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Wired’s GeekDad blog has been the only big geek culture blog, so far as I can tell (and please, point me to other blogs that I might be missing!), that has written anything this month about Black History. I thought this post was pretty interesting, where blogger Matt Blum surmises that Benjamin Banneker might have been the first African-American geek. I’m not sure if you can retroactively apply modern connotations of the word “geek” to someone who lived in the 18th century, but it’s an interesting idea. If you click through the GeekDad post to Banneker’s wikipedia entry, apparently in subsequent centuries he had grown to become quite the folk hero. Inspired by Blum’s post, the withering scholar in me went to the JSTOR and started reading more about Banneker and what academic researchers have to say about him. While there’s too much for me to include here (Banneker appears in ~600 journal articles beginning in 1846 to the present—probably even earlier, but this is just what JSTOR has available online), suffice it to say that future historians would almost always deploy Banneker as an example for why African-Americans should be given freedom, and later, equal rights in America. That’s quite a legacy.
For Black History Month, Wired’s GeekDad issues its list of Top Ten African-American science fiction movie and tv characters of all time. As list-compiler Lonnie Morgan admits, the list is bound to be incomplete. So, if GeekDad’s list were a Top 20 (as perhaps it should have been), I would add:
1. Zoe (Gina Torres in Firefly and Serenity). I love Zoe. She is hot, hilarious, and bad-ass. Her relationship with Wash is possibly one of the best portrayals of marriage on television, ever.
2. Tuvok (Tim Russ in ST:Voyager). Janeway is nothing without Tuvok. Enough said.
3. Teyla Emmagan (Rachel Lutrell in Stargate Atlantis). I often marvel at how easily Teyla could have been an irritating character, since many of the Athosians tended to be..frustrating. But Lutrell brought the character a real strength and grace that made her a brilliant foil to John Sheppard’s hot-headedness. And damn, could she fight!
4. Boyd Langton (Harry Lenix in Joss Whedon’s short-lived Dollhouse). I love a good good guy turned bad guy. In typical Whedon fashion, Boyd is the moral anchor you’ve come to rely on, only to reveal himself in the end to be the big bad.
5. Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg in ST:TNG). Oh, what would science fiction be without Guinan? Picard would be staring into his cold cup of Earl Grey, wishing Counselor Troi had something more useful to say.
6. Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley in True Blood). Wesley’s portrayal of this tormented yet fiercely loyal character often outshines Sookie Stackhouse.
7. Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis in True Blood). Lafayette, and Ellis’s interpretation of him, is brilliant. Period.
8. Astrid (Jasika Nicole in Fringe). Fringe has fast become my favorite show currently on television, and the development of Astrid’s character is one of the reasons I hope the show sticks around. Though she rarely leaves the lab, Astrid’s bond with Walter Bishop is alternately endearing and hilarious. Let’s see if the writers will give Astrid a few away missions in coming episodes.
9. Chiwetel Ejiofor (The Operative in Serenity). I do love a good bad guy, and Ekiofor’s portrayal of the unwavering fundmentalist Operative in Serenity made him an excellent and lethal foe.
10. Anastasia “Dee” Dualla (Candyse McClure in Battlestar Galactica). Dee’s suicide was crushing, due in large part to the character’s enduring strength and inner calm that audience’s tended to hold on to as a place of stability.
Now, most (all?) of my picks are slanted toward television. Unlike GeekDad’s list, there’s a fair balance between men and women. Of course, my additions are also bound to be incomplete. Who would you add?