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I've always appreciated sci-fi for its social commentary. As a fan, I tend to look positively on it, but I never watched much televised sci-fi. My partner is a big Star Trek fan, and over the past decade, we've been watching together. Something really glaring is sticking out to me. My partner (who dislikes how many things I've ruined for him like when he thought Crash into Me was a sweet love song and not a creepy perv fetish about stalking a woman) thinks I'm seeing things where they aren't, and that may be true. I'm still trying to understand racism as best I can coming from a colorblind family, so I'm interested to hear other women's thoughts, but specifically, I'd love some input from black sci-fi fans.

I've always been uncomfortable that Star Trek touts itself as progressive - yes, I love the story of MLK jr and Nichols, and I can't image how important early representation of black actors as simply characters and not as black characters would have been to the black community, but it seems like in the mythos of Star Trek, the idealized progressive show breaking barriers story is more focused on the first interracial kiss. I also understand how important representation must have been for interracial couples, but I dislike that the "TV's first!" was sexualizing a black woman who was already highly sexualized in her uniform breaking the boundaries of "TV's first!" shortest skirt.

We've been watching the modern shows, and at first I complained because I thought Sonequa Martin-Green was going to be the first black female captain. (then I thought Michelle Yeoh was going to be the captain which wasn't the same, but at least was a minority woman being captain finally, and then it turned out the first show starring a black woman, the captain ended up being a white male.) It felt similar to how the first black Disney princess spent 80% of the movie green - I was bothered, but no one else in the social circles I was in was critiquing that. But then we started watching Lower Decks, and it popped out to me.

There are currently two Star Trek franchises featuring black women as the leads. In both, neither are the captain. Both are the only two times a lead hasn't been the captain of the facility/vessel. Both are the only show protagonists to have been reduced in rank. In fact, both have been almost entirely stripped of rank - removal of all rank as traitor and reduction to ensign (lowest officer rank). (Also of note - the only other lead in the Star Trek universe who was lower rank than Captain was the only other black lead - Commander Sisko) In neither do either of the women have female names - Michael and Beckett, and both are of European etymology.

I feel like this is an unconscious racial bias, or perhaps it was very intentional - it feels like it since it was done twice with two of the three shows currently in production. Who would want them to be so similar if not an intentional choice? All I can think is that consciously or not, this was a racist attempt at making a black woman economically marketable in a lead role. Because black women are stereotyped as strong, was this an attempt at either reducing their power for white/male viewers or projecting them as male (the naming, black women can't be feminine/feminine isn't strong)?

What are everyone else's thoughts? Am I seeing things that aren't here or is this a normal trend for black women in acting roles? I try to read as much as I can from black women, but I haven't read anything about the stereotyping in media that I can pull from here.

I've always appreciated sci-fi for its social commentary. As a fan, I tend to look positively on it, but I never watched much televised sci-fi. My partner is a big Star Trek fan, and over the past decade, we've been watching together. Something really glaring is sticking out to me. My partner (who dislikes how many things I've ruined for him like when he thought Crash into Me was a sweet love song and not a creepy perv fetish about stalking a woman) thinks I'm seeing things where they aren't, and that may be true. I'm still trying to understand racism as best I can coming from a colorblind family, so I'm interested to hear other women's thoughts, but specifically, I'd love some input from black sci-fi fans. I've always been uncomfortable that Star Trek touts itself as progressive - yes, I love the story of MLK jr and Nichols, and I can't image how important early representation of black actors as simply characters and not as black characters would have been to the black community, but it seems like in the mythos of Star Trek, the idealized progressive show breaking barriers story is more focused on the first interracial kiss. I also understand how important representation must have been for interracial couples, but I dislike that the "TV's first!" was sexualizing a black woman who was already highly sexualized in her uniform breaking the boundaries of "TV's first!" shortest skirt. We've been watching the modern shows, and at first I complained because I thought Sonequa Martin-Green was going to be the first black female captain. (then I thought Michelle Yeoh was going to be the captain which wasn't the same, but at least was a minority woman being captain finally, and then it turned out the first show starring a black woman, the captain ended up being a white male.) It felt similar to how the first black Disney princess spent 80% of the movie green - I was bothered, but no one else in the social circles I was in was critiquing that. But then we started watching Lower Decks, and it popped out to me. There are currently two Star Trek franchises featuring black women as the leads. In both, neither are the captain. Both are the only two times a lead hasn't been the captain of the facility/vessel. Both are the only show protagonists to have been reduced in rank. In fact, both have been almost entirely stripped of rank - removal of all rank as traitor and reduction to ensign (lowest officer rank). (Also of note - the only other lead in the Star Trek universe who was lower rank than Captain was the only other black lead - Commander Sisko) In neither do either of the women have female names - Michael and Beckett, and both are of European etymology. I feel like this is an unconscious racial bias, or perhaps it was very intentional - it feels like it since it was done twice with two of the three shows currently in production. Who would want them to be so similar if not an intentional choice? All I can think is that consciously or not, this was a racist attempt at making a black woman economically marketable in a lead role. Because black women are stereotyped as strong, was this an attempt at either reducing their power for white/male viewers or projecting them as male (the naming, black women can't be feminine/feminine isn't strong)? What are everyone else's thoughts? Am I seeing things that aren't here or is this a normal trend for black women in acting roles? I try to read as much as I can from black women, but I haven't read anything about the stereotyping in media that I can pull from here.

