In 1992, a filmmaker named Terrence Francis made a documentary for BBC2 about the portrayal of black characters in science fiction, the work of black sci-fi and fantasy writers, and the roles that these writers might take in creating fiction in the future. The doc features interviews with Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Mike Sargent, Steven Barnes, and Nichelle Nichols. Unfortunately, it seems like most of the film has been lost, but a few clips have surfaced on YouTube!
I first learned of these clips from an Indiewire blog post about the project, and I’d like to second author Tambay Obenson’s request that if anyone knows of more footage, get it out there! Indiewire shared the clips from the tumblr AfroFuturist Affair. The clips highlight the social critique emphasized by these writers, for instance juxtaposing clips from the Vietnam War as Samuel Delany talks about showing a different side to war than that woven into work by Robert Heinlein and Poul Anderson.
Octavia Butler discusses her initial inspiration to become a sci-fi writer, the ways power dynamics come through in her writing, and how she deals with ecological disaster and nuclear war in her work:
Mike Sargent touches on the fact that many editors were hesitant to put non-white characters on covers, while Steven Barnes looks at the (apparently deathless) trope of the Noble Black Sacrifice:
And finally, Nichelle Nichols talks about how her early conversations with Gene Roddenberry influenced Lt. Uhura’s name and character:
These clips give a wonderful window into a specific time in the history of SFF, and it’s so frustrating that we don’t have more of it! Particularly now, as more and more people are trying to tackle diversity issues in SFF, we need to find more of these types of documents to create a more complete history and represent all the contributions that have been made, not simply those of the majority. These clips have been shared from Doctor Zerkalo’s YouTube channel, which contains many more delights if you want to check it out!
Leah Schnelbach really wants to see the rest of this film!