Fans of Star Trek’s Values
At NCC-1031.COM, we’re all fans of Star Trek. Most of us have been watching the shows for decades. I personally subscribe to, and believe the following quote to be true: “everything I know in life I learned from Star Trek“. Am I a Trekkie or Trekker? Yes, but which? None of your business, thanks.
Because we consider ourselves to be such big fans, it’s hard – painful even – to point out when the series, episode, or show, has gone astray, or speak of Star Trek in negative terms. Especially when it presents us with such an optimistic future. But the more news we see coming in about Star Trek Discovery, the more dismayed we get with regards to certain aspects of the series. While the details about the show itself give reason to remain optimistic, some production decisions don’t.
People Now, of the Future
One of the core tenants of Star Trek has always been that it does an admirable job at trying to represent us all. By that, I mean humans – of all ethnicities and genders. It doesn’t do this perfectly, true. At times it has been so off the mark its been offensive (Chakotay pan flute music, TNG episode “Code on Honor”). But it tries, and has been a ground-breaker in this regard more than once. Trek has an equality that has been held up as something we, humans, should strive towards. Much of it’s wide appeal and massive cult following can be attributed to the fact that it is representative of humanity and non-assuming.
We’re now in 2017 and most mainstream entertainment has finally caught up to where Star Trek started off some decades ago. It’s fair for one to assume that Discovery, the newest franchise of the series, would be looking to break ground on some real 21st century social issues. Especially since the original showrunner and creator, Bryan Fuller, has made this a point on more than one occasion.
Unfortunately, when we look at the casting announcements so far, we’re immediately struck by just how non-representational the cast is. To the point where its less diverse than most mainstream television is. Certainly less than any previous series. Frankly, this is embarrassing for a Star Trek show, and the production crew and those making the decisions aught to be ashamed of themselves.
A Real World Cast
For those that think cultural diversity in television is fake or unattainable, I want to stop and talk about my day job for a moment.
I work for a media company within their tech department. There are 9 people on my immediate team. Of those nine there are: 2 Black men (from very different African countries), 1 Caucasian man, 1 Italian man, 1 man of Middle Eastern decent, 1 man of mixed race (myself – 1/4 Black, 3/4 Caucasian). Then there is 1 woman from Belgium of mixed race (1/2 Caucasian, 1/2 Black), 1 woman from Iran, and 1 Egyptian woman. Of these people, 3 are Muslim, 1 is Christian, 1 is Catholic, and 4 are Atheist. 1 woman is gay.
This is a real-world 21st century inclusive team. Not only are we all professionals in our field, our diverse cultures and origins give us a breadth of experience that a single culture doesn’t and can’t. Out of the box doesn’t need to happen because there is no box.
My team excels beyond our on-paper record as a result of a diverse people and mindset. If this is my real life experience, why can’t it also be that of Star Trek Discovery‘s supposed utopian future of equality?
By the Numbers
So far there have been 13 official casting announcements. That’s quite a few for Star Trek, and we understand not everyone announced so far should be considered a series main character. Of those 13 cast, a whopping 10 of them are men. As we’ve written before, Star Trek Discovery needs more women – badly. But not just that. Of those 10 men, 7 of them are Caucasian, 1 Black, 1 Indian, and 1 Pakistani. Add to that the fact that Chris Obi (Black male) and Shazad Latif (Pakistani male) both play Klingons. This means that their ethnicities will be mostly hidden by their makeup! Intentionally or not, there’s a point being made where the racially-different have been cast as aliens.
Now if Star Trek strives to represent us all, this is a far cry from it. Last time we checked, the world’s population wasn’t made up of 54% Caucasian men. Actually, males of all ethnicities combined only represent 48% of people. If Discovery were to present Caucasians men more representationally, it would have between 1-2 Caucasian men and 2-3 Caucasian women.
This all isn’t to say that Star Trek should be playing a purely numbers game and be defined only in these terms. But it needs to be more honest with itself when casting decisions are made – that it’s no longer following the tenants that were once prevalent and that contributed heavily to its popularity and longevity. Either that or make conscious decisions in the other direction where casting is more inclusive – and stick to it.
The world is becoming more and more divided by political extremes and nationalism. Star Trek desperately needs to address these, not only in plotline and content, but also in casting.
None of this should be considered an assault on any of the actors. They’re all undoubtedly excellent in their craft. There are also plenty of individuals that are just as good that fall within different cultures and ethnicities.
Time is Running Out
There’s still time for Discovery to head in this direction. But with filming already going into its third month, and at least two episodes having been filmed already, time is running short.
Will the producers continue perpetuating Hollywood’s well documented diversity problem, or will they turn things around and head more towards what Star Trek is supposed to be about? A representation of us all, towards a shared goal of bettering ourselves and each other.
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.
Discovery loses nothing by having 3 or 4 Caucasian males instead of 7, and would gain so much if it were to add 3 or 4 more ethnicities. It loses no viewers but potentially gains many more. Especially when you consider that it has been picked up by Netflix for 188 countries!