First Black Man In Space (In The Movies That Is…) Flashback

First Black Man In Space (In The Movies That Is...) Flashback

So all this talk and discussion we’ve been having for the last few weeks on S & A about Red Tails I thought it was the right time to go back and repost an item I wrote last year back in June about the first black astronaut in the movies.

Actually there were two and it happened in the same year and not surprigingly neither was an American film. However, if anyone knows who was was the first black actor to appear in an American film as an astronaut please tell us. (That is assuming that it has happened by now..hasn’t it?)

But the guy in the picture on the left is Archie Savage and anybody who knows the history of black dance in America should be familiar with him as one of its true pioneers. The Virginia-born Savage, who died in 2003, was one of real innovators of modern black dance, and for many years danced with the Katherine Dunham Dance Company as her partner

He went on to appear uncredited in several American films as a dancer, with his biggest role in the 1954 Gary Cooper/Burt Lancaster Robert Aldrich directed western Vera Cruz. But like so many other black artists who felt they were under-appreciated, went to Europe for better opportunities.

He settled in Italy and continued making more films, though they were mostly still no better than roles he had played in the U.S. But in 1960, he had a supporting role as an astronaut in the cheapo Italian sci-fi movie Space Men (Assignment: Outer Space) directed by Antonio Margheriti.

Now, that would have made him the first black actor ever to play an astronaut in a film if it wasn’t for the fact that, in the very same year, 1960, the Nigerian actor Julius Ongewe, of whom practically nothing else is known, appeared as an astronaut as well, in the then Communist East German film First Spaceship on Venus.

I’ve never seen Assignment Outer Space, but as you can see from the clip below, in which Savage appears very briefly at the beginning, it’s a pretty chintzy movie with comical special effects. However it’s pretty much on par with foreign made, cheapo sci-fi films from that period.

However, I have seen First Spaceship to Venus since the original, restored, widescreen uncut German language version of the film under its original title, The Silent Star, was released on DVD a few years ago by First Run Features home video. Though there are DVDs of the edited, English dubbed, version around and the film as even been on Mystery Science Theater 3000. But no matter which version you see, just take a guess what happens to the brother?

That’s right. You guessed it! HE DOESN’T MAKE IT! Goddamn Commie pinko bastards! All this talk about brotherhood, comradeship and singing The Internationale , and they STILL do a brother wrong! HYPOCRITES! Can’t a brother get a break?

Here’s the clip from Assignment Outer Space with Archie Savage:

This Article is related to: Features


Comments

Afrasyab

some guy on an "ostalgia"-board posted an east-german movie magazine from 1960, which contains some info on that movie (all thanks to him); according to that, Julius isn't Nigerian, but Kenyan; he also isn't a professional actor, but asStudent of medicine in Leipzig who got three month free to take part in the movie; asked if he would like to continue acting, he says, he would serve his country better as a physician, since there are many ill people there.

FCA1975

True Julius character died in that film. However it is amazing that not only was he in this film with 'speaking' lines, and played a prominent role, but he was not the only black or non-fair skinned actor in that film. It might be the first time such a variety of ethnicities and nationalities were in the same film. At least in positive roles, non-stereotypical roles. I myself would not have guessed it was made in a communist country. I knew it was not America right away with the cast, but could tell there had been dubbing done.

Scarletta

Scratch that. Jeff Burton in the original Planet of the Apes.

Scarletta

How about Nichelle Nichols?

Said in Los Angeles

Why did David jump??!?!?

Tamara

Don Cheadle as an astronaut in de Palma's Mission to Mars (2000). Searching to find if he was/is "the first".

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