Black actors, creators take center stage at New York Comic Con

NEW YORK – Black people have been a significant part of fandom in sci-fi, fantasy, action, and horror – and now, more of this entertainment centers on Black main characters. 

All of this was front and center at the 2022 edition of the fan convention New York Comic Con — held October 6 to October 9 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City.

The scene at New York Comic Con. Photo credit: New York Comic Con
The scene at New York Comic Con. Photo credit: New York Comic Con

Black News & Views was on the scene at New York Comic Con, which included sessions focused on Afrofuturism, Black geek podcasters, and – of course – blerds, or Black nerds, and more. Here are the biggest highlights involving Black culture from the convention:

Star Trek universe welcomes back Levar Burton and Michael Dorn

The beloved “Star Trek” sci-fi franchise has been at the forefront of showcasing racial and ethnic diversity on TV and in movies. A panel focused on the “Star Trek” Universe (for the current “Star Trek” shows on Paramount+) confirmed a much-requested reunion of the “Star Trek: Next Generation” cast.

Actors LeVar Burton and Michael Dorn were among the former “Star Trek: The Next Generation” cast members who joined star Patrick Stewart to announce that they will all be reunited in the third and final season of “Star Trek: Picard.” In Season 3, premiering on February 16, 2023, the heroes will contend with a new villain named Vadic (played by Amanda Plummer), an alien captain of the warship Shrike. 

Burton said that his character, Geordi La Forge, is now “happily married with two daughters.” Elder daughter Sidney La Forge (played by Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut) is an ensign and helmsman of the U.S.S. Titan. Younger daughter Alandra La Forge (played by Mica Burton, LeVar Burton’s real-life daughter) is an ensign who works alongside Geordi. Burton, in fact, pointed out his daughter in the Comic Con audience.

 “She grew up around all of these fine folks, so to have her as a member of the cast and a member of the family is pretty cool,” he said.

“Star Trek: Discovery” made history in 2017, for being the first “Star Trek” TV series to have a woman of color as the captain of the ship. Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays lead character Michael Burnham, acknowledged the passing of original “Star Trek” star Nichelle Nichols, who died on July 30 at age 89. She said of the fifth season of “Star Trek: Discovery”: “I really do give respect to the writers for this season, because we really do dig deeper than we ever have.”

The scene at New York Comic Con. Photo credit: New York Comic Con
The scene at New York Comic Con. Photo credit: New York Comic Con

Black characters on the small screen

New York Comic Con showcased several new TV series that have a Black person or family as the leading characters, including Netflix’s “The Midnight Club,” FX on Hulu’s “Kindred,” Paramount+’s “Transformers: EarthSpark,” and Disney Channel’s “Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.”

“The Midnight Club” is a horror series that debuted October 7 and immediately trended in the top 10 on Netflix. The storyline is told from the perspective of a Black main character. Ilonka (played by Iman Benson) is a studious orphan who lives in California, finds out she has cancer, abandons plans to go to Stanford University, and moves to the unconventional Brightcliffe Hospice, a refuge for dying teens and young adults. 

Ilonka joins a clique of patients who secretly gather every midnight to tell each other scary stories. As the series unfolds, sinister secrets about the hospice are revealed. 

During a panel following the show premiere, Benson said a scene in the first episode in which Ilonka learns she has cancer was difficult for her to shoot. 

“I wanted to make sure it was depicted authentically and done justice.” 

Her most difficult scene took place in a later episode, she said. “We’re dealing with terminal illness, and we end up losing” one of the characters on the show, she explained.

“Kindred,” based on Octavia E. Butler’s 1979 sci-fi novel, follows the life of aspiring screenwriter Dana James (played by Mallori Johnson) who finds herself seesawing between modern-day L.A. and a pre-Civil War Southern plantation. “Kindred” debuts on FX on Hulu on December 13. 

Cast members told a panel audience that filming in Georgia brought down the weight of  being on plantation land once worked by enslaved people. Johnson said there were times on the set when she thought, “Oh my God, I can feel the presence of my ancestors here.”

Black people behind the sci-fi pen

Sci-fi-related books created by Black people dominated some sessions.

