Science fiction might not sound intriguing to some people, but it has started to become interesting with the different faces in it. The display of black and other nonwhite faces has allowed people to see themselves as one day portraying these roles. Kellita Smith discusses the science fiction genre and her show Z Nation on Syfy.
ATM: When someone says the genre “science fiction” what comes to your mind?
KS: The first thing that comes to mind is Star Trek’s, Nichelle Nichols.
ATM: Does the race “black” come to mind at any point?
KS: She comes to mind because I only identify her with this. I do not think there are enough faces in this genre. I see it is growing and becoming more intriguing. I do not think necessarily growing up I was as interested. We talk about things that are represented in outer space, but we must deal with what is on earth with us human beings first. The fans on Syfy are so loyal.
I probably would have never thought about doing a show like Z Nation. Even in my druthers of being an actor. You see it was not just the writing, but it was the words that moved me. It took me into another world. For this, a great analogy for our fans would be to compare them to football fans. For example, football is the one time where a group of people will forget about racism and become friends. Similarly, as seen in football to Z Nation fans – there is an arena of people in harmony rooting for you.
I did something that I did not intend to do. I opened a door that was awesome but was not necessarily opened. I became the first African American female as a Syfy lead. In entertainment, doors are opening, and life is just shifting. Today, people should not be focused so much on the whole conversation about racism, but they should focus on how technology is moving so fast. It is about being smart. Stupidity does not have a color. If you are not stupid, then you will not be left behind. There might be racist people because they are stuck on the wrong thing. So, to continue this shifting we need to come together before it takes over.
ATM: Before your show Z Nation – If you were to ask a person or black kid, then I do not feel they would have interest. In education, the race “black” and the genre “science fiction” are not correlated with each other. It would be a foreign genre to a black kid.
KS: We are not in the mood to keep looking at places where it looks like we are not wanted. We are not in the mood for this. I do understand this. It is an emotional defense thing. The truth of the matter is that we belong everywhere because we are all one. We all are a piece of God. It is up to us to start putting our faces in these places we are not willing to look. It is our turn to do it and our generation to do so. It is my generation and your generation and everyone that comes after this. We should look at it this way and not that we do not belong or there is not enough of us. For example, speaking of the progression of black people in science fiction look at John Boyega in Star Wars. He looked so beautiful running in the sky in this film.
ATM: In Hollywood, for so long, you all have gotten tired of the lack of representation areas in television, film, and other sectors of entertainment. Within the last five or ten years, society has seen a big shift. You are seeing more interesting roles being written. Black people are saying it is interesting. When we are not educated about a thing, it gets the term as “weird” or “I do not like it.” Do you believe your role would have been as accepted during the 90s?
KS: No. See this is what I am talking about. Our generation needs to look at this as there is room for us to do it as opposed to, we do not belong there anymore. Would I had ever gotten a chance to play a role like Bernie Mac’s wife and Z, having it as precedent as it was? No. Could I have played Roberta Warren on Z Nation? Absolutely not. It would not have happened in the 90s. This continues what I said about us moving forward. Technology is changing old customs. We must let the old stuff go. We have seen that it does not work anymore. We got to a place where we got to see a black president. My grandmother never saw this. She never saw an Oprah.
For us, culturally, we had our ancestors open the door and now we must push the envelope and push it forward. The images we want are interesting but if we cannot emotionally identify ourselves in an image, then 9 times out of 10 we are not going to be as engaged.
The wonderful thing about what happened five years ago when we had our president was seeing the diversity with African American woman lead roles. You had (ABC) Viola Davis and Kerry Washington, (Fox) Taraji, (Syfy) Kellita, (BET) Gabrielle, and (TNT) Niecy Nash. We were able to have ground breaking series on network television shows. We were the lead. Whereas, you would have never seen this during the 90s.
ATM: We are not even 1/3 into the 21st century. A lot of platforms and media are not taken into account; this is an important time to be alive. People should realize a human being does not live forever. This is a moment and not a forever. Some people are oblivious to raising the social norms or pushing the envelope.
KS: It is up to us. In my 50 years of living, in my opinion, we cannot ask for permission anymore. We have to find our concerns about where our disparity rest. I am not abandoning what I set my plight to be as a young girl about what it means to move my culture forward. I did not do it in the justice system; I am still doing it in the entertainment. We have to put ourselves in positions where we are doing it for the love of each other and not because we are trying to one-up a culture. Or continue the stereotype of “you forgot about us.” We do not need to be asked to be recognized. We need to find out little seats, sit our little selves down, and be in a good spot and keep it moving.
ATM: To be real honest, the next generation is going to have it better than us.
KS: Right. They should.
ATM: Like when you are a parent, your child is mostly going to have it better than you. They are going to have what we did not have. There is a certain point where you realize the child is going to grow up to conquer things you could not have achieved. A lot of times it is because certain things were not made public or invented.
KS: You would like to inspire them to do so. This is what history and art are about. Today, it is a crime for it to be taken away in high schools. We are innately creators. Girl, if I ever told you what greens really are? Even though collard greens are the most delicious – they are nothing but bushes.
So, culturally, we make a way out of no way. We just have to know and trust it. Hopefully, it gets inspired by each generation, and it is just honored. It needs to be an honoring thing that we do for one another.
Please, girl. I could not have been a slave. You would have never known my name or seen me in any history book. I would have been gone. I would have jumped the ship. “I am going to take a cruise today. I remember Amistad.”
