Talking with Jarvis Sheffield, Founder of BSFS

By K. Ceres Wright

I’ve been reading and watching science fiction since I was 3 years old and for a long time, the only character I found who reflected me was Lieutenant Nyota Uhura of “Star Trek.” In college, when I was introduced to Storm as leader of the X-Men in the comic book, I was thrilled. But I was grown before I discovered Dayna Mellanby of “Blake’s 7.”

Over the years, the inclusion of Black women in speculative fiction has become more frequent, for example, Angela Bassett has starred in “Strange Days” and “Supernova,” Sanaa Lathan in “Alien vs. Predator,” and Freema Agyeman in “Dr. Who.” But as a Black woman (before I became a writer), I wanted more.

For many Black writers, artists, and animators looking to work on projects that featured Blacks in prominent roles, opportunities were not as numerous as desired, and perhaps subject to the decisions of large media companies. Enter Jarvis Sheffield.

Jarvis saw a need for the marriage of science fiction with an increased presence of Black characters and creators. So he began the Black Science Fiction Society (BSFS). It resides online at http://blacksciencefictionsociety.com/.

Jarvis graciously agreed to be interviewed and tells us his story and his vision for BSFS.

What made you start BSFS?

There were several reasons I started BSFS: 1) I wanted to play my part in making things better for the black science fiction genre. There were so many comics, books, movies, and other products out there that represented us better than what we commonly see that needed a place to be easily found, promoted, and purchased. 2) I want my child and other children to have black science fiction that they can identify with and emulate. 3) I think I was riding high on the momentum of the ascension of now President Obama. I figured if this brother can make it, I need to step up my game and play my part to BE the change we seek.

What joys and challenges do you experience running the site?

I have had so much enjoyment running the site. I love discovering new comics, books, and things of that nature. The opportunity to meet and get to know creators and others like me that enjoy science fiction has been a true blessing in my life. The challenges I have experienced have been learning to maintain a safe family-friendly environment. I’ve had to put members out on occasion for being disruptive. This has made some enemies, but as someone I highly respect (Bill Cosby) said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” I take everything as a learning experience and put my best foot forward to keep things running smoothly. Lastly, this has been a grass roots effort from the start so everything has to pay for itself.

What new opportunities have opened up for BSFS?

We have a lot of things going on such as new Genesis magazine issues, the Genesis Anthology Book II, and Genesis radio show. We are also developing video games and 3D movies. One thing I am very excited about is the fact that we are creating our own digital production studio so we can partner with creators to produce original content like movies, animations, games, books, comics, and toys.

Where do you see BSFS in the future?

I see BSFS members being in the forefront of developing science fiction properties in the future. I see them making products that we have hoped and dreamed of our entire lives where Blacks are not window dressing but are featured prominently in the forefront. Our kids deserve better, we deserve better, and the world deserves better. I am excited about the future of Black Science Fiction Society. The sky is the limit!

Last month, I featured an interview with the creator of the Black Science Fiction Society (BSFS), Jarvis Sheffield. This month, I caught up with him again to ask some follow-on questions, and he had some pretty interesting things to say.

Do you feel that you’ve been making progress?

Jarvis Sheffield: I love doing what I am doing. I can see the progress we are making every day. There were legions of books, comics, shows, toys, and events where you could scarcely find anything positive that had Blacks front and center in these worlds. There are now about a dozen events where this type of science fiction is bought and sold and their attendance continues to grow each year. I make a point to attend them so I see the progress each year. Even on our site, I started out with 20 others that liked Black Sci Fi, now we are approaching 4,000 registered members.

How does BSFS engage with the rest of the field?

JS: Black Science Fiction Society has open lines of communication with many different entities. Our members are also members of other organizations, as well. We invite everyone to what we are doing. We have members involved in other groups such as the Carl Brandon SocietyAtlanta Science Fiction Society,Baltimore Science Fiction SocietyDetroit Renaissance Center, Miami International Science Fiction Film FestivalDetcon1 in Detroit , The Schomburg Center in New York, and Dusable Museum in Chicago. We think that it is essential for characters of all colors and creeds to be represented positively and fairly. Given that, this movement is not exclusive to Black people, it is for all people, but with a Black focus. We welcome all races and ethnicities to partake of our wondrous gift of Black science fiction.

How well do you think BSFS and other similar organizations representing minorities are doing?

JS: I think that organizations such as ours are making slow but steady headway in building a foundation for multicultural works to be made and shared with those who are looking for work in this genre. I see an increasing number of books, comics, videos, toys, and events emerging across the country and internationally. As the country becomes increasingly diverse, the need will only grow.

What specifically has BSFS done to represent minorities in SF?

JS: We have been working on a multiyear plan with one new project being added each year. So far, we have the social network in place, a book series, a magazine, and a radio show.

In the future, we plan to have our own digital production studio, toys, an awards event, children’s books, comics, a convention, and BSFS chapters in various cities for members to join. At present, we have our first independent film, “Earth Squadron,” in pre-production. “Earth Squadron” is a film about what happens when planet Earth’s rejects are the only ones who can save them from an unknown alien foe bent on world domination. The short story was originally published in Genesis Anthology Book I in 2010. This movie showcases positive and uplifting multicultural characters. More info about that can be found atwww.EarthSquadron.com.

What more can the mainstream do?ASM: How is the mainstream failing this movement?

JS: I think mainstream is failing this movement by continuing to portray ethnic people in stereotypical roles. The ball has been dropped in terms of producing and marketing projects across the board that enrich the viewer rather than exploit by flooding the airwaves with such things as reality shows that do nothing to educate or uplift the viewer.

JS: Mainstream can do itself a favor and gain a larger market share by green lighting positive programming and marketing with the same fervor that it does with the current onslaught of reality shows. This country is made up of a cross section of diversity. Inclusion is the way to go and not just by plopping one ethnic character in as a side character. I personally turn off shows where there are no important ethnic characters. America is ready for other ethnicities; it is OK to share the limelight.

What more can Amazing Stories do?

JS: I think Amazing Stories is doing a great job by employing a diverse staff and continuing to incorporate creators across the spectrum. Continuing to do what you are already doing will go a long way toward helping the situation.

Diverse Writers & Artists Of Speculative FIction

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