Actor Omar Epps introduced his first book, “Nubia: The Awakening,” a sci-fi novel co-written with Clarence A. Haynes. The main characters are three Black teens who are refugees from an African utopia. The story revolves around their fight to survive in a post-apocalyptic New York City devastated by climate disasters. Although the theme might seem bleak, Epps called it a story of hope and unity. 

“I basically wrote a book that I wish I had when I was a kid,” Epps said. “It challenges certain indoctrinations.” 

Epps said he hopes that the book will be made into a movie.

A session titled “Return to Wakanda: The World of Black Panther Beyond the Comics” gathered authors Frederick Joseph, Ibi Zoboi, Karama Horne, and Evan Narcisse, who have all written books related to Marvel’s “Black Panther” comic books and movies. 

The panelists said the blockbuster success of “Black Panther” has opened up more doors for Black sci-fi/fantasy writers, and that diversity should be viewed as consistently good for business. Zoboi added that she’d like to see more Black people owning the companies that publish these books, in order for Black people to make more progress in this area.

Black people who go bump in the night

CBS’ well-received comedy series “Ghosts” dominated a panel focused on an episode titled “Alberta’s Podcast.” In the episode, Samantha “Sam” Arondekar (played by Rose McIver) hosts a podcast about the poisoning death of fictional jazz singer Alberta Haynes (played by Danielle Pinnock). Haynes died at the mansion where Sam lives with her husband, Jay Arondekar (played by Utkarsh Ambudkar), which is why Haynes is one of several ghosts who take residence there. Haynes’ story covers moments in Black history, such as the Great Migration, and the episode covers issues such as women defying unrealistic body standards and having sexual confidence.

Pinnock told the audience that performing Haynes’ flashback scenes as a living human being gave her some insight.

“Being on stage for the first time was when I really began to understand this character – she lives for the applause,” Pinnock said. “As a theater actor myself, I hadn’t been on stage since 2016, so to be around those incredible Black artists — the dancers and the musicians — it felt like being back home. It was amazing.”

The Discovery+ series “Ghost Brothers: Lights Out” celebrated its second season premiere on October 7 with a panel featuring the show’s three stars: Marcus Harvey, Juwan Mass, and Dalen Spratt—the first Black paranormal investigators to get their own TV series. The tight-knit trio, who are friends in real life, told stories and jokes and showed sneak-preview clips from the show’s second season. Harvey, Mass, and Spratt also co-star with Jack Osbourne in Travel Channel’s “Fright Club.”

Mass said that it’s possible that they take their paranormal activities home with them, because he had a tuxedo that he believes became “haunted.” When he let a friend borrow the tuxedo, the friend and the friend’s wife reported that closet doors were opening on their own after having the tuxedo in the house. Mass said the tuxedo was supposed to be mailed back to him, but he moved and never got it back. He joked that somewhere, “There’s a pissed-off UPS driver.”

“I know it’s real,” Mass said of the paranormal, “and I respect it wholeheartedly, but I try to stay away from having my personal life answered by stuff like that.” Spratt commented, “After doing ‘Fright Club’ and ‘Ghost Brothers’ I believe in everything.” Harvey said his paranormal experiences have made him value life a lot more.

Connections between hip-hop and comic-book cultures

Chuck D of Public Enemy and Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC shared with Comic Con attendees about their thriving comic-book business.

“The secret to my whole existence, y’all, is comic books,” McDaniels said. 

He cited Run-DMC’s 1985 hit “King of Rock” as an example of a song that was inspired by comic book superheroes. Hip-hop graffiti art and comic-book art are also intertwined and often done by the same artists.

In 2021, Z2 Comics published “Chuck D Presents Apocalypse 91: Revolution Never Sleeps.” McDaniels’ publishing company Darryl Makes Comics recently published “Me and My Microphone,” a comic book inspired by the song collaboration of the same name featuring McDaniels, Chuck D, Ice-T, and DJ Jazzy Jeff.

“Comics are the fine art of this century,” Chuck D said.

“Comic books gave me a confidence to exist,” according to McDaniels. “The music gives us an opportunity to become the thing that we imagine.” 

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