In part one of this roundtable WWAC contributors discussed queerness in Star Trek.
In this part, they discuss which Star Trek was their first, which one(s) they have the most emotional connection, and their hopes of the upcoming film and TV series.
What is YOUR Star Trek and why did you connect with it? If you grew up with Star Trek, how do you relate to the various shows and films and the changes to the canon over time?
Ray: My exposure to Star Trek came all throughout my childhood and secondhand, through my father who watched the entire series as I was growing up and my uncle, who had a Star Trek: The Next Generation pinball machine. TNG is likely my main exposure to the series, actually. I remember Patrick Stewart on the television screen very clearly with his red shirt and commanding tone and although I can’t specifically remember any Michael Dorn lines, I find myself oddly comforted by his Worf voice? It’s like an old friend. Worf’s my favorite character by far.
I started watching the series over a year ago and am currently on the third season of TNG. I’ve also watched the first Star Trek movie, Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home, and most recently, First Contact. All of those movies have expanded my idea of what films should be in different ways, which is kind of amazing.
[pullquote]I’ve also watched the first Star Trek movie, Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home, and most recently, First Contact. All of those movies have expanded my idea of what films should be in different ways, which is kind of amazing.[/pullquote]Emma: I don’t know that I really have one, but if I did it would be TOS. The vast majority of my exposure to Star Trek growing up, aside from the odd TOS episode in syndication, was osmosis from very dedicated friends so I know a lot more than I ever really intentionally set out to. I do really like the energy, color, and life of the original series though. I’ve seen a decent amount of TNG, DS9, and Voyager and I just, even though there’s a couple episodes or characters here and there I liked, overall do not like that era at all. It just feels too rigid and lacking in fun for me. “The Trouble With Tribbles” is absolutely iconic to me. “Aye sir, that’s when I hit the Klingon.”
So the energy and fun of the new movies really attracted me. I really enjoy the cast and overall look. I’ve seen the 2009 one a couple dozen times. I wanted this era to be my Star Trek if I was going to have one, but man, Into Darkness. What a mess. Which is gut wrenching because The Wrath of Khan is the only Star Trek movie I’m really into otherwise and I called it from the first trailer that they were going to switch the iconic death scene.
I kind of yelped and had to stop myself from cheering loudly in the theater when Kirk decked Chekov because, like, it would have sounded like I was excited for Kirk to hit him or whatever. I was so thrilled by the moment for that version of Kirk, that he was going to face down death in that way that I actually forgot that meant Zachary Quinto was going to get the Khan scream. Like, I don’t care, the Shatner original is great and I buy the emotion full force every time, but when Quinto brought this fire out, that was incredible. It’s such a huge character moment for him and his identity as a Vulcan turned on its ear like that. It was a brilliant, if predictable reversal if you know J.J. Abrams’ quirks well enough, but what a garbage fire that movie was otherwise.
Ray: Kirk decking Chekov was the only part of Into Darkness I enjoyed, come to think of it.
[pullquote]Janeway was one of the reasons I felt strongly, even as a kid, that women were capable of doing anything.[/pullquote]Clara: I grew up with Star Trek because my dad is such a geek for it. It’s admittedly been years, but I know we mainly watched Next Generation and Voyager. I was like preschool age for TNG, but I remember feeling comforted by the sound of Patrick Stewart’s voice, and I loved LeVar Burton to pieces because he was Reading Rainbow guy.
I remember Voyager better. Captain Janeway was a huge deal to me as a kid because it was one of the most prominent, early examples of a woman in a leadership role. Janeway was one of the reasons I felt strongly, even as a kid, that women were capable of doing anything. I was also extremely attached to the men of color on the show: Tuvok, Chakotay, and Harry Kim. I saw them almost every evening so to me that kind of diversity was the norm. And I’m honestly not realizing ‘til now that Voyager really set my standards high for the amount of racial representation you can achieve in a show. I enjoy the new films — mostly thanks to Zachary Quinto and John Cho — but to me Voyager is THE Star Trek.
