Star Trek was one of the most forward-thinking TV shows of its era. First airing in 1966, it boldly pushed at the boundaries of the social issues of the day, not shying away from controversial subjects like race and women’s liberation. And you don’t have to be a “Trekkie” to know that Star Trek was also one of the most diverse TV shows of its time, possibly of all time.
The regular cast of the Original series included Black communications officer Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, Japanese senior helmsman Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, and the young Russian ensign Pavel Chekov. In fact, even the iconic Spock was played by actor Leonard Nimoy, who is of Ukranian Jewish heritage. Happily each of these iconic characters made it to the Star Trek reboot, the second installment of which premieres tomorrow!
However, what made Star Trek so universally adored for decades across such a wide array of audiences was its fearless confrontation of many of the most controverial social issues of the day. While it was thrilling to see characters like Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov return to the big screen for the 2009 reboot, to really capture the Star Trek legacy, this rebooted franchise needs to be much more than the action adventure film of the 2009 film. A Star Trek that fans will recognize would take on the issues of our day… issues like anti-Muslim hate, the rampant manic fear of terrorism, LGBTQ rights (check out Devon Maloney‘s insights on this over at Wired), slut-shaming, abortion, police violence, the achievement gap… Just as The Original Series drew on metaphors to talk about the Vietnam War and dared to air the first interracial kiss on television.
Whether or not audiences always agreed with the social commentary of the original Star Trek series and films, it was notable that a show with such a large following was bold enough to bring these issues to the forefront. Though today several small screen and big screen features address many of our society’s issues in interesting ways, the Star Trek franchise, with its status as an iconic science fiction series, could have a large impact on these important conversations. The first Star Trek reboot film in 2009 was more or less solely an action adventure. Here’s hoping tomorrow’s premier shows at least a hint of the franchise returning to its bold roots!
In the meantime, before the movie premieres tomorrow and the critics emerge, let’s get in the celebrating mood…
Aside from the famous Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov, throughout the decades Star Trek featured many other dynamic characters of color, some of them even nabbing prominent or recurring roles in the epic Star Trek story. Here are a few we might look forward to seeing again in the reboot!
Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) was a helmsman and the chief engineer in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was also born blind and so wore a visor that allowed him non-standard vision. His father Doctor La Forge also appeared in a few episodes.
Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn) was the first Klingon to join the Star Fleet. He first appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation as a tactical officer before being promoted to Chief of Security. Originally not intended to be a regular character, Worf appeared in more episodes than any other character.
Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) was a mysterious recurring character in Star Trek: The Next Generation and also appeared in two Star Trek films. Her race is never mentioned in the TV series, but she is later described as El-Aurian in one of the films. Guinan is a bartender on the ship is believed to have lived for several centuries. She is often depicted listening to members of the fleet and offering advice.
Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) was played by Sudanese-American actor Alexander Siddig (aka Siddig El Fadil). He was the chief medical officer in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) was the first and only Black character to lead as Commander in the Star Trek series. He was the Captain in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. A New Orleans native, he was originally the owner of a restaurant in New Orleans before joining Starfleet and moving swiftly up the ranks.
Tuvok (Tim Russ) was possibly the first Black Vulcan to appear in the franchise, making his first appearance as the chief of security and chief tactical officer in Star Trek: Voyager. His Vulcan wife T’Pel also appears in several episodes.
Chakotay (Robert Beltran) – Played by actor Robert Beltran, who is of Mexican-Native American heritage, Chakotay first appeared as First Officer in Star Trek: Voyager
Hoshi Sato (Linda Park), played by Korean American actress Linda Park, was the communications officer in Star Trek: Enterprise. She was a linguist who could speak 40+ languages
Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) – So in The Original Series, the iconic villain Khan was played by Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban. The role of Khan is being reprised in Star Trek: Into Darkness by British Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch. We’ll definitely be seeing Khan. While he won’t be portrayed by an actor of color as in the past, the fan favorite Cumberbatch is sure to give an incredible performance.