25 creators of color that changed the genre over the last 25 years

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Lucas Siegel
Sep 6, 2017

September 2017 is SYFY’s 25th anniversary, so we’re using it as an excuse to look back and celebrate the last 25 years of ALL science fiction, fantasy, and horror, a time that has seen the genres we love conquer the world of pop culture. For us, that means lists! ALL THE LISTS! We’ll be doing two “25 greatest” lists per day all throughout September, looking back at the moments, people, and characters that shaped the last quarter century. So keep checking back. Please note: Our lists are not ranked; all items have equal standing in our brains.

What items in our lists were your favorites? Did we miss something? We welcome respectful debate and discussion, so please let us know in the comments!

Science fiction and fantasy have a long tradition of championing diversity, whether it's Kirk's revolutionary kiss with Uhura or Superman preaching in the pages of his comics about the need to respect people of all colors and creeds. The past 25 years, however, have seen some seminal work from a wide range of faces as the diversification of the genres we love kicked into high gear.

Here are 25 of the creators of color who've seized the reins of the sci-fi and fantasy genres in the past quarter-century.

Sana Amanat

She may have created the newest version of comics' Ms. Marvel, but as director and editor at Marvel comics, Amanat is pretty marvel-ous in her own right (yes, we went there). Her position as helmer of the House of Ideas makes her one of the most powerful voices in the comics industry ... and, if that weren't enough, Amanat has an actual character in the Marvel Universe (that shares her namesake) who won a Nobel Prize and then was saved by Captain America and the Black Widow.

Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler may not have been an astronaut, but considering how much time she has lived in outer space, she may as well have been. Winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula awards, Butler has consistently kept us riveted with her work.  Her The Parables series was a highlight of '90s sci-fi lit, presenting the struggle of the Earthseed community trying to make it through the socioeconomic and political collapse of 21st-century America due to corporate greed, poor environmental upkeep, and the growing gap between the haves and have nots. Sadly, Butler passed away in 2006, but her legacy will live on every time a new reader cracks open one of her books.

Ted Chiang

Becoming a Nebula, Hugo, and Locus award winner doesn't come easy, unless you're Ted Chiang. Chiang crafts stellar stories seemingly as easily and as beautifully as a breadsmith churns out delicious bread -- rich, deeply philosophical bread. One of these incredible tales is Story of Your Life, which was adapted into the Academy Award-winning movie Arrival. Though Arrival is the only one of his stories to be adapted for film so far, with a huge cache of remarkable yarns to choose from -- including Liking What You See: A Documentary (a faux documentary about children being induced with face blindness) and Hell Is the Absence of God (which dwells on the terror that might be brought to humanity if fallen angels decided to have a go of earth) -- it will not likely be his last.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Before there was the Black Panther movie, there was the Black Panther comic series, and no one has told a better Panther story in the past few decades than Ta-Nehisi Coates. After all, who better to tell the tale of a hero who fights tooth and nail for the rights, pride, and honor of a great nation than the son of an actual member of the Black Panthers? As an award-winning author, Coates embraces tough subject matter head on, and as a journalist for the Atlantic, his hard-hitting commentary on "The Case for Reparations" won him great journalistic accolades and respect the world over. His entry into the world of comics was a significant moment for the industry's integration of powerful new voices.

Cheo Hodari Coker

Cheo Hodari Coker made a name for himself as a music journalist and writer of non-genre fare like the Notorious B.I.G. biopic Notorious. In our world, though, he's known as the producer and writer of Marvel's Luke Cage show on Netflix. In what could have been a very tricky update of one of Marvel's classic characters to the modern era, he doesn't just set out to show us why Luke Cage is awesome because he's bulletproof. Rather, he treats us to a Power Man who is strong because of his moral compass and desire to always help people wherever he can.

Ryan Coogler

Though relatively new to the world of directing, Ryan Coogler has made some fairly deep impacts both on and off the screen. In his NAACP Image Award-winning movie Creed, Coogler tackles the power of the human spirit to fight to keep going in the face of heartache and defeat. With "Blackout for Human Rights" (a group Coogler founded that is comprised of artists, activists, and faith leaders), he brings the fight to the streets, raising awareness of American human rights violations and injustices. His announcement as director for Marvel's Black Panther movie seemed like the perfect match of material and behind-the-camera talent. 

