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Star Trek debuted in 1966 with a cast that was practically unheard of in terms of diversity. True, it was headed up by white, straight (Kirk/Spock fanfiction notwithstanding) men, but the supporting cast was strikingly inclusive. For many sci-fi fans, this was the first time they’d felt represented within their favorite genre. Notably, Nichols was asked by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to continue on with the show rather than quit because she was a beacon of hope for audiences who longed to see themselves playing characters who were not maids. Astronaut Dr. Mae Jennison – the first African-American woman to go to space – was inspired as a little girl by seeing Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series , and later went on to play a small role in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation at LeVar Burton’s invitation.
Roddenberry’s view of the future saw the barriers that divide society melting away in favor of a truly united society that looks to the future with hope, not fear. And that was reflected as much as possible in the Original Series, as well as following Trek ventures. Now, we get this generation’s Trek Show, Star Trek Discovery . This Show is truly living up to the potential of Roddenberry’s vision, while at the same time possibly throwing that vision into some danger.
Discovery released its first major look at the Show at San Diego Comic Con, promising war with the Klingons and the invention of the warp drive as key elements of the plot. Still, it follows the mystery box attitude of most major franchises, and also keeps certain details under wraps. We do know it will retcon one very important family — Sarek (played this time around by James Frain), his wife Amanda, and their son Spock will be joined by Sarek and Amanda’s adopted daughter Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). Burnham will be the protagonist of the Show, marking this as the first time an officer, rather than captain, has been the lead.
It also marks the first time that a black woman has been the lead of a Star Trek Show. Most Trek leads have been white men; while there have been exceptions to the rule, four of seven Trek franchises have had white male leads. Martin-Green’s casting proves that the Discovery writers are not thinking inside the box for this show. Instead, they are truly embracing diversity by casting a black woman in the lead role, a move that is truly progressive considering how
white female leads are usually the ones hailed as feminist victories. This is a fresh move for Star Trek , and indeed for science-fiction, which still has trouble envisioning diverse heroes for mainstream products. Another notable casting choice is Michelle Yeoh as Captain Georgiou, captain of the U.S.S. Shenzou, and mentor to Burnham.
Anthony Rapp also joined the cast as the first major LGBT recurring character in Trek history – one with a promised love interest. Trek shook things up with the reveal that Sulu was gay in Star Trek Beyond , but there has yet to be a major LGBT character in one of the television shows. This is undiscovered territory for the franchise, and one that is a long time coming. Trek’s inclusive nature points to the inclusion of LGBT characters, and who knows? Discovery could really shatter stereotypes by possibly including a trans or gender nonconforming character in the next season.