One of the most popular genres in film, television, and literature is science fiction. A genre that explores what is possible, whether in a utopian or dystopian realm, engages our imagination in ways few other types of genres can. Unfortunately, the genre has not been as diverse and representative of America’s diversity in the past. Black actors taking up roles in sci-fi films have been few and far between. That said, the Black actors who’ve had the opportunity to play characters in sci-fi films have done themselves and the black community proud.
Some of them include Lawrence Fishburne's Morpheus character in The Matrix, Nichelle Nichols’ Lt. Nyota Uhura character in Star Trek and Billy Dee Williams’ performance as Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, and More recently, a young actress by the name of Priah Ferguson has stolen the show on Stranger Things.
Playing the role of Erica Sinclair, Priah has been a standout character since her debut in the show in Season 2. While her role might not be a core character like some of the other actors mentioned above, she still paves the way for other up-and-coming Black actresses.
Priah Ferguson – A Shining Light for Young Girls
Talking with Netflix, Priah admits to having had little exposure to Black girls starring in Sci-fi movies and series. Nonetheless, that did not deter her from taking up the role. She has been a brilliant addition to one of Netflix’s most-watched series since she first appeared in the series in the second season.
Her character, though the voice of reason in many cases, has been the one to rise to the occasion whenever called upon to risk herself and save the world. In Season 3, Erica played a pivotal role in helping Steve, Dustin, and Robin get into Starcourt Mall’s storage room.
Positive Feedback From Young Actors
The Atlanta native is not ignorant of her leadership role. While recognizing her role in paving the way for many young talents coming after, she said “I’m proud to play a black girl who is amazing in STEM, a sarcastic history buff, boss negotiator, and athletic.” Admittedly, many of the young Black actors and “blerds” (Black nerds) might never get to meet her. However, her positive effect on expanding the horizons of the roles Black actors would like to play is all too clear to see. Scroll through Priah’s Instagram and you will encounter hundreds of comments appreciating her positive influence.
She can feel her positive impact too. Speaking with Tudum by Nextflix, she remarked, “I feel as if I’ve kind of opened more doors for younger black girls, and they do look up to me. I see their support, the energy they give on my [Instagram] page, even coming to me for advice.” With the series drawing closer to the fifth and final season, the hero on screen and the actor bringing the character to life have shown budding Black actresses and the general audience that there is “no one way to be Black, or even smart.” She finishes off by saying, “I hope that Erica inspires young Black girls to stand up for what they believe in, to embrace their nerdy side and discover the beauty of their magic within!”
While it is impossible to quantify her impact on pop culture, the march toward more diverse and representative sci-fi films continues. It is undeniable that she has paved the way for many actors, younger and older. Importantly, her onscreen performance as a secret nerd, with plenty of wit and some touches of sarcasm has helped break down the industry-imposed mold of the roles a Black actress can play.
And we love her for it.