Hey I was hooked. “Science fiction is a bit like my church,” said Smith, now 47 and living in Philadelphia. “It’s spiritual and very connected to who I am as a black and queer person.” The problem with his church, though, is that there isn’t much black (or queer) representation.
Mainstream science fiction features black characters like Morpheus from MatrixMace Windu’s star Warsand Lieutenant Commander La Forge and Nyota Uhura of star trek. But overall, black characters don’t get the same prominence and screen time as their white counterparts. And when blacks are around, they tend to be cishet smug and conventionally attractive. Fat, black bodies are a rarity.
“It just amazes me that fat people in general are treated and depicted as second-class citizens in science fiction, or that they’re made to represent something like greed, lust or villainy,” Smith said, pointing to the character. of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in Dune. “I used to do a queer sci-fi reading series called Laser Life,” she added, “and when I was looking for guest readers, the first story I got featured a villain who was fat. The character’s fatness was described in sickening terms and was seen as an obvious indicator of his villainy. It’s really disappointing.”
So when easily accessible AI art generators appeared last year, Smith, already an established visual artist, embraced these tools to create various black, fat and queer characters of a more inclusive futuristic world. Among them was Marcus, whom Smith brought to life using Midjourney and DID, an AI platform that creates talking avatars. Marcus heads a division of the Electric Afro Science Institute, which Smith called “an independent superhero-led Afrofuturist organization working on biomechanics, cosmic engineering, nanotechnology, medical alchemy.”
Smith described Marcus, who is queer, as “kind of a smart alec. A big, cute nerd who thinks he’s a bit of a gangster. He likes to study moths and ants and tries to see what things from insect life can be replicated in human life.” In an animated portrait of Marcus, which Smith posted on his Instagram, the character asks, “Who here is going to draw me?”