ChrisCross (Christopher Williams)

The brilliant and prolific Christopher (ChrisCross) Williams has spent the past two decades churning out some of the coolest, most beautiful art this side of the six panels. From Action Comics to Batman to Captain Marvel, Chris has graced so many pages of comics that have entered our eyeholes that it makes our head spin, and he shows no sign of slowing down, for which comics fans can be grateful.

Guillermo del Toro

There are certain people you just know can't turn off their love for sci-fi and fantasy, no matter what they work on and no matter how hard they try. Guillermo del Toro is that feeling embodied in the world of cinema. Whether it's his ability to lift Hellboy off the page and render his world in fabulous hyper-reality, his wicked and surreal vision of magical creatures intertwining with our reality in Pan's Labyrinth, or his gonzo giant-robots-vs.-giant-monsters slugfest Pacific Rim, del Toro doesn't just prove he is a fan of the highest order; he also builds onto the mythos all his own.

Cary Fukunaga

Cary Fukunaga is the master of the fractured narrative. The executive producer, writer, and director of the hit horror noir series True Detective is able to weave a compelling story that draws you in and keeps you scrambling to keep up, all of which has made him one of the hottest names in moviemaking at the moment. Sadly, we never got to see his take on Stephen King's It, but we're willing to bet the worlds of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror haven't heard the last of him.

Jamal Igle

Jamal Igle is what is known in the industry as a triple threat. He's insanely talented, is able to meet herculean deadlines, and is known as one of the nicest guys in the world of animation. He's worked as a storyboarder on Max Steel and Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles, has created copious amounts of art at Marvel, Image, and DC comics, and serves as vice president of marketing at Action Lab Comics, where he created his smash hit comic series Molly Danger.

Ang Lee

As the hand behind dramas like The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman, Ang Lee didn't seem a likely name to become a genre powerhouse. But he knocked everyone's socks off with the fantasy epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and was one of the early directors to take a stab at the modern era of Marvel moviemaking with Hulk. His unique take on the green goliath revolutionized the way a comic could be translated to screen with scrolling panels a la what one might see in an actual comic. Love it or hate it, the man brought his artistic A game.

Jae Lee

Though he may be pretty well known for his help in writing the new Inhumans TV series, Lee is probably best known for his extensive comic career working as an illustrator on The Dark Tower: Gunslinger series, Inhumans, and X-factor (X-Cutioner's Song storyline ... yup, that's him). Oh, and he teamed up with Grant Morrison for Fantastic Four: 1234, a project for which he was nominated Best Cover Artist at the Eisner Awards.

Jim Lee

Though there are many absurdly talented artists in the world of comics, Jim Lee is a legend among legends. It wasn't enough that Lee had to rank as top dog in the world of illustrating with work on X-MenWildC.A.T.S, All Star Batman & Robin, and too many more to list -- he had to prove he could also write killer dialogue as well in shows like X-men: The Animated Series and the WildC.A.T.S animated series ... yeah, that's right, some of Gambit's best lines came from the same man who also illustrated him, what do you think about that, chere?

Justin Lin

Lin burst onto the scene orchestrating vehicular mayhem in the Fast and the Furious series, but he made his big sci-fi bow by boldly going into the rebooted Star Trek cinematic timeline with 2016's Star Trek Beyond. If that didn't give Lin enough nerd cred in and of itself, he also directed some of Community's fan-favorite episodes, like the paintball-geared episode "Modern Warfare," and a few episodes of True Detective for good measure.

Marjorie Liu

One of the bestselling authors of fantasy romance novels, Liu is also responsible for some pretty substantial additions to the Marvel universe. Much of the character X-23 (Logan's clone daughter, who now is named Laura and is the new Wolverine ... it's complicated) can be attributed to Liu's keen writing skills. Liu also brought in some of the most nuanced and thoughtful storylines to the character of Daken, Wolverine's bisexual, half-Japanese son. To top it off, Liu brings us deeply flawed and insanely layered characters every month in her creator-owned series, Monstress.

Dwayne McDuffie

Taken from us way too freaking early. Dwayne was a creative genius who founded Milestone Media, which has been described as "the industry's most successful minority-owned-and-operated comic company." Through Milestone, McDuffie treated us to layered and nuanced representations of minority characters like Static Shock, Icon, and Hardware. McDuffie also brought his incredible writing talents to TV's Young Justice and the All Star Superman animated movie.