Jo: I have a deep affection for Next Generation, and it’s just the right amount of camp that I can watch it over and over. But the Star Trek of my heart will forever and always be DS9. Kira Nerys’ evolution (plus the deep dive into Bajoran history and tradition, which was hinted at with Ro Laren in TNG) is so interesting to me, and I’ll admit to having a huge crush on her character as it develops, has romances, and loses friends and allies to the ongoing conflict. I also think Cardassians are fascinating, and Gul Dukat’s parallel growth is also amazing to watch over several seasons.
That show also had the best thesis about race. Even if “Far Beyond the Stars” was a hamfisted episode, reframing Sisko as a 1950s scifi writer of color was very moving to me. I’m a huge C.L. Moore fan, so hearing from the marginalized scifi women was really interesting too, and I always applaud the writers for choosing to tackle race and women’s issues from another angle.
Oh, also, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is the best of all the movies, and anyone who wants to argue can fight me and my time-travelling humpback whale friends.
Ray: I’m not arguing with you because you’re probably right! The Voyage Home is incredible.
Emma: The Voyage Home is a lot of fun and deserves its cult status but The Wrath of Khan is just so iconic and really transcends both the franchise and science fiction film in general. I have to stand by it.
[pullquote]Going on to the NuTrek ‘verse? These I am enjoying with the caveats about Cumberbatch and other issues of sexism that kind of kick crap on Roddenberry’s vision. [/pullquote]Jamie: The original series was in reruns when I was a kid. And I can only remember snippets of certain episodes that must have resonated with me: “Bonk bonk! On the head!” “Die, die, die. Everybody die.” “Ootchie-wootchie-cootchie-coo, sir?” and so on. I would call Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan the point where I became a true Trek fan and never looked back. That Scene — you know the one — that has inexplicably been made into a Hallmark Christmas Ornament — reduced me to weeping and holding my hand up in the Vulcan Salute, and that was that.
I loved the Filmation animated series. I have also enjoyed The Next Generation and watched it faithfully. DS9 as well. Voyager I tried repeatedly to get into, but couldn’t. I don’t know why it didn’t reach me. The Vulcan was black. Chakotay an indigenous person. But it never held my attention. Nor did Enterprise; again weird, because I love Scott Bakula. But I watched the first five episodes and could not tell you a thing about any of them. My brain has completely discarded the memories.
Going on to the NuTrek ‘verse? These I am enjoying with the caveats about Cumberbatch and other issues of sexism that kind of kick crap on Roddenberry’s vision. I enjoy them immensely.
Maddy: I grew up watching TNG. It was a show I watched together with my family, and helped spark a lifelong interest in space and science fiction. Part of that show’s appeal was just how open and friendly everything and everyone appeared to me as a small child. It felt like Captain Picard and Geordi LaForge were like extended family I just hadn’t met yet. The bridge of the Enterprise D was a safe place from which one could explore the universe and face danger and mystery.
As a kid I identified with Troi simply because she was a girl on the bridge, in the centre of the action, and she helped and stuff. I also loved the movies with the original cast, in particular The Voyage Home and Undiscovered Country (though I hold them all dear–yes, even 1 and 5). I maintain that Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is the greatest movie of all time, partly due to my love of whales and time travel, but I adore the sheer love and devotion that the characters have for each other.
The original cast always had such great emotional chemistry in their acting. And I somehow connect that to the knowledge that the TNG cast are all friends in real life and regularly make time to hang out. There’s just a lot of love I see within and around Star Trek, in general. The concepts of Star Trek include a utopic future Earth where poverty and inequality have been eliminated, and learning and exploration are at the centre of excitement. I associate Star Trek with science and mystery, exploring ethical dilemmas, and a kind of open inclusiveness. People trying their best to be really good, basically, with adventures. It’s inspiring, overall.