ATM: I couldn’t either. If you just sit back and think, that this was life at one point. Wow. Their conscience could not grasp any thought of life in the future. “What is my life going to be in 10 years?”
KS: Right. They could not. You would lose your mind.
ATM: Could you imagine them saying “What is it going to be like in 2019?”
KS: First of all, “What century is it?” Talking about “2019.” “What century are we in?”
ATM: “What is my name?” “Is it what my master named me?”
KS: “What kind of calendar do we have?” See look at how far we have come. Look at the group of people who created a way for us to have this way. We are the generation that is supposed to allow the next generation to inspire to push everything forward.
ATM: It is about inspiring and passing the torch. It is about also educating yourself. Not letting other races appropriate us.
KS: Just old customs. We live in a capitalist society, which means it is who has the most trump. I did not mean to say his name. He who has the most trump and not who has the most mouth. If you are not white and or powerful, then you need to shut the fuck up and sit right behind me. You do not get to talk.
ATM: Black people are the creators and founders of this world. Some of the other races strip us of our education. Then they appropriate it and feed it back to us as if it is something new. They fix it up to make it their own. This has become so systematic that we eat it up even though we created it.
KS: We perpetuate it. All we must do is understand it is a game. Now let it go. We do not have time for this game. It is old. Go head and give Harriet Tubman that 20-dollar bill. Stop it!
ATM: Go head and give Malcolm X a national holiday.
KS: Off the top of my head, I do not even know what Andrew Jackson did! What did he do for a 20-dollar bill? The point is that we are in a wonderful time. In this time, we can put down old customs and pick up new tools. We can play and really make a difference.
ATM: What went through your mind when becoming the first?
KS: I did not realize this was what I was doing. Honestly, I was trying to make enough for my rent. I was like this is a job. It was not until after the first season; I realized how unique this could be if it goes past a year. If this goes to a five-year season, then this was the beginning of something new. They did not know what to do with it. As the season went on it was noticed that there had not been a female African lead on this network. Then it was like “Oh, I have a responsibility.” Then it became something more.
After the first season, it was “I owe this to every black female.” After the second season, it was about “every female.” After the third season, it became, “I owe this to people.” As the seasons progressed it was not only about a gender or race.
KS: You said “Umm” again. It is so cute when you do this.
ATM: In being a part of history, do you feel you have done your ancestors justice?
KS: No. I feel that so far, I am on the right path. I feel honored. I feel aware and that it is important. I feel I deserve to show all that is possible. I hold them in my subconscious. For this reason, my company is called Strange Fruit. This is real spiritual energy. I am calling on them to help move me for forwarding in this lifetime.
ATM: If this era was a chapter in a future history book, for black women, women, and your role, then what title would you pick?
KS: This is a good question. I need a mimosa for this. Wait a minute. “Umm,” might be the chapter title. Wow. This is a good one girl. I would say “We are here.” “We are present.”
ATM: Do you feel like you laugh at your own jokes more?
KS: I have allowed myself to relax more in comedy. It is such a high bar for me. I respect the genre so much. The ‘funny’ never leaves the genre. Some example would be going to watch Robin Harris’ “Bebe Kids,” then you would still fall out. If you went back and saw Eddie Murphy’s first stand up, then you would still also fall out. This is an example of timeless work. Even Richard Pryor is timeless. The vulnerability of being able to tell the truth, and chuckle about it, is so brilliant. The looks on their faces when they are really enjoying it is real. This is a real sensation and feeling they have created for themselves. Honestly, you are up there by yourself. So, I do not know if I laugh at my own jokes, but I am funnier. By the way, how old are you? You have a young voice.
ATM: I recently turned 22.
KS: Oh my God. Your voice is so cute.
ATM: You are a part of history. Some girl in the future is going to walk in museums and see your face or picture saying you were the first black female lead in a Syfy series.
KS: Stop you are going to make me cry. I did not even have my coffee yet.
ATM: You did it. There can be a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, but there will never be a first. No one can take your spot. They are going to try and impersonate your ways with how you embodied your character and said your lines. You made in it in the history cannon, in history.
KS: (starts to cry). You are making me cry.
ATM: Oh my god, I did not mean to make you cry. But with using your passion to make a difference, the real fight is with your internal and external self. Passion is all about finding what lights or ignites that fire inside of you. Your passion will never give up on you. It is similar to going back and forth with a significant other. It is all about sacrifice.
KS: Looks like you found yours. It is also about fear. For example, Jordan did it. He scored 40 points. You are shining a light on me. Let’s shine a light on you. You have an interesting mind.
ATM: Me? I do.
KS: It is your questions. It is your positivity. I would have never thought of the history question. Never. I did not realize it. To answer it, the chapter would say “Dot Dot Dot.” Additionally, your last name is Smith, and my last name is Smith. You are like my niece because we have the same last name. Where do you live?
ATM: In Washington, DC.
KS: But Where?
ATM: On the Northside. At what decade in your life did you realize you were a go-getter?
KS: At the age of seven. I was a latchkey kid. My mother worked. It was just my brother and I. I had to cook for us. My mother was not a good cook. So, we never ate her food. I left college and never looked back. I left for New York and never looked back. I realized there was more to life. So, you live in Capitol Heights?
ATM: Yes. But wait, how did you know?
KS: I have been places.