20 legendary Black science fiction actors who rocked the genre

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Zoe Saldana

Though she’s one of the newer faces on this list, Zoe Saldana has been in enough science fiction movies to have made her mark in the genre already.

First, there’s the Star Trek reboots, where she plays Lieutenant Nyota Uhura. In the first film, she’s a new academy recruit who’s rushed out to space in the wake of a massive disaster on the planet Vulcan. Soon enough, Uhura distinguishes herself as a xenolinguistics and communications expert. Sometimes, the reboot movies focus a little much for some tastes on the romance between Uhura and Commander Spock, but Saldana does excellent work showing the emotion and staggering intelligence of her character nonetheless.

Saldana also shows up in James Cameron’s Avatar as Neytiri, a big deal princess from the alien Na’vi people (who also happen to look like huge blue cat people, but that’s a discussion for another time). On screen, Neytiri is a computer generated character, but don’t let yourself think that Saldana was just lounging on a couch somewhere while she recorded lines. She also did all of the motion capture for her character, which included plenty of physically demanding feats, not to mention walking around covered in dots.

Motion capture work like that can be pretty tough, given that you’re often trying to act against a green screen or, in some of the worst cases, a tennis ball on a stick. Saldana nails it, however, giving another emotionally stirring role.

After that, it might have been nice to act against real human beings, as she did in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and its sequel. Sure, she had to be painted green to play the deadly assassin Gamora, but that couldn’t have been the worst thing in the world. And Gamora herself is an interesting character, between her intense daddy issues (you would have them too if Thanos had adopted you), impressive abilities, and her desire to connect with people.

Gamora’s fate is pretty uncertain at this point, but given how much Marvel likes to mess with space, time, and continuity, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Zoe Saldana giving another standout performance in this or any other sci-fi franchise soon.