Hayao Miyazaki

When you are watching a Hayao Miyazaki movie, it isn't just something you view; it is something you experience. Be it with his Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, or Howl's Moving Castle, Miyazaki has a way, even from those early moments of the film, of dragging you into this new and fantastical world, and you become instantly transfixed on the splendor. Animated filmmaking wouldn't be the same without Miyazaki's influence, and the past 25 years have seen his genius finally gaining recognition stateside.

Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Who knew the Panda trade could be so lucrative? As the director of Kung Fu Panda 2, Jennifer Yuh Nelson broke the barrier of being the first female to make a film that grossed over $600 million, and it was her directorial debut, no less! Her acheivement? Pure awesomeness!

Nnedi Okorafor

Winning international awards for her very specialized brand of Afrocentric science fiction, fantasy, and magical realism through books that are both YA-friendly and adult, Nnedi Okorafor has set the landscape ablaze tapping into stories deeply rooted in African mythology and presenting them in an easily digestible manner that can be greatly appreciated by all.

Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele landed on most people's radar as one half of the titular sketch comedy duo on Key & Peele, but it was his stunning directorial debut, Get Out, that truly put him in the pop-culture pantheon in our book. The film, a freaking horror masterpiece that, seriously, everyone should see, made Peele a name to watch behind the camera, and his work adapting the gothic horror anthology novel Lovecraft Country for HBO is much anticipated.

Christopher Priest (comics)

Helped launch a media company in "Milestone Media?" Check. First African-American editor in mainstream comics? You bet. Wrote some of your favorite comics series, like Deadpool, Black Panther, Steel, Ray, and even Conan the freaking Barbarian? Uh, hell yeah, he did. Co-created a kickass comic series about two accidental heroes who have been self-deprecatingly described as "the world's worst superhero team" in Quantum and Woody? Would you believe we're still talking about the same guy? Is there anything Priest doesn't do? Seeing as how busy he seems to keep himself, we're going to go with ... sleep?

Gabby Rivera

Finally, a queer superhero who actually speaks to the voice and everyday problems faced in the LBGTQ and Latino community, written by an amazing author who knows the material because she lives the material. In the hit Marvel series America, Gabby Rivera tackles the strong-as-hell character America Chavez as she explores and embraces how her diversity makes her a better, stronger, and more compassionate hero.

Robert Rodriguez

From a slaughterhouse in From Dusk Till Dawn to a grindhouse to a Spy Kids playhouse, Rodriguez perpetually finds new and exciting ways to entertain and pack a full house, no matter the genre. Want a female lead with a machine gun for a leg? Oh, does he have you covered. What about a visually stunning black-and-white film where a sociopath is left as a human stump, tied to a tree, and fed to dogs? May we invite you to visit Sin City? Rodriguez pioneered a DIY aesthetic for the modern era of filmmaking, and while the results haven't always been stellar, there's no doubt as to the impact he's had.

M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan exploded on the movie scene in 1999 with The Sixth Sense, a paranormal thriller that took the world by storm and made his name synonymous with shocking twists. His early winning streak -- Unbreakable is still considered by some the best work of superhero cinema, and Signs was winningly creepy despite the obvious flaw in its alien invasion -- would eventually end, but he's shown remarkable staying power, rebounding in the past few years with works like SplitThe Visit, and TV's Wayward Pines. Hit or miss, Shyamalan has proven himself to be a storyteller with a vision, taking your moviegoing expectations and tossing them right out the door.

Naoko Takeuchi

Some nights, when the stars shine bright in the sky, it takes everything in your power to stifle back a boisterous "In the name of the moon, I’ll punish you." On those nights, take a moment to give thanks to Naoko Takeuchi, for without Takeuchi, there would be no Sailor Moon (or Sailor Venus, or sailor Mercury, for that matter). In Sailor Moon, Takeuchi presented to us not just ordinary heroes, but incredibly relatable ones. Heroes who suffered through the same problems many of us deal with day to day, and showed us through these characters that every one of us have hidden powers that we can channel to make our lives just a little bit more bearable

Those were OUR choices. What are yours? Let us know in the comments which Creators of Color working in the last 25 years you’d put on your list?

Be sure to check out all of the other lists here!