Reclaiming our Black Time Travelers
This month for the Critical Companion series, we’re talking about Time Travel. If you listen to our podcast Time and Relative Blackness in Space, you know we love Doctor Who and the intricacies of time travel (well, Bayana and I do. Robyn gets a headache). But when I googled “Black time travelers,” the top articles that came up were articles either about our absence from the genre or articles referencing “black holes.” So, with a little help from Auntie Maxine Waters, we’re Reclaiming our Black Time Travelers.
After asking around and knowing a few show that already deal with time travel, I came to truly understand how few of us there are in time travel stories. And that makes sense — as many time travel shows mention and as many Black folks and even non-Black people of color know: the past is not a safe place for any marginalized group. Especially not the past of Western Europe and America, which is where most of these stories go. And even stories already set in the future have a hard time including Black people, so it tracks that there are few time travel stories sending us there.
So here are as many Black time travelers I could think of. Most of these examples are from Western media because that is what Google, TV Tropes, and my Twitter/BGC Slack call provided. But I would love to know if African myths/legends/tales deal with time travel at all. Are there stories where characters venture to the past or future without the violent confines of the colonial West?
Mickey (Noel Clarke), Martha (Freema Agyeman), Danny (Samuel Anderson), and Bill (Pearl Mackie) from Doctor Who, plus Ryan (Tosin Cole) in the upcoming season
Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Geordi (Levar Burton), Sisko (Avery Brooks) in a few Star Trek-verse episodes
Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) from Timeless
Dana from Kindred by Octavia Butler
Genna from A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott
The crew from ITV show Timewasters (Daniel Lawrence Taylor, Kadiff Kirwan, Adelayo Adedayo, Samson Kayo) which I can’t watch because it’s geo-blocked and not yet available in the U.S. (I’m thiiiis close to starting a petition to get it streaming here in the States.) But the trailer says it’s really funny.
Nora West-Allen (Jessica Parker Kennedy) on The Flash
Wally (Kid Flash, Keiynan Lonsdale), Kendra (Hawkgirl, Ciara Renée), and Jax (Firestorm, Franz Drameh) from Legends of Tomorrow
Jamal (Martin Lawrence) from the 2001 movie Black Knight
Agent J (Will Smith) in Men in Black 3
From the list above — which I doubt is all-encompassing, but these are definitely the most notable — only Dana, Genna, Agent J, Jamal, and the crew from Timewasters are the main characters in the book/series/movies. (I also passed over Worf and Tuvok from the Trek-verse as they’re aliens played by Black actors, but they aren’t necessarily Black characters). I’ve also skipped a few characters who time jumped or traveled once, like Abbie in an episode of Sleepy Hollow, and Michael in Star Trek: Discovery, since the larger story isn’t really about time travel, but I wanted to name them anyway.) I also must be missing comics characters who travel in time.
As you can see, there aren’t many of us. But perhaps future media can reclaim our Black time travelers and allow us to explore parts of Western culture that wouldn’t want us dead, address visiting times that do want us dead in new ways, stop the idealization of the future as a racism-free utopia, or something that balances all that ground. I’d also love more time travel stories that de-center the West and see what the past and future look like for Black people in Africa or other more Eastern countries. Basically, just more stories of Black people getting to time travel while being the center of the story (and the voices crafting those stories), because then we can explore all of those possibilities.
Who did I miss? What stories should BGC readers look into that feature Black time travelers? Which comic characters travel in time and are Black? What would you like to see from stories that feature Black time travelers? What’s been missing? What territory have we not explored yet? Should I start a change.org petition to get Timewasters to the U.S.? Hit us up in the comments or on the BGC Twitter @weblackandnerds.