Independence Day features Will Smith at his most likable in the role of Captain Steven Hiller. He's a brave, badass Marine Corps pilot who helps save the world from a hostile alien invasion. He punches out aliens, he successfully flies alien spaceships into the belly of the beast and, perhaps bravest of all, he marries a stripper. Hell, he's even a super good dad to her son. Also, he cleans up nice, and he's done more to cement black/Jewish relations than Sammy Davis Jr. Just look at the lovely team he and Jeff Goldblum made. And in a film directed by a German, no less. Just think, only 60 years earlier, Germans were writing stories about the Jews bringing blacks out of Africa for the sole purposes of bastardizing the master race, and now they're working hand in hand to save the world.
How was this not adapted into a TV show starring Ron Silver and Bill Bellamy?
So why is Independence Day second on the list of how black characters are portrayed? It's only because I can argue that our number one universe is just that much more awesome.
First place goes to Star Trek, for a one, two, three punch of incredibly admirable black characters. Unless Spike Lee produces a series entitled MLK and the Freedom Fighters in Outer Space before this goes to print, I defy you to find another sci-fi universe where black characters are portrayed more favorably. (Quick note: Although later series generally cast black actors in the roles of Klingons, they don't count because, y'know, they're Klingons.)
It all started with the lovely and talented Nichelle Nichols, who was the epitome of cocksure military professionalism as Lieutenant Uhura on the original Star Trek. Playing a black woman in a short skirt and knee boots in the mid-'60s was ripe with challenges, but no one could question her professionalism -- she was always more serious and efficient on the bridge than anyone besides Spock. But then off-duty, she could kick back and sing songs in the cafeteria (or do a naked feather dance on another planet, as in Star Trek V).
At the Edmonton Expo, I asked Nichols to do the feather dance. According to the security guards who beat me unconscious,
she thought it was a pretty good joke.
Then came The Next Generation and Geordi La Forge. I can't talk about him too long, because Internet law requires one Reading Rainbow joke for every 50 words about LeVar Burton, and I think we'd all like to avoid that. But it's fair to say that Geordi had all of Uhura's grace, morality and professionalism, and he did it all while wearing a banana clip over his eyes.
And finally, securing Star Trek as the universe that most favorably portrayed black characters, there's Deep Space Nine's Benjamin Sisko. About the worst thing you can say about Sisko was that he was really stiff and dull, but that was before the shaved head and goatee. Then he was a badass captain with edge. Sure, he hated Picard for leading an attack that killed Sisko's wife (when Picard was part Borg), but that's understandable, right? It's hard to find any fault with Sisko: a sexy, Creole-loving outer space badass from New Orleans.
"I will physically murder you with my mere stare while cooking the tastiest jambalaya ever."
Uhura plus La Forge plus Sisko make a tower of black awesomeness even more impressive than the 2001 monolith. Unbeatable.
Watch the season finale of HATE BY NUMBERS. Also, be sure to follow Gladstone on Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest regarding Notes from the Internet Apocalypse. And then there's his website and Tumblr, too.
For more Gladstone, check out 5 Famously Terrible Movies (That Actually Don't Suck) and 4 Great Love Stories in Movies for Guys.