October is Black History Month in the UK and this year’s theme is Proud to Be. After writing a piece about how our Black ancestors reclaimed their dignity after slavery, I thought I’d lighten the mood and write about how proud I am to be a Trekkie. It really comes down to representation.
In the fantastic future world of Star Trek humans are portrayed as moving beyond the isms and schisms that plague us in the current day. Humankind has taken to the stars and formed a central government with alien worlds called the United Federation of Planets. The Federation’s principles are liberty, equality, peace, justice and progress with the purpose of furthering the universal rights of all sentient life.
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry came up with this idea back in the 60s. The first episode of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) aired in 1966 the year after the American civil rights movement attained voting rights for African Americans.
On screen diversity
From the outset, Roddenberry was determined to make the crew racially diverse. In the original series, we were presented with a cast that reflected his vision. African American, Nichelle Nicholls as Uhura, Japanese American, George Takei as Sulu and Walter Koenig who played Russian, Pavel Chekov were front and centre on the bridge amidst the action.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) has and always will have a special place in my heart as it got me through some tough times in my life. The series continued Roddenberry’s visions of diverse actors with LeVar Burton as Geordi La Forge and Michael Dorn as Worf. The Klingon makeup was also a vast improvement from TOS who used blackface for their Klingons. Late in the series, we also got Whoopie Goldberg as the bartender Guinan. Seeing Whoopie in TNG for the first time gave me a huge buzz.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
With Star Trek Deep Space Nine we were given the first Black lead in a Trek series as Avery Brooks took on the role of Captain Benjamín Sisko. We also get one of the best portrayals of a Black father and son relationship on television. It is so refreshing to see the displays of love and respect between Sisko and his son Jake (Cirroc Lofton).
Star Trek: Voyager
With Voyager we got our first female lead with Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway. Voyager continued the legacy of having a multicultural cast and crew in the form of Mexican-Native American, Robert Beltran playing Native American, Commander Chakotay, Roxanne Dawson who is of Hispanic descent playing half-human, half-Klingon, B’Elanna Torres, African American, Tim Russ as Vulcan, Tuvok and Chinese-American, Garrett Wang as Harry Kim.
Star Trek: Discovery
It wasn’t until Star Trek: Discovery that we got our first Black female lead and it was worth the wait. Sonequa Martin-Green kills it as Michael Burnham. Not only do we have Black and minority ethnic representation amongst the cast and crew we LGBTQ+ representation as gay actors, Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz play a gay married couple and 2020 saw two new additions to the cast. Blu del Barrio is a non-binary actor whose pronouns are they/them. They play Adira who is a non-binary character. We also have Ian Alexander who is transgender.
Star Trek: Enterprise
Star Trek: Enterprise also had minorities in main roles as did the films. It wasn’t until Star Trek: Discovery that we got our first Black female lead and it was worth the wait. Sonequa Martin-Green kills it as Michael Burnham. Not only do we have Black and minority ethnic representation amongst the cast and crew we have LGBTQ+ representation as gay actors, Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz play a gay married couple and 2020 saw two new additions to the cast. Blu del Barrio is a non-binary actor whose pronouns are they/them. They play Adira who is a non-binary character. We also have Ian Alexander who is transgender.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds promises even more diversity in the form of disability representation. Bruce Horak will become the first legally blind actor to play a main character on a Trek TV series, in the role of Hemmer who is an Aenar. Aenar are an albino subspecies of Andorians that are generally depicted as blind.
All of this matters. It wasn’t so long ago that straight and non-disabled actors were getting these LGBTQ+ and disabled roles. Representation matters in front of the camera as well as behind the scenes and I’m proud that Star Trek is leading the way.
Parables and morals
I love Star Trek’s use of analogy, metaphors and parables to tell real-world stories using aliens. It means we are able to explore stories that might make us feel uncomfortable if told as is in a way that we can see the truth and empathise. One of my favourite TNG episodes is the second season episode, Darmok where the Tamarian civilisation actually speak in nothing but metaphors. It was like a parody of the franchise.
Many people really don’t like being hit over the head with truth bombs and Star Trek can be a much gentler way to reveal the inequalities of the world we live in. Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (TOS) and The Outcast (TNG) are examples of Trek dealing with colour and gender topics.
Whilst colour has never been a barrier for me to engage with my favourite characters, as a fan of the sci-fi and fantasy genres, it means a lot to see people like me and other people who are normally othered, being represented in the kind of tales that I love to read and watch on TV and in movies. I am really proud to be a Trekkie.