[pullquote]I think Voyager is definitely a “diversity template” for me when comparing modern shows to those from the late ’90s and early ’80s — Chakotay, Kim, Tuvak, and B’elanna all felt naturally included and integrated, which was way more representative of my own life experiences than just having one POC…[/pullquote]Kat: I grew up watching pretty much all Trek series because my parents are sci-fi nerds and The Next Generation was in syndication (since I was born the year it premiered I wasn’t watching it live). I love Deep Space 9 deeply, but “my” Trek is probably Voyager. Janeway was just so important to me — she was capable and compassionate and respected unequivocally. I watched it a little before I got into slash, but like Jo I was always wondering if there was a little something going on between Harry Kim and Paris, and later Janeway and Seven. And like Clara, I think Voyager is definitely a “diversity template” for me when comparing modern shows to those from the late ’90s and early ’80s — Chakotay, Kim, Tuvak, and B’elanna all felt naturally included and integrated, which was way more representative of my own life experiences than just having one POC (TNG and TOS). And they were all desirable, in a Star Trek way, all deserving of romantic subplots. B’elanna was especially important to me, as a mixed white Latina — she struggled with her dual identity but wasn’t JUST a metaphor for being mixed race while being a white or green alien. Voyager is definitely my Trek, to the point that my middle school friends and I had a goodbye party for it when the last episode aired.
Star Trek: Generations is my favorite Star Trek movie and I know it’s terrible and I don’t care.
Stephanie Austin: I learned Trek through my mother. It was everywhere – on the television screen, and in various trinkets throughout our home. I still remember being a young girl fascinated by her original series communicator that made sounds when you flipped the top. Pretty sure I wore out the batteries. We often watched episodes of TNG together and the new (at the time) movies. We loved our Picard!
When I got older, I took it upon myself to learn more about Trek – watch the older shows and movies, essentially studying the characters, the history, and the lore. I was hooked. As I mentioned previously, I have always viewed Star Trek as humanity’s goal. As a mixed race young woman, I was always (albeit subconsciously) looking for representation across mediums. The diversity and inclusiveness in Star Trek felt like home to me. As the canon, and characters within it, grows through the years, it continues to feel that way for me.
Have you gone beyond the films and shows to play the Star Trek games and read the novels and comics? How deep are you into Star Trek?
Emma: I’m actually more fascinated and inspired by the TOS actors themselves than any of the shows or other media. Their activism, relationship with the fandom, that kind of thing. I got to see George Takei give a talk a couple years ago and it was an incredible experience. Sulu is a great character, but he truly pales to the things that Takei has done and stood for, and that’s saying something, that a person could live more iconically than a crew member of the USS Enterprise.
Clara: Haven’t interacted with the games or comics, but I have read an embarrassingly large amount of Spock/Uhura fan fiction.
Jo: This is the closest I’ve gotten:
Ray: No, but I hear some of those fan films are pretty good! I need to track down where to stream Hidden Frontier, because apparently it’s super queer.
Also, while I’m not a fan of the new movies all that much, I do appreciate the resurrection of TOS fanfiction that has occurred thanks to them.
Jamie: I read the comics as a kid, drifted away from them and toward Superheroes instead. I haven’t read any of the Trek comics that have come out recently. I played one of the video games based on the first film when I was a teen, but not since.
Maddy: I haven’t gotten into anything beyond the TV shows and movies, aside from some action figures as a kid.
Stephanie: I have not read the novels or comics, and only play “spin-off” games – like the Star Trek Catan that was given to me last Christmas. I am not as deep as many self-proclaimed Trekkies, as I mainly stick to the shows and movies.
[pullquote]Nichelle Nichols in particular is someone I will always admire, because she knew the impact she could make in the world for black women.[/pullquote]Kat: Same, Emma — the activism of George Takei is just amazing to behold, and hearing him talk about his life and his experiences is something I will always treasure. I am always impressed at the way many of the Trek actors leverage their platforms. Nichelle Nichols in particular is someone I will always admire, because she knew the impact she could make in the world for black women. She also did work for NASA to recruit minority scientists and potential astronauts — I saw her speak about this a few years ago. She was adamant that she would do recruitment but only if NASA could promise that NASA actually work hard to hire minorities, not just pay lip service by reaching out. To know that her work in Star Trek helped inspire Whoopie Goldberg to act AND Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space, is amazing.
