We’re getting a new Star Trek series!!! It’s called Star Trek: Discovery, and I’m excited for multiple reasons. We haven’t had a new Trek series in quite a while, and Michelle Yeoh is going to be a starship captain. I’m a big fan of Michelle Yeoh. She’s an amazing martial artist and an incredible actor. Sonequa Martin-Green (see below) will be her first officer. A Trek series piloted by women of color?!?! In addition, this will be one of the few SF properties wherein the women of color are not covered in makeup which hides their race. Also? A black woman with Vulcan training? (I can’t decide if she’s part Vulcan or a Federation ambassador’s kid or someone sent to Vulcan by the Federation to learn as much as possible.) That is wonderful. I can only imagine how affecting it is to see this kind of representation as a black woman who is also a Spock fan. (Hey, it only took a bunch of women pilots in the background of a Star Wars movie to bring me to tears.) Holy crap, I’m so proud to be a Trekkie at this moment, but I’m also disappointed.
The first reason why is that there are a number of racists who are having issues with the choice of captain and second in command. I hesitate to use the word ‘fans’ because I simply don’t understand how you can claim to have watched over fifty years of programming with progressive, inclusive themes (including one of the first inter-racial kisses shown on American television) and miss the point so badly. If the themes (like drug addiction, violence, gender, race, labor exploitation, colonialism, aging, and automation) had been even remotely subtle, that would be one thing. However, a majority of the time they were rammed into the script with a literary hammer the size of Mjolnir. You have to work hard to ignore it. So personally, I don’t think racists get to act surprised. Star Trek has always been for liberals. Always. It was one of the few SF properties that emphasized negotiation and diplomacy over violence for the solving of problems, after all. And Star Trek has always been my favorite SF property (yes, over Star Wars) for that reason.
An aside: I’ve always suspected the Federation was patterned, in part, after the Peace Corps. Established by JFK, it was wildly popular among activist hippies at the time. Just read the first line on that site: “For more than five decades, Peace Corps Volunteers in 140 countries have demonstrated ingenuity, creativity, and grit to solve critical challenges alongside community leaders.” Ever wondered where the Prime Directive they keep struggling with in various episodes (not so much in the films) came from? Well, there you are.
My biggest disappointment comes from the knowledge that Michelle Yeoh won’t be staying on as captain. They will, in fact, be handing Discovery over to yet another white dude. (Jason Isaacs/Captain Lorca) [sigh] WHY?! Why can’t we keep Michelle Yeoh?! As rarely as black women are represented — and that is indeed rare without tons of makeup as mentioned before — in SF, Asian actresses are even more rare. If we can’t keep Michelle Yeoh, then give the damned helm to Sonequa Martin-Green! This is like finding out that they’re doing a Wonder Woman movie where Wonder Woman is on the screen for the first fifteen minutes, dies, and is replaced by a story about white dudes. Oh, sure, Captain Lorca will not be the focus. This is going to be an ensemble cast thing. I get that. However, this is fucking 2017. You really can headline black women in an entertainment property and have it be wildly successful. Why dance around the issue? Is it really that damned difficult to portray women of color in leadership roles? Many black women are leaders in my experience — amazing leaders, in fact — even though embarrassingly often they don’t get the credit for it. Can we please see them in roles on screen that don’t involve civil rights protests, poverty, and/or crime?
My dearest Star Trek, if you’re going to get charged with headlining women of color anyway you might as well do the “crime” with enthusiasm. Don’t hold back. Otherwise, it just looks like you’re pacifying a group of idiots who never understood the heart of Star Trek in the first place.