Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays Michale Burnham on Star Trek: Discovery, paid homage to Whoopi Goldberg on an episode of the View.
At the end of the third season of Discovery, we saw Michael Burnham take the captain’s chair to become the first Black woman to portray a captain of a ship as a lead character in the Star Trek Universe.
Speaking on The View, Sonequa explained that for a long time she felt the weight of representing Black women with this new role fell entirely on her shoulders. But, she shifted her perspective and realised that she wouldn’t be in the position she was in without people that came before her, such as Nichelle Nichols from the original Star Trek series and Whoopi Goldberg, who starred in Star Trek: The Next Generation as the bartender Guinan. She told Whoopi, “I am your accomplishment, and I thank you.” Watch the video and see the full quote below:
But I also want to say that making history in this way and being cemented in history in this way, as the first Black female captain of a Star Trek show, what I have learned. I’ve been growing a lot lately and changing a lot on the heels of losing my parents and I realised that I was very self-oriented about it all. And I thought it was up to me to do it perfectly and do everything right, to pay homage to the people that came before me.
But this is not my accomplishment, it’s the accomplishment of those who have come before me. I simply stepped onto the path that was already laid for me by Nichelle and by you. And so, I am your accomplishment, and I thank you.
Of course, such a tender moment could not pass without criticism as fans debated the fact that Sonequa is not the first Black female captain of the franchise. Star Trek has always strived to be groundbreaking in its representation of minority groups, so sometimes “firsts” can go unrecognised.
Madge Sinclair played the first Black female captain of a Starfleet ship in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home on board the Saratoga. The captain was unnamed, and the role was not credited. Subsequently, there have been prequel series and films that portray female captains that came before Madge in the Trek timeline.
The reality is this Sonequa may not be the first Black female captain in the Star Trek franchise, but she is the first Black female captain in a lead role in a Star Trek series. Just as Kate Mulgrew was the first female lead and Avery Brooks was the first Black male lead. Sonequa Martin-Green deserves this first without the long debates.
Whoopi Goldberg will reprise her as roles Guinan in the upcoming season of Picard. Season 4 of Star Trek Discovery is currently only airing in the US as Paramount has pulled the show from Netflix.