What are your hopes for the new film?
Ray: That I won’t have to get drunk in order to endure this one.
Emma: I dunno, I guess that Pegg doesn’t get too precious with the script. I think it’s a safe bet that he won’t be trying to make another political allegory for American drone strikes across the Afghan border into Pakistan. I kind of believe that almost anything can happen in Hollywood these days after the Russos took Captain America from the worst superhero movie since Elektra to the best American action movie in at least a decade. If Lin and Pegg can recapture the energy of the 2009 movie without bogging it down in racism and sexism, it could be brilliant.
Clara: That they actually give Uhura more to do than just be the “nagging girlfriend” of the last film. Also introduce more women overall. The last film had like two women out of ten main characters, and one of them did…well, I can’t even remember what Carol did other than inexplicably strip down to her underpants. And, at the risk of making myself incredibly sad, that the film does justice to Anton Yelchin’s memory.
[pullquote]Don’t even dare touch my whales.[/pullquote]Jo: I trust Justin Lin to give me sweeping, exhilarating chases, and like Clara, I’m hoping for more interesting women. Justin Lin does a great job at directing badass ladies, so of course I’d like to see more of that. And let’s be honest, not flubbing the movie by trying to do ‘homage’ to Khan is already a good start. Unless they ruin the whale movie. Don’t even dare touch my whales.
Ray: Petition to stand in front of Simon Pegg’s and Justin Lin’s homes and glare at them if they ruin the whales.
Emma: Carol in Into Darkness was heartbreaking. There was so much potential there and Alice Eve was so fantastic, but after she basically unravelled her father’s con job single handedly, she got reduced to eye candy and a damsel in distress. It almost upset me more that they wrote Christine Chapel out of this continuity entirely on the basis of Kirk being an asshole to her. (Double dumbass on anyone who messes with the whales.)
Ray: I thought I heard somewhere that they’re restoring Christine Chapel to her deserved glory in the new movie. I really hope that’s true!
Maddy: I go into the new film with high standards and low expectations, as I do with a lot of blockbuster movies based on franchises I care about. I want to see it, but I’m not expecting anything amazing.
Kat: I hated Into Darkness so I guess my hope is that I won’t hate this one. I’m a little wary of spending money on it but I might just for gay Sulu? I don’t know who I’m kidding, I went to see Star Trek: Nemesis on opening night.
Stephanie: From the trailer, it seems like Trek is going back to its roots, at least slightly – discovery. I want to see new worlds, new species. Less bitching about your ridiculous Earth drama. I hope that it’s not just brainless action.
What are your hopes for the new show?
Ray: Star Trek has a reputation that it absolutely deserves in some ways when it comes to diversity, but I feel like the network and then later on some of the creators hampered it. I would like to see it get up to speed with today’s most progressive values. Although the movies and the show are separate, a gay Sulu is definitely a step forward in that area. It would require a very different conversation on race that the show has never had because of the way we talk about race now and way more sensitivity toward trans people that that X-Files revival definitely didn’t demonstrate. But I don’t think it’s impossible.
[pullquote]Star Trek has a reputation that it absolutely deserves in some ways when it comes to diversity, but I feel like the network and then later on some of the creators hampered it. I would like to see it get up to speed with today’s most progressive values.[/pullquote]Emma: None. Brooklyn 99 feels to me like the group dynamic and zeitgeist combo that set the original Star Trek on fire. Jake Peralta is the millennial Captain Kirk and the full cast does a lot to reflect the world we live in and the ways we have to navigate it together. It struck me full force in the first season when he punched the old crime writer for calling Holt a “homo.” It was just such a James T. Kirk moral stand and Samberg really owned that awkward Shatner fight choreography. So this new series would have to really go out of its way to get me to pay attention.