24 comments

[–] BlackCherry 9 points (+9|-0)

I agree with Princess and the Frog. I remember leaving the theater frustrated and fuming 'no one wants to look at a frog for an hour when they go to see a Princess movie.' As for star trek, I've not really kept up with it. I've only seen the original series.

ST: Discovery is not Star Trek.

It lost it’s humanist roots a long time ago. Not quite after the death of Gene Roddenberry (Season 4 TNG), but the new movies and Discovery are basically “sci-if that uses a known cannon and proceeds to fuck it all up!”

[–] RealMapelFlavour 4 points (+4|-0) Edited

I can't speak to the new series. They put them all on a bullshit channel you have to pay extra for - a premise, that right off the start is inherently class based. And who's got the disposable income for that stuff? White guys who want their entertainment with an assurance of their place in the universe.

Original Star Trek is awesome. I was never much of a Deep Space Nine fan but I did like that Sisko's love interest was the captain of a ship which gave her a higher rank than the male lead even if she wasn't in Star Fleet - which I also liked because it gave her more independence. Sisko was promoted to Captain during the series, but he was still the ultimate authority on what essentially felt like a Star Fleet colonised former Kadashian base off of third-worldish Bajor.

I've been extremely disappointed by Discovery because I thought Michael would be our first female black Trek captain. I haven't seen the newest series yet because I haven't decided if I'll bother. Michael feels like she doesn't fit into her own story. The entire series is Trek in name only as well which I also feel cheapens the significance of an otherwise diverse cast... it's just run of the mill sci fi. Deep Space Nine is my favourite series.

[–] Mikkal 2 points (+2|-0)

I didn't like the movie remakes because many of the decisions they made made them regressive, not progressive. For instance, they originally wanted Sulu to have a samurai sword - he said "but I know how to fence!" and they went with that - he suggested it to get rid of the stereotype. Then in the movies - bam, Sulu has a samurai sword. And the sexism in the movies was really bad. Only female lead is now a love-sick woman with unrequited love - hello stereotype. Thanks.

I didn't like Voyager either - Janeway felt like a sterotype, then they put a Sexy Woman to attract more viewers (it worked), the Asian character stays a boy and never gets to become a man (sterotype), the religion thing was disturbing, and of course, they had to have a play boy, and it felt every movie at that time had that "oh now, boys will be boys" type male character (Paris) in it.

I liked the first season of Star Trek: Picard and I kind of ignore it's flaws.

Discovery did bother me in that we have this strong female black character, but she seems like such an outsider, someone who doesn't fit in. The whole series was a bit unsettling but I can't quite but my giner on it.

I could not stand lower decks though. To me - it's too far gone, it's not even Star Trek to me. So I"m not familiar with the plot, but it definitely had the "we're trying to write a woke story" vibe on the reviews I read. And "woke" stories tend to be sexist and racist.

