The Final Frontier?

BY JON ALEXANDER

So, if you’re a sci-fi geek like me and obsessed with a certain science fiction TV series, namely Star Trek, then you’re likely to have heard that there’s a new Star Trek in the works; Star Trek Discovery, abbreviated to STD for the purposes of this article.

When STD was first announced last year those magic words were uttered; they were planning on making it the most diverse cast in Star Trek history.  Naturally, certain quarters were wetting themselves in excitement at this breaking news – I doubt many of them had seen Star Trek before let alone understood what it stands for.

Star Trek has always stood for diversity.

Back in the days when the first pilot series – ‘The Cage’ – came out, it featured the wonderful Majel Barrett as ‘Number One’. She was second in command, however the network felt that the audience wouldn’t feel comfortable with a woman boss and a second pilot series was ordered.  That series then incorporated Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura and George Takei as Lieutenant Sulu.

Nichol’s appearance in the series is said to have launched the acting career of Whoopi Goldberg, who tells the story of being amazed that a black woman was on the television and she wasn’t acting the part of a maid.  And Nichols is also credited as the inspiration for Mae Jemison to become an astronaut.  The original TV series was also the first (or second depending on what sources you read) live action series to feature an interracial kiss between William Shatner and Nichols.  Granted, in today’s world, these would not be considered earth-shattering events but for the sixties, this show was groundbreaking.

Fast forward to 1987 when the most successful series in the franchise – The Next Generation – launched and gave Star Trek a new direction.  Yes, the three lead actors were white men however the series represented changing attitudes. Two of the main cast were black men and after decades of watching women screaming in a corner and playing the damsel in distress, a woman was given the job of chief of security – Denise Crosby played the character of Natasha Yar.  Unfortunately, the writers weren’t sure how to portray a female character in this role so Yar was criminally underused.

Yar and the brilliant Deanna Troi (played by Marina Sirtis) are unquestionably my two favourite Star Trek universe characters. They proved that female characters could be just as tough as the men whilst still being feminine and comfortable in their own bodies.

Over the years the series evolved, the next spin-off gave us a black man as the lead and the series after that gave us our first female lead whilst all the time ensuring a large mix of guest stars in both the TV series and films. Star Trek kept the dream of a future where people weren’t viewed by their skin colour, gender or orientation alive.

So, when news first broke of the latest series, much fuss was made over the fact the lead would be a non-white female. They would have a gay character and this series would be the most diverse yet…I always find in these cases the hype doesn’t live up to the outcome and I was right.

Out of the proposed main cast of nine, six are white males and seven are men, leaving just two females in the principle cast, the lowest representation since ‘Enterprise’ in 2001 and the reboot movies (2009-current) where they had two females and one female respectively.  Like the recent Eurovision Song Contest, whose theme was ‘Diversity’ yet was presented by three white men, it was a busted flush.

I welcome the idea of ‘Colour-Blind Casting’ where auditions are held for each role but those conducting the auditions have no preconceptions about what background the actors/actresses should have. Roles should be handed out on merit. It’s a real shame so many shows don’t seem to employ this principle and that the ratio of people from ethnic minorities is so low.

I am excited for this new series of Trek even though it should have Michelle Yeo in a main role and feature her and Soniqua Martin-Green as captain and first officer. If it did, the dynamics would be amazing but for some reason the top two jobs on a star-ship have to feature at least one man…I’m not sure why.

Surely in Star Trek’s Utopian future things like gender shouldn’t even be an issue. Yet back in 2017 many are already upset at the lack of diversity and paint-by-numbers casting of this series.  It’s my guess that this series will either finish the TV franchise for another fifteen years or it will reinvigorate it. Either way I shall be watching with interest.

 

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