Justice

Racists Really Aren't Happy with the New 'Star Trek' Series

May 24th 2017

By:
Kyle Fitzpatrick

“Star Trek” has always been known as the series that went where no one has gone before.

Whether in 1960s television or 2010s movies, the franchise has been known for its forward thinking when it comes to race and, more recently, queerness. It’s a model for a hopeful, idyllic future, where diverse people and non-people alike can live in harmony (albeit with some intergalactic tiffs).

The latest entry in the series — CBS’ upcoming, “Star Trek: Discovery” — promises to bring more of the same futuristic diversity.

The show cast Chinese-Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh in November 2016 and the next month announced African-American actress Sonequa Martin-Green would be the show’s lead.

Additionally, the show cast openly gay actor Anthony Rapp in a leading gay role, and has cast both Rekha Sharma (of Indian descent) and Shazad Latif (of Pakistani descent) as two key officers.

Executive Producer Bryan Fuller has said making sure the show was diverse was very important to him. “We were very adamant early on about that cast, not just in terms of race but also in terms of gender,” Fuller told Comic Book Resources this month. “I feel like there’s a lot of wonderful diversity represented in the show, and I’m excited to see how it turns out.”

Ironically, some fans of the show are voicing concern that the new series is too diverse.

Following the recent release of the show’s trailer, a few fans are revolting and referring to the show as “white genocide in space.” They see the series as the manifestation of political correctness and “forced diversity.”

Some made their complaints in more veiled ways, saying that such diversity—especially as it relates to women—doesn’t make sense in the “Star Trek” canon.

Reactions like this are typical, according to experts: it represents opposition to change.

Dr. Kristen Warner, associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama and author of “The Cultural Politics of Colorblind TV Casting,” said these reactions fall into a long line of broken perception.

“Because media has since its inception primarily and predominantly focused on white men and women, anything that disrupts that expectation—especially beloved TV shows and films that originated and centered on them—is suspect, and is ultimately devalued, because it doesn't feel representative of what it once was," Warner told ATTN:.

“I think that the fear of a diverse cast... is based in a concern," Warner said, "that the power of those racial and ethnic differences will add a weight that makes their beloved films and TV shows heavy and not ‘fun’ or ‘entertaining’ because it is imagined that the show will now become about race or about gender or about sexuality, when that's not necessarily so.”

“It says a lot and also nothing at all,” Warner continued. “Giving marginalized groups the opportunity to have main storylines, romances, and conflicts is a rarity in film and television that should be applauded.”

"On the other hand,” Warner said, “if they are written as colorblind cast characters where their race isn't factored into the story... their difference may be only skin deep, effectively disallowing their cultural and historical experiences to be tied to their characterization.”

What diversity boils down to is varied experiences that lead to the normalization of experiences. Science fiction like “Star Trek” heightens this as it imagines a future where racial and other societal problems are virtually null. “That is a benefit of the casting in this Star Trek reboot,” Warner says. “It has the opportunity (if the show takes it or not is to be determined) to imagine what is possible and work out social problems with racialized Others as part of the problem solving, and not as the problem.”

Thankfully, many are very pleased with the diversity. It’s even helping the franchise attract new fans.

Many people who weren’t fans before have been turned onto the show specifically as a result of its championing diversity.

Is it just television? Sure, but representation matters. As Warner said, “If more folks saw that it was okay for a character of color to be a part of a history and a set of experiences different from the norm? That would be a big deal.”