First Black Man in the Fleet

Plotting Evil Threatening People Quite Dead

Plotting evil, threatening people, quite dead. It’s sad that we still have to have this conversation, but is there any good reason why the only black male character to appear on Ron Moore’s otherwise outstanding Battlestar Galactica is a demon that needs to be put out of his misery?

In a recent episode (somewhat ironically titled “Black Market”) we find the first black man in the fleet to get screen time (Bill Duke as “Phelan”) trafficking in everything from murder to booze to stolen goods to, oh yeah, child sex (all white kids, mind you). And he’s killed at the hands of Apollo’s righteous vigilante justice in his first episode. Shades of Dirty Harry?

Now, I’m first to say that the exploration of moral ambiguity is one of Galactica’s strongest aspects (especially in the current political climate), but this character has no grays — heck, he doesn’t live long enough to develop any! And perhaps the argument that it was morally questionable for Apollo to shoot the guy in cold blood holds some water, but not much. Ultimately, by nearly any cinema metric you choose to apply, Phelan deserves death. It’s depressing to see a show that makes its living going against stereotype go down this kind of road.

With black folks still struggling to find decent roles in film, it’s particularly sad that science fiction of all things can’t at least invent a future where black men aren’t still portrayed as being at the bottom of all the bad stuff. As it is, Hollywood Shuffle remains relevant nearly 20 years on. Ron, I know it’s not your job to fix the industry, but I still thought you were better than this.

The continuing poor representation of African Americans in film was previously scoped in Snubbed.

2 Responses to “First Black Man in the Fleet”


  1. 1 Kurt Luther

    Don’t forget Simon, who is not part of the fleet but rather an evil Cylon. Just proves your point even further, I’m sorry to say.

  2. 2 Jason

    Good point. I forgot about him. Ron Moore was on WNYC last year and I was really tempted to call in and ask him about this, but I couldn’t figure out a way to phrase the question so it wouldn’t sound accusatory. Ah, well. At least Bulldog was a little better. Let’s hope the trend continues…

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