[–] wildpansy 2 points (+2|-0)

Because black women are stereotyped as strong, was this an attempt at either reducing their power for white/male viewers or projecting them as male (the naming, black women can't be feminine/feminine isn't strong)?

Well, there is no real solution to that. That's kind of the issue with this woke scriptwriting, every decision you make can be interpreted through an offensive lens. These stereotypes don't come from fiction, they are only reflected in fiction since fiction stems from real life. And quite frankly, it's unfair to put that on a bunch of writers who want to tell a story without worrying every second about which detail someone can interpret as being unwoke. Over the top woke diversified works get mocked for a reason, it's not just the audience being bigots although this is obviously a factor. So long as society has certain prejudices, even fiction that tries to go against them will always be seen by someone as playing into those prejudices. The intent of the artist gets lost in politics. And scriptwriters shouldn't be expected to save society from itself anyway. Sometimes people want to tell a story without things like race or gender being a factor in their themes and that ought to be fine. There should be room for fiction in society that hasn't been manufactured to make sure it perfectly represents every demographic in every way.

[–] feralfeminist 4 points (+4|-0)

Sci fi has a long tradition of critiquing the larger culture. Every type of sci fi except hard sci fi, and sometimes even then. Anyone who doesn't understand this shouldn't be writing sci fi. You can't just blindly throw POC or women into a story like that and then pretend they are just backstops for the white guy. White guys are not actually humanity's default.

[–] wildpansy 1 points (+1|-0)

You can't just blindly throw POC or women into a story like that and then pretend they are just backstops for the white guy.

Well, the reason they are thrown in there is because fiction in a capitalist world is a product instead of being a reflection of what the writers wanted to talk about. There's all these extra issues that you now also have to talk about even if you don't want to because otherwise you get "cancelled". One example of this being ridiculous and harmful is all the new "guy with tits" style strong female main characters. A lot of writing advice online says that to write a good female character, just write a bunch of men and then give half of them female names. Obviously this is misguided, but why should every writer be expected to write female characters when they aren't one. Including social themes in your work doesn't mean including every theme. And you can't even really appeal to every demographic anyway, some people are muslim and don't want to read about sinful women who don't wear burkas for example. Some people get offended when you write about a woman having her period because they can't have one. Not to mention characters with genderspecial pronouns. It just doesn't work. And everyone who wants to write sci fi can, artistic expression should prioritize sincerity over making a product that appeals to everyone.

[–] ThisReality 2 points (+2|-0)

Good points, and I hadn't thought about a lot of this. I'm just guessing here: The Star Trek franchise is trying to balance wokeness, appealing to women and POC, and not alienating the core (mostly white male) fanbase. So a black woman might be made the star, but she won't be captain.

[–] noralily23 2 points (+2|-0)

I'm not really sure on star trek. But crash into me is about a man dreaming about a woman.

[–] lavender 1 points (+1|-0) Edited

It felt similar to how the first black Disney princess spent 80% of the movie green - I was bothered, but no one else in the social circles I was in was critiquing that.

I was equally disturbed when I saw The Princess and the Frog, but thought I was overly sensitive because no one else seemed to care. It's not the only animated movie with the problematic concealment of black people, either. Off the top of my head, I can think of: Epic (straight up KILLED OFF the only black character...), Spies in Disguise, and though it's not out yet, Pixar's Soul. :/

[–] spicyramen 1 points (+2|-1)

Haven't watched the new series, TNG was more my thing, but they all have problems, ofc. Let's be real, Gene Rodenberry was the OG bro-gressive. Women in ST in general are almost always sexualized and secondary to men. And as in most things, it's women of color who get this the worst.

Also I'm aware of this criticism of Princess and the Frog and I see why it's valid, but at the same time, I freaking love that movie anyway, it's massively underrated--beautiful animation, great soundtrack, relatable heroine. Then again I'm white so I'm also aware this doesn't affect me the same way... so I'll just stay in my lane on that lol

Let's be real, Gene Rodenberry was the OG bro-gressive.

Gene Roddenberry was a humanist and believed in equality amongst all. ST (although a product of it’s time, like all art) strove to show a world where we had moved beyond that. If you’re looking at old school Star Trek through a “bro-gressive” lens, I suggest you look again.