It’s interesting though, that Ray mentioned the new series having to engage with race in a way that it never has before, because you know, on the one hand, “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” ha ha, but more soberly when The People Vs OJ Simpson was announced, a lot of people, myself included, thought it was going to be a trainwreck and it turned out to be astounding. Especially given that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk were behind it. So, you know, if they can go from American Horror Story to that, so too could Fuller, but look at who the writers and directors recruited to People Vs OJ were. “The Race Card,” the most incredible and delicate episode of the season, was written by Joe Robert Cole, the screenwriter of the upcoming Black Panther movie, and directed by John Singleton. A black writer and director to lead the conversation on black issues.
By contrast, “The Animals,” the most controversial episode of the latest season of Orange is the New Black, was written by series creator Jenji Kohan and Lauren Morelli with directing duties falling on Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner. So if that’s the bar that we want to set for success for the new series, it’s going to live or die by the makeup of its writers room as much as its cast.
Clara: Seconding what Ray says. I hope it’s incredibly diverse and makes me feel as represented as Voyager did for me as a kid. As one of the originally diverse shows, I hope it keeps up it’s track record by one-upping other purportedly diverse shows that subsequently let fans down, like The 100, Sleepy Hollow, and Orange is the New Black.
[pullquote]TNG and DS9 were so successful to me because they had so many different kinds of stories that they felt like cool anthologies — I want that feeling back. [/pullquote]Jo: I just hope it’s good… Scott Bakula’s Enterprise was so boring, and I just want something that makes my heart flutter. Maybe with cute friendships, like Bashir and O’Brien, and some real swagger, like Riker brought. TNG and DS9 were so successful to me because they had so many different kinds of stories that they felt like cool anthologies — I want that feeling back.
Jamie: Jo should get out my head, because I’m pretty much with her verbatim. TNG and DS9 had interactive personalities. It had drama beyond the “alien threat of the week.” It had romance and adventure, proving they could all co-exist in one show. If one episode felt off or didn’t hit my particular buttons, that was okay, because next week’s episode might really ring my bell, or blow my mind altogether.
Maddy: If Bryan Fuller somehow reads this, my biggest dream is to write for the show!
[pullquote]More thoughtfulness and attention to nuance in portraying a world where things like sexism and racism should be non-existent or minimal, would be great. Less Ameri-centrism would be wonderful, as well.[/pullquote]That being said, I’d like to see diversity in casting, in characters, and creators. I’d like to see the recent style of “prestige TV drama” applied to Star Trek, with serious character development and interesting relationships between the main characters, but with a return to most of the plots focusing on scientific mysteries, engineering and problem-solving, and ethical and diplomatic challenges. It’s a healthy mix of those elements that make for an addictively enjoyable TV show.
I’d also like to see more of a modern take on inter-species relationships. No more calling Vulcans “pointy-ears” or whatever. A good HR department here in the 21st century wouldn’t let nicknames based on ethnicity slide, so why the heck does it exist unchecked in Star Trek’s world?
The same goes with gender. I keep going back to the first of the new movies, where they could have easily done away with the short skirted uniforms for women. (Why not make it leggings and a tunic, if you really want a visible gender difference in uniforms? You had options.) That, and that horrible bar scene, where a bizarrely territorial cadet and his fragile male ego couldn’t stand to see Uhura (assumed to be his platonic pal) being hit on by Kirk, and starts a big, bloody bar fight. More thoughtfulness and attention to nuance in portraying a world where things like sexism and racism should be non-existent or minimal, would be great. Less Ameri-centrism would be wonderful, as well.
Overall, I want to see an optimistic future, with mystery, adventure, and characters I can love.
Stephanie: I echo Jo’s feelings. I want it to be good, something I look forward to every week.
Kat: Mainly I want the new show to hire women behind the scenes, especially women of color, which Bryan Fuller absolutely failed to do with Hannibal. Hopefully he’s gotten enough earfuls to change his ways this time around. I really want some good friendships, like Jo said, but I also want relationships like Bashir and Garak’s to grow into romance. Star Trek could get a long runtime, and I want queer relationships to blossom just like a slowburn heterosexual one.
I also really want there to be a good bar — a good bar is essential to me now.