An oft discussed aspect of genre content is their ability to take current issues and filter them through a safer, more subtle lens. While we can argue the success of said subtlety, few franchises have been as relentless and dedicated to the goal of using their voice as a message as Star Trek.
From it’s inception, with a black woman on the bridge and an Asian man at the helm, Gene Roddenberry’s vision for the future has always been one of hope: that the future, our future, could be found in peace, and with peace we would explore the stars. It’s a simple dream, a simple goal, and fans of Star Trek can tell you that from day-one, inclusion was the goal.
One of my fondest remarks about the series had to do with Patrick Stewart’s casting. The (new) captain of the enterprise was bald, and someone complained that would they not have solved baldness in the 23rd century? Roddenbery’s reply was that by then, no one would care about baldness anymore.
It’s that kind of hopeful future that draws me back, time and again, to the world of the Enterprise. And this is not to say it’s perfect, by any means. The fact that they pulled back on the rumoured plan to make Seven of Nine explicitly queer on Voyager rankles me to this day (they did manage to sneak that in to the end of season one of Picard mind you). Still, it was clear to me that our 21st century mindsets were preventing the dream of Roddenberry. Networks wouldn’t permit queerness like that.
At this year’s Comic-Con@Home 2020, the casts and producers of two of the current series talked about what it means and how important it is to carry on that message.
Two of the main characters on Discovery are gay men in a relationship, both played by openly queer men. While we see the ups and downs of their relationship (having a work/life balance when you live at work is hard to begin with, and let’s be honest, Stamets is a workaholic), there is no doubt that we also see their love.
It was a no-brainer for Star Trek to include this representation, because from the beginning, Star Trek was about using their voice to share the message. Executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Heather Kadin discussed how they feel about working on a show where the message is so important.
Heather Kadin: I think we’re all so proud to be working on a show that has a message that really matters and really resonates. I think anyone who does what they do on this side of the camera, on the other side of the camera is hoping to say something. And I think what’s great when you’re working on genre is you often get to say things about current events, and mask them so they don’t feel like medicine, or that you’re being taught something. And I think in the case of Star Trek, thematically it’s just been baked into what Star Trek is about a better hope, about equality, gender equality, racial equality, sexual equality.
Alex Kurtzman: Star Trek, really since its inception, has always… it’s endeavored to speak to the vision that we are all fortunate enough to live in every day. It’s unfortunately not the vision that the rest of the world is living in, but we live in this perfect world where, as Heather said, everybody really is united, and a lot of the differences that are dividing us these days are gone. So Star Trek United is an effort to bring awareness to many of the organizations that are critical right now, Black Lives Matter, the NAACP. A lot of our cast speaking to that, Star Trek speaking to it. The goal is not really to promote Star Trek, but to promote these organizations, and to use our platform to be able to bring greater awareness to these very, very important messages and places.Star Trek Universe Virtual Panel | Comic-Con@Home 2020 – 3:28
But it’s not just the EPs who are aware of the import. The cast of Discovery is equally cognizant of the reality that yes, it’s sci-fi, but the meaning of showing a future where they can be accepted is painfully important. And it’s not just the message of acceptance, but of accountability and aspiration. We still have a ways to go to make the world (even Star Trek’s) a better place for everyone.
Michelle Paradise: How important is it to you to continue the tradition of Star Trek taking a social and political stance as you enter Season 3.
Anthony Rapp: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s everything. I mean, Star Trek, of course, is fiction, it’s science fiction, but it’s always meant to imagine a future and a world in which people are valued for who they are, the content of their character, not the color of their skin, not their gender, not their gender expression, not their age, and you know, in this explosive time it seems more resonant now than ever that we help shine a light on all of those issues. And it’s not always doing it like, it’s not shining a light like super vividly all the time, it’s just part of the fabric of it, and that by itself is leading the way I think.
Wilson Cruz: I think what I’m grateful for is the fact that Star Trek has always been this aspiration for our society, for our country, that it has always set a goal, and that it’s been our job to help not only imagine that future, but to create it. And so, I think going into Season 3 we have an opportunity to really have a conversation about the world that we wanna create, and how each of us has a responsibility to create it together. So I’m grateful for the history that Star Trek has created in terms of giving us something to aspire to, and so I hope that we continue that with Season 3.
Michelle Yeoh: I just want to say that tradition’s just part of our DNA. And we just have to continue to strive together for what we believe in, for what is right. We know what is right or wrong, and we have to do it together. Yes.
Mary Chieffo: And that’s pretty much–continuing that. Just striving, and something that I’ve been really been thinking about, my gratitude for being a part of this franchise is that, it’s about the infinite combinations of diversity. That our work is never done. That there’s still representation and visibility yet to be seen, and so I’m really grateful to be a part of a franchise that champions that, over and over again. And the work isn’t done, but it’s pretty exciting.
Mary Wiseman: I think that one thing I value about, specifically our version of Star Trek is that we don’t make assumptions that we’ve already reached perfection, that we allow that there’s more to do within ourselves, and within the Utopia of the Federation and beyond. And I think that’s a really important message to hear right now because there are a lot of people who assume some of these issues are resolved, and they’re not. So I love that about our show, and I think it’s important, it taught me a lot about how to engage -in my reality at this time.
Sonequa Matin-Green: Thank you for that, Mary, I wanna piggy-back and say that I think a story like this, piggy-backing on what everyone has said, a story like this that can give us an example of what that future might look like. I think it, at least I hope that it really holds us accountable, and shows us, as Mary was just saying that, as both Marys were saying that the work is not done, and that it’s about confronting ourselves, and really confronting each other. And we see that in the story within the legacy of this franchise. So that’s really what’s gonna propel us forward is confronting ourselves truthfully, and confronting each other, exposing ourselves in a way like we haven’t before. So I hope that we contribute in our iteration, I hope that we contribute moments to the movement in that way.Star Trek Universe Virtual Panel | Comic-Con@Home 2020 – 28:53
Picard‘s Acceptance and Inclusion
One of the greatest gifts at the end of season one of Picard was their brief moment with Seven and Raffi. When panel host Dominic Patten asked Michelle Hurd and Jeri Ryan what they wish could be brought from the Star Trek world to ours, there was no hesitation in their answers.
Dominic Patten: This is a question for Jeri and for Michelle. And this if from, I have to say, someone who really lucked out when they got their Twitter handle, it’s from Starfleetboy. What is the one thing that you wish could be brought out of the Star Trek world, or universe I guess, into the real world?
Michelle Hurd: Oh, my gosh.
Jeri Ryan: Ah, acceptance.
Jeri: Inclusion, yeah.
Michelle: Literally what Patrick just said you know that the understanding of how valuable life is. Like can we all look out for our brothers and sisters? Can we all just take the moment to understand that our differences are actually our strengths?
Michelle: It’s what makes us a strong species, that we have all these different thoughts, these different looks, these different opinions, these different ways of handling ourselves in the world, of walking down the street. I’m so thankful that I’m part of an organization that gets it. We always talk about Star Trek holding a mirror up to society, perhaps society needs to look at us, and start replicating what we’re doing. Because we’re trying to tell the stories to heal.
Jonathan Frakes: Gene Roddenberry said, “In the 23rd Century there will be no sexism and no racism, and no hunger and no greed.”
Michelle: Let’s make it happen.Star Trek Universe Virtual Panel | Comic-Con@Home 2020 – 1:16:09