It’s about time we talked about the awesome diversity in Star Trek: Discovery.
The Star Trek franchise has always been known to have diversity at the heart of everything they do. From one of the first interracial kisses to be aired on TV, to an Asian man being cast to play a prominent role, Lt. Hikaru Sulu in 1979. Now, they’ve released a new series, Discovery and yet again they’re re-writing the book on representation.
Discovery is a prequel to Star Trek: The Original Series, and it begins as Trekkie-like as you can imagine. Two women, Han Bo (Michelle Yeoh) and Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin) are exploring a very dusty, orange planet. When they’re beamed back up to their spaceship, we see that Han Bo – an Asian woman – is the captain of the ship, while Burnham – a black woman – is her second in command. Basically, anyone who wants to sit and moan about “too much diversity” on TV should leave now; you will not enjoy this.
As we’re introduced to new characters, we learn that white men do exist (as if we could forget), and in fact we meet one very important captain, Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs). However, he has flaws. In fact, he has serious flaws. He’s a great captain, and his crew respect him but the thought of losing his ship and his title of captain is too much for him to bare. He also suffers from PTSD, but by refusing to acknowledge or fix it, he becomes dangerous. Men are consistently told not to show weakness, but this is what actually makes Lorca the weakest man on the ship. It exposes the dangers of toxic masculinity and how men too are victims of it.
It’s refreshing to see a sci-fi/fantasy franchise for once tackling mental health and strength, rather than just focussing on physical fitness and strength. Great, you can beat up a Klingon, but if you can’t even have sex with a woman without almost strangling her the minute she touches you, what is being able to throw a punch actually worth? Star Trek shows the necessity of tackling mental health.
It’s refreshing to see a sci-fi/fantasy franchise for once tackling mental health and strength, rather than just focussing on physical fitness and strength
Impressively, this isn’t the only storyline that tackles men’s mental health. Another daring story-line with a different crew member on the ship depicts him being raped by a woman Klingon. There was a lot of torture going on by other Klingons too which predictably effected his mental health negatively, but it’s the rape that he can’t seem to understand or move on from. It’s a sobering reminder that anyone of any gender can rape anyone of any gender. And watching this character attempt to deal with his confused, angry and betrayed emotions is one of the best portrayals of a sexual assault victim that a TV show has ever depicted.
But here’s where the representation of characters gets really empowering. The first captain we meet, Han Bo is a stronger character than Captain Lorca. That’s not only because of the writing, but also because of the way in which Yeoh portrays this character.
On top of that, Martin plays Burnham as a true fighter, with clear potential to become another great leader. She doesn’t need anyone’s help, but she’s learning not to be ashamed when she does need to ask for help. Early on in the series, we see her connect with an animal that all other crew members previously perceived to be a monster. Burnham saw a scared animal, and with a select few crew members help, she saves the creature from torture and abuse. She may be strong, but she’s also caring, and that’s something you don’t often see in leaders.
She may be strong, but she’s also caring, and that’s something you don’t often see in leaders
There also has to be a mention of Sylvia Tilly. There are so many reasons why she is offering yet more diversity. For starters, when we first meet her, we find out that she suffers from anxiety. Although this is clear when she’s in a nerve-wracking situation, it makes her no less badass than anyone else on that ship. She also doesn’t promote the aesthetic of having to have a certain body-type to be on TV. And again, her slightly less muscly/toned/thin body doesn’t stop her from being just as badass.
Then there’s the same-gender couple. But not just a same-gender couple, an interracial same-gender couple. The relationship consists of Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz). Culber is another character of colour, and he’s a doctor which means he’s pretty damn important. Stamets is also completely essential, when he lays his life on the line every day to help the ship transport and hopefully defeat the Klingons.
So, yeah. Diversity is the star of this Netflix series. And no, it’s not just ticking boxes. Every single character has every right to be a part of the show, and every single actor plays their character brilliantly. There’s not one single reason why anyone should stick their noses up at Star Trek wanting to lead the charge towards more diverse and inclusive TV.