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Guion Bluford Jr Became The 1st African American Man In Space Today In History; Your Favorite 'Black Man In Space' Movies/TV Shows?

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by Tambay A. Obenson
August 30, 2013 4:05 PM
4 Comments
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Today in history, August 30, 1983... Guion Bluford, Jr became the first African American astronaut in space, blasting off aboard space shuttle Challenger.

Born Guion Stewart Bluford, Jr, November 22, 1942, in Philadelphia, Bluford received an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering, and was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, where he trained as a fighter pilot. He flew 144 combat missions during the Vietnam War. In 1978 he earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering, and was one of 35 individuals selected from 10,000 applicants in NASA’s first competition to become space shuttle astronauts.

On August 30, 1983, he rode into Earth's orbit on the Challenger; he subsequently flew on three additional shuttle missions between 1985 and 1992, serving as a mission specialist on all four flights. 

He left NASA in July 1993.

In celebration of Bluford's history-making accomplishment, I thought I'd take a fun survey on a slow news Friday - typical for the start of the weekend; specifically, as the title of the post states, name your favorite "black man/woman in space" movies, or TV shows. I'm not asking about general sci-fi films and TV shows; but films and/or TV shows that take place, whether in part, or entirely in what we call space, and that feature black characters in lead and/or supporting roles.

The pickings are really slim, I know. I couldn't think of many myself. But I'm curious to see what everyone comes up with.

Instead of naming films/TV shows that have already been made, I'm instead going to mention one that has not yet been made, but I that I was really looking forward to seeing produced.

Morgan Freeman has been working on this adaptation for what feels like an eternity! And David Fincher has long been Freeman's choice to direct the film, and, as of our last posting on it almost 3 years ago, that hasn't changed.

I'd actually long given up on the likelihood of it happening.

In October 2010, while promoting action-comedy Red, Freeman seemed assured that Rendezvous With Rama, the movie based on the title of the classic Arthur C. Clarke novel of the same name, was still very much alive, and that he wanted it to be a 3D movie! 

In January 2011, in an interview with Collider, Fincher added the following, when asked which of the many projects he's attached to, will most likely happen:

"It's a question of things lining up, I mean, you know Rendezvous With Rama is a great story that has an amazing role for Morgan Freeman who is an amazing actor and would be amazing in this thing. The question was can we get a script that's worthy of Morgan and can we get a script that is worthy of Arthur Clark and can we do all of that in an envelope that will allow the movie to take the kinds of chances that it wants to take. 'Cuz we want to make a movie where kids go out of the theatre and instead of buying an action figure they buy a telescope. That was the hope... So there have been people that have been interested in this idea and we have never been able to get a script. So the answer is, you know, is the story good enough, is the script the best telling of the story, is there an undeniable person to hang it on, is it technologically feasible. All those things come into play."

If it's going to happen, it needs to happen soon! Morgan Freeman isn't getting any younger! He optioned the novel in 2005, 8 years ago. He's 76 this year.

In the brilliant, hard science fiction novel, which I read at least a decade ago, a 30-mile-long alien spaceship of mysterious origins, is adrift in our Solar System, controlled by an unknown intelligence. What is it? Who built it? What is it doing in our corner of the galaxy? All questions that may or may not be answered during this engaging read of a novel that won both the Hugo and Nebula awards upon its release, and is widely regarded as one of the cornerstones in Clarke's bibliography, as well as a science fiction classic.

If/when the film adaptation ever happens, Freeman will play the captain of the spaceship Endeavor that is charged with rendezvousing with the unknown vessel in outer space, to answer those questions and more.

There isn't a lot of what we'd call "action" in the story, but the tale is riveting, heady, and throughly engaging throughout, and I'd love to see this on screen. The images, based on Clarke's descriptions in the book, would be dazzling when recreated by Fincher and projected - in 3D especially, even though I'm not the biggest fan of how Hollywood studios use 3D nowadays.

Fincher's words about wanting to make a movie that would encourage kids to go out and buy a telescope, instead of an action figure, says it all, I think. It's more brain than brawn, and has drawn comparisons to Clarke's other and most enduring work, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which Stanley Kubrick turned into a cinematic masterpiece of science fiction.

I'd love to see what Fincher and Freeman can do with Rama.

I imagine that getting it funded, especially in this climate of remakes, sequels, reboots, prequels, comic book adaptations, etc, is even tougher than it must have been 8 years ago; and studios may be turned off by the story's brainy (non-action-driven) sci-fi narrative. I can picture a script being presented to studio execs that pays reverence to the novel, rejected with a reply that the script be peppered up a bit with more spectacle.

Freeman also may not be a big enough draw on his own to encourage a studio to finance what will likely be a fairly expensive project, although, based on what I read of the novel, nothing close to the bloated budgets we've seen in a number of films released this summer.

Will it ever happen? I don't know. If it does, it may end up being minus Freeman. Last I checked, it was still listed on his IMDBPro page as an "optioned property," but Fincher's name is no longer in the "Director" section, which is currently empty, so he may have moved on.

The most recent update I could find on the project is a February 2012 interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, in which Freeman reiterates his commitment to getting it produced, stating, "We ARE going to make that movie... the only task you have that's really, really hard in making movies, harder than getting money, is getting a script ... a good script."

But that's my pick for "black-man-or-woman-in-space" movies, although one that hasn't been made yet, even though the character in the novel that Freeman would play isn't written specifically as a black man.

What are your picks, whether already made, or have been announced, but haven't been produced yet?

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4 Comments

  • Miles Ellison | September 1, 2013 10:28 PMReply

    The only way that anyone sees Rendezvous With Rama is if lots of things explode, or if Oprah is cast as the wife of a space butler. There isn't much of an audience for cerebral sci-fi films. Or cerebral films in general, for that matter.

  • sergio | August 30, 2013 7:37 PMReply

    Also check out my May piece about the first black man in space in a movie

    http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/second-look-who-was-the-black-man-in-outer-space-in-the-movies

  • Tony | August 30, 2013 7:24 PMReply

    Trick question, there isn't any... maybe the remake of Solaris, Capricorn One (OJ Simpson Space Film), or Star Wars with Mr. Colt 45 Billy Dee Williams but there really isn't one. Will Smith might have to take the cake with Independence Day but there is also After Earth.
    There doesn't really seem to be a niche for sci-fi and Afro-Americans in space.

  • Donella | September 4, 2013 2:30 PM

    Choices are slim indeed.

    There's Levar Burton as Geordi LaForge in the STNG movies. Yaphet Kotto in Alien. Or as you already mentioned Will and Jaden Smith in After Earth. I forgot about Viola Davis in Solaris. Supernova with Angela Bassett sucked.

    OJ didn't quiiiiiiite make it to space in Capricorn One.

    I'm gonna say Yaphet Kotto in Alien because that's a classic.

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