Let’s Talk About These ‘Fans’ Hating on Star Trek: Discovery’s Diversity
Guest writer and super Star Trek fan, Andrew LeRue, has a few words to say about the people hating on the diversity in Star Trek: Discovery.
Excitement, apathy, amusement, indifference; Star Trek: Discovery has most certainly sparked a myriad of mixed reactions – as it was most certainly bound to by the inherent nature of any franchise with a devoted following. I’m certainly among those who aren’t quite sure what to say about the newest series, which has presented itself with a catering of familiarity mixed with new and intriguing things. There’s much in its debut trailer that boldly places its footing in the long and ongoing history of Star Trek while some strange and unexpected aspects can be found filling the gaps between the familiar. The reactions to this have, unfortunately, warped into less of a reflection on the material as a whole, and more on specific casting choices and theme of the series.
Given the uniquely connected age that we live in it is typical for any new series or movie to face immediate scrutiny from an audience already on edge from anticipation, as new details and insights are (im)patiently awaited. The most unfortunate of which is something that has become one of the biggest issues that social media interconnectivity has broadly spotlighted: bigotry. Sometimes it’s predictable. Other times it can be remarkably bewildering. Whether it’s based in sexism, racism, xenophobia, etc., there are times such as now in which its ugly head is a surprise to see lingering within the crowd. Star Trek is most certainly a property in which you wouldn’t quite have expected stir up controversy in casting particular genders or races; these are issues that it was fighting decades ago.
The original series itself faced such a dilemma from its first pilot: keep a woman at the helm of a starship (Number One, played by Majel Barrett), or keep an alien present on the bridge (Mr Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy) – Gene Roddenberry wasn’t allowed to have both. Meanwhile the full production version of the series went on to present an African-American woman blatantly and proudly within view of nearly every episode. Uhura (played by Nichelle Nichols), a character which sparked much inspiration to many young people including a young Whoopi Goldberg.
With that in mind, one could only imagine the reaction that Mr. Roddenberry might have in finding that the newest Star Trek lead is a combination of all three. Undoubtedly, he’d be sad that such a culmination is the subject of scrutiny and hatred because of race and gender — two aspects that frequently plagued his own original production. It’s such a shame that anyone who considers themselves a fan of Star Trek could find fault in the race, or the gender, of any actor for a role for which it has no bearing.
Over half a century of storytelling, Star Trek has not only shown us the concept or the ideal of acceptance, but it has fervently analyzed why discrimination based on personal attributes is an ugly side of humanity. The franchise’s message has always been that diversity is a beautiful thing. It is a history that has left us in love with androids, enchanted by extraordinary alien concepts, and enriched by passionate analysis into our own psyche.
It is shocking that people could still find themselves offended by non-fictional attributes of an actor. That’s not to say Star Trek is perfect, nor was its creator. The franchise has been mixed with controversy between bucking the trend and even perpetuating bigotry itself, which was on clear display in “Code of Honor,” an episode from the first season of The Next Generation. The notorious episode is widely considered to be one of the worst episodes of the entire franchise for its racist and sexist themes, but it does at least serve as a stark contrast to the rest of the series and further defines the meaning of the franchise’s mission.
Star Trek, from the beginning, has explained to us and shown us in its own ways how acceptance can be done without celebrating or praising one race, one gender, or one species over another. It has told us an ongoing story about how diversity enrichens humanity and bolsters our individuality. That seems to be what upsets bigots the most when it comes to casting choices such as those made for Discovery.
Star Trek is doing what it does best: creating characters that may be vastly different from the majority, but are treated like any other person that may be thrust into moral dilemmas and handling unique crises. If you are truly a fan of Star Trek, then you certainly should be aware that character roles and purposes are not defined by race, gender, or sexuality.
Over the course of nearly three decades of being a Star Trek fan, I have gone from being simply mesmerized as a child by exciting phaser battles and exotic alien makeups, to being in awe of stories and ideas that I’ve only perceived as I matured. Numerous episodes throughout all the series still manage to astonish me with their depiction, their treatment, and their study of cultural norms, social stigmas, and blatant discrimination. Some of the best episodes show our protagonists are not as infallible, superior, and/or arrogant characters. Instead they show that it doesn’t matter how enlightened you are or perceive yourself to be, you should live life with an open mind to celebrate individuality and its complexities, and to explore the evolution of humanity.
That absolutely is something that should be understood for Star Trek: Discovery. It looks to have things I won’t agree with, and various things that others won’t agree with, but it most certainly is not here to disparage anyone of a specific gender or skin color. It may have changed some things, and it may introduce new things. The one important element it has taken from Star Trek’s longstanding legacy is a cast that can offer a diverse experience to tell a fascinating story. That is Star Trek’s mission.