Representation in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ – the Needs of the Many, Not Just the Few

"This shows so clearly how little representation there still is for so many minorities"

Last week, it was announced that Blu del Barrio and Ian Alexander will play characters Adira and Gray, in Star Trek: Discovery season three. I read a post by a friend on Facebook, who was delighted to see that there will be people who they can relate to in a ‘Star Trek’ series. I was delighted that someone felt that way, but it gave me a reason to try and step back and realise how fortunate I am and how much I take for granted. The fact it was someone I know and love really brought it home to me. I could sense the joy they were feeling, because of the rarity of the event. This shows so clearly how little representation there still is for so many minorities. It would be arrogant and wrong for me to begin to state why or talk at length about the reasons for this. I have neither the knowledge required nor the personal experience to draw on. I have never had to learn ways to defend my identity, so I can request that I am identified how I choose. Fuller investigation and discussions, about representation in the entertainment industry overall, are best left to those currently more suitably qualified than myself.

In the future, I hope to grow my knowledge, to contribute and inform, helpfully and respectfully. I  accept any charge, without any exception, that my choice to have this discussion could be deemed hypocritical, or that I simply shouldn’t “wade-in”. Yet, I can’t help but feel that this is very much about ‘Star Trek’ as a show and the tradition of leading the way with helping break down barriers. As ‘Star Trek’ is something I know a thing or two about, I decided to comment.

I am not a huge fan of ‘Discovery’. The reasons for this aren’t relevant here. What is, is that the show broke ground with the naming of Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), the central figure in it. It gave many fans great joy. I imagine they felt like my friend did when they found out about the recent exciting casting news. Happy. Hopeful. I have long been a great fan of ‘Star Trek’ and continue to be. The thought that a new series that may retroactively influence the story of the previous shows bothers me, much more than it really should. I don’t like changes that occur to characters that I care for, deeply. Honestly, I don’t like change much at all. I am autistic, and now self-aware of that. But, as that might be, whilst the show has always been a great comfort to me and source of inspiration, it is just that. A show. Fiction. Yet, ‘Star Trek’ mirrors popular culture wonderfully, and comments on important aspects of society. There are many examples. The one relative here is the interracial kiss between Kirk and Uhura in TOS (Plato’s Stepchildren)It seems that a similar moment is upon us now, with the first self-identifying non-binary and transgender cast members being part of the show, as characters who also identify as that.

Currently, there seems to be a sort of hyper-politics to things said on social media, or even just on the internet. Perhaps there are both positive and negative aspects of this, generally. What’s undeniable is that hate-speech occurs and is often accepted and even legitimised. In regard to this, there has been, and is, certainly a politicising of ‘Star Trek Discovery’. At least some of it seems to be down to certain elements of people simply not liking that Michael Burnham has been adopted as representative of the LGBTQIA community and the black community. There are those who deny that’s the reason they aren’t enamored with the show. I’m in that category. However, it seems important to see beyond what you enjoy, and why that is/isn’t. I am not a fan of the writing, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of diversity. That’s what makes ‘Star Trek’ great, ultimately. It’s what has kept me returning to it again and again. I’m proud to be a fan of a show that does more than accept differences. It welcomes and celebrates them. Embraces unique cultures and their ideals.

So, I liken Michael Burnham and the new casting as equally important as Kirk and Uhura’s kiss. Perhaps even more so. This inclusivity will be written off by some as pandering, posturing, game playing, and much worse. What it is, is progress and a tiny example of what’s much needed more widely. Let’s say, for argument’s sake that I wasn’t crazy about the storyline that led to Uhura and Kirk’s kiss; the plot wasn’t the strongest if a little daft. Now, if that was what I took from things, and almost ignored the social implications and their power to conquer racism, I could hardly claim to be an aspiring advocate of social equality. I am therefore led to conclude that whatever I may think of the writing of Michael Burnham’s character, and whatever my views are on Adira and Gray, I will be very grateful they are there.

Something crucial to mention is that I still have all the other series. I can and do watch them, regularly. If I prefer the stories in them, so be it. Lots of those stories were also based around representing minorities (you’d have to be a bit dim not to notice that Dax in DS9 was also a symbol of gender fluidity). I love ‘Star Trek‘, but I love my friend more. The show exists in a fictional realm, but the act of seeing someone you care for being filled with joy because they’ll feel represented takes place in the real world. So, even if I deem the writing and the characters to be bad, as long as they are happy with the representation then I will be happy those characters exist. ‘Star Trek’ is very important to me; but, people feeling that it’s a show for them too is much more important to me. My opinion on the show as a whole (which I do hope will change in season three) is inconsequential in comparison to the show being about to make history, again. Now, that is truly exciting and what should be the focus. Sing, shout, and be proud to be a part of it, whatever your views on the show. I know my friend will be along with so many others. I’m delighted for them, and with them.

After all. All good ‘Star Trek’ series represent “the needs of the many over the few” and talk about ‘Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations’.

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