[–] feralfeminist 2 points (+3|-1)

Okay, you can't both have a product of its time and then also show a world where we move beyond that. If you're gonna be innovative, BE INNOVATIVE. It wouldn't have killed anyone to see Uhura in pants.

You can understand that TV execs may have forced certain aspects of the production because it was a product of the time. It is useless to judge every work by modern standards because you will ALWAYS find ways that it falls short. Much better to compare to contemporary pieces and understand the thinking of where we currently were in society.

And Encounter At Farpoint definitely has male crew members in ridiculously short skirts.

Nothing is perfect, including every single one of us here. Stop with the purity tests, or everything will fail.

[–] spicyramen 1 points (+1|-0)

He refused to let troi i wear pants till like season 7 and wanted to give her 4 boobs bc whats sexier than 2 boobs??? Twice the boobs! And his wife had to be like "gene pls". Marina Sirtis was super uncomfortable about having to be Ms Fanservice but that didn't matter bc she was broke and needed the job and Rodenberry wanted a sexy exotic half alien.

Look I'm a fan too but that doesnt mean I cant also be critical of shows I enjoy. Like everything else star trek is a product of its time.

Troi didn’t get a Star Fleet uniform until S7, which was super dumb. But she wore jumpsuits (and those long skirts) throughout the series until then, so you can’t really say “no pants.” Other than the pilot, she was never in the micro-minis. But yeah, she rarely got an opportunity to cover her cleavage.

And yes, I know about the multiple boob thing. I never said anyone was perfect, and literally said that art is a product of its time in my original comment.

My point is that “bro-gressive” is not the way to describe ST/Roddenberry. At least not for me, and I’ve literally taken university level courses on ST.

And I agree that it’s ok to be critical of things that you’re a fan of! There are definitely things to criticize in the ST universe, no doubt. But the overall message of the series, I personally believe, is more important. It’s also ok if you disagree with me 🖖🏻

[–] SarahTheGreen 1 points (+1|-0)

Some of it must be unconscious, because I can't imagine them doing it all on purpose.

I noticed a while back that all human characters in the Star Trek universe have two names (given names and surnames), while all aliens have only one name. Hybrids with human fathers have two names, while hybrids with alien fathers have only one name. EXCEPTION: Indigenous Americans have only one name. I guess they're aliens, then. (The same thing happened with My Little Pony, where Native American ponies weren't ponies, they were bison. Ooops! The writer hadn't realized what she had been doing. I think she apologized.)

[–] TheEthicalHedonist 3 points (+3|-0) Edited

Are you talking about in Discovery? Because that isn’t true for other series....Klingons have “last names” as in “son of...” As do Bajorans, even though the order is reversed. Betazeds have last names (Lwaxana Troi). Trills have 2 names...the host and the symbiont. There’s lots of examples :)

Edit: replaced Deanna Troi with Lwaxana since Deanna was half-human and Lwaxana was full Betazed.

[–] SarahTheGreen 1 points (+1|-0)

I wasn't aware of these examples. I stand corrected. And I have no idea what a Trill is. It's what I noticed after having watched OG, TNG and then Voyager. But I still think the Maquis I came across should have had two names.

[–] TheEthicalHedonist 3 points (+3|-0) Edited

No idea what a Trill is?!? You definitely need to watch DS9!!! In general, you should totally watch DS9. Even though TNG will always be my favorite, there is a real argument that can be made about DS9 being the best series. :)

A Trill is a species that involves a humanoid host and larva-like symbiont implanted in their abdomen. The symbiont has a name (in DS9, the main one is Dax) while the host also has a name (Jadzia, and then Ezri in DS9) so the Trill’s name is Jadzia Dax and Ezri Dax. The symbiont retains the memories of each lifetime, so the new humanoid host has to incorporate multiple lifetimes into it’s head.

There was an episode of TNG where Crusher falls in love with a Trill who has a male humanoid host. The host is injured and dies and (after temporarily being implanted into Riker) a new female host arrives. The female is still in love with Beverly, but Beverly can’t really wrap her head around it. They redid the aesthetics of the Trill between TNG and DS9, but they’re a fascinating species!

And also, the Maquis are a political group and are made up of multiple species, even though most are Bajoran.