but the whole idea of pointing out the racist casting was to bring it to light, not say that it’s ok. We’ll probably never agree on whether these characters belong on this list (I say yes, because they are characters of color; others say no, because the actresses themselves aren’t “of color” in our modern definition of whiteness). But I want to make it clear that I do not agree with the casting.

    • 0

      I went back and forth about their inclusion, but in the end, I think the list is about CHARACTERS of color, not actors of color. And while it’s highly problematic for white actors to continue to play characters of color, I think the characters themselves are important to recognize.

      • 0

        For whatever reason, I can’t reply to your comment above this one. So, I’ll respond to it here

        My last sentence “….shouldn’t be ignored or condoned (which I believe this list does).” was poorly written. I don’t think you ignored the issue but I do think just including them here counts as condoning it to a certain degree.

        I didn’t think there was anything defensive about your response. You are entitled to your opinion and I am entitled to mine… so yes we are just going to have to agree to disagree.

  6. 0

    Oh, TOS Uhura FTW. I think her crowning moment of awesome is in The Search for Spock when Uhura pulls a gun on cocky little Mr Adventure and makes him sit in the closet while she assists Kirk et al in their definitely not authorized rescue mission. Total BAMF.

  7. 0

    My additions to this list, in no particular order:
    -Martha Jones from Doctor Who (especially after she joins UNIT)
    -Max from Dark Angel
    -Uhura from Star Trek
    -any scifi character Michelle Rodriguez has ever played (I’m thinking specifically Trudy in Avatar and Rain in Resident Evil)
    -Vasquez from Alien (for old times’ same)
    -Teyla Emagen from Stargate Atlantis, kinda? If an alien character played by a POC actor can count as a character of color?

  8. 0

    I love that Inara is on this list! She is my ideal example of a femme who kicks all sorts of ass – and her role as a Companion is so much more respected and valued than any of the main male protagonists! The prostitute is the one who makes Serenity appear to be more respectable. I love that.

    I’m totally behind including Tosh, and definitely, definitely Martha Jones! Her storyline was awful when she was with the Doctor, but she’s the only reboot Companion who voluntarily walks away after realizing how destructive their relationship had become. Plus, how awesome does she get when she joins UNIT? Pretty awesome.

  9. 0

    So, I’m probably the only person who ever watched this show, but Natalie Morales in the Middleman was one of the greatest things that ever happened to my life. The premature cancellation of that show hurt me only slightly less than Firefly.

  10. 0

    Oooh, just thought of another!

    Kendra (played by Stephanie Jacobsen) in the Battlestar Galactica movie Razor! So tough, so gay, so sexy.

    She was also in the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles series.

    Now I hafta rewatch both of those.

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