Breaking News: The first Star Trek TV series in over a decade, Star Trek: Discovery, will get a 15 episode first run! This is an extra two from the originally commissioned 13, and could signal an apparent show of confidence in this second attempt at a Star Trek prequel (the previous attempt was Star Trek: Enterprise – 2001-05 set 100 years before the original series)

This time around and set 10 years before TOS and currently filming episode 6, Discovery producers have promised a series of high production value, cinematic in scope and grittier in tone… They have also announced a companion discussion show, Talking Trek (meh!).

There was much hype during development last year, when producers began looking for a woman of colour for the lead role. We were excited to hear they were auditioning African-American and Latino-American actresses which would mean finally a female captain-of-colour! Or so we thought! Because, then it was clarified that the lead would not be a captain, and that the unique POV would be from a crew member instead. So, our excitement at the casting of Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha Williams, The Walking Dead – 2012-17), in the role within the standard 7-strong central cast, was a little dampened. But, our hearts lifted a little when we heard that the fantastic Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000, Marco Polo, 2016) was cast as a captain, but it waned again when it turned out she would not captain Discovery. No. For that, they went and cast another (albeit very good) white male! Sigh.

Martin-Green’s, Lieutenant Commander Michael (I know, right?) Burnham is a human apparently raised by Vulcans, and becomes first officer to Discovery’s Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs, AKA Lucius Malfoy of Harry Potter fame), presumably after serving under her mentor Captain Gheorgiou (Yeoh) on the USS Shenzou. This is in tribute to the original Number One played by Majel Barrett in the original Star Trek pilot episode back in 1964. She was replaced by fellow bridge officer and scientist Spock when the series was re-cast for the rest of the series (1966-69) *. But, I digress.

Further casting announcements for Discovery began to stretch the promise of a diverse cast in the true tradition of Trek, in our opinion, since Martin-Green is the only African-American central cast member. Chris Obi (lately seen as Anubis in episode 3 of American Gods) as Klingon warrior T’Kvuma is listed in only 2 of the original 13 episodes. Rekha Sharma as Lt. Landry; Maulick Pancholy as Dr. Nambue, Chief Medical Officer of the Shenzhou; and Shazad Latif as Lt. Tyler, are all listed as central/ regular cast members in all the original 13 episodes.

Martin-Green is the first step forward for us in the Trek universe for a while, playing the first black/black female first officer. The zenith, for us, was DS9 (1993-99) – our Blaxploitation Trek, just like Live and Let Die (1973) was our Blaxploitation Bond! But since Star Trek’s original series creator Gene Roddenberry’s death in 1991, things have deteriorated for us. Roddenberry wanted to tell sophisticated stories, using the speculative medium to present analogies for contemporaneous problems on Earth. He chose to present resolution through humanism and optimism, rather than violence. Complex moral and social themes such as slavery, warfare, and discrimination permeated the original series, which was the first American science fiction show aimed at adults with a multi-national recurring cast.

Original Star Trek series cast with Nichelle Nicholls as Comms Officer, sometime helmsman and Skipper Lt. Uhura
(1966 – 1970) Photo credit: startrek.com

Here’s a reminder of what he achieved during the height of the Civil Rights movement and its aftermath,although you will see that black female characters and characterisation has never measured up to the First Lady of Afrofuturism:

  • Nichelle Nicholls as Comms Officer, sometime helmsman, navigator, away mission crewman and Skipper Lt. Uhura, able to effect brepairs to bridge systems, in The Original Series (70/80 eps, 1966-70)

TOS Guest appearances include:

  • Don Marshall as away team crewman, Science Officer Boma (1967)
  • Janet MacLachlan as Engineer Lt. Charlene Masters (1967)
  • Percy Rodrigues as Commodore Stone (1967)
  • France Nuyen as Princess Elaan (1968) – who is actually  Vietnamese-French, but is a dead ringer for Somalian model Iman in this episode
  • Davis Roberts as Dr. Ozaba (1968)
  • Booker Bradshaw as McCoy’s occasional stand-in, Dr. M’Benga (2 eps, 1968-69)
  • William Marshall as computer pioneer and genius Dr. Richard Daystrom (1970), plus a few “red shirts”
  • Madge Sinclair as Unnamed Captain of the USS Saratoga in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1987), the first black female staFederation Captain
  • Brock Peters as Admiral Cartwright in the same film (1987)

Then, in subsequent series set around 70 years after TOS – The Next Generation (TNG, 1987-1994):

  • LeVar Burton as Chief Engineer Lt. Cmdr Geordi La Forge (all 176 eps)
  • Whoopi Goldberg’s mysterious, long-lived El-Aurian bartender and Picard confidante Guinan (29/176 eps, 1988-93). Her named is oddly reminiscent of the science of female medical pathology, gynaecology, and her primary function as a mother figure to the crew pushes her character slightly into the realms of a super duper sexual spiritual black woman (Chesya Burke, 2012) – like a super duper magical negro (Spike Lee, 2001), but, with obvious differences.
  • Michael Dorn as Klingon Security Chief Lt. Cmdr Worf both in TNG (all 176 eps) and DS9 (102/173 eps). He is the Star Trek character and actor with the most franchise appearances across two series and three films Star Trek: First Contact (1996), Insurrection (1998), Nemesis (2002) and multiple video games. Dorn also played a Klingon Defence Attorney in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Guest appearances by:

  • Geordi’s parents Madge Sinclair’s Captain Silva La Forge, the second black female Federation Captain
  • Ben Vereen’s exobiologist Cmdr Dr. Edward La Forge both in one episode, 1993
  • Tony Todd as Worf’s younger brother Kurn (3 eps, 1990-91)
  • Tim Russ as Devor,aninterstellar outlaw (1993)

In DS9 (1993-99):

  • Avery Brooks as Commander Benjamin Sisko, is not raised to Captain until the end of series 3 (all 173 eps). He is literally a super duper magical negro (Spike Lee, 2001) as the Emissary for the Prophets of Bajor, a powerful alien race. But, there is so much more to Sisko than this one aspect of a truly 3-dimensional charcater.
  • Cirroc Lofton as his son, writer-journalist Jake Sisko (all 173 eps) who, along with his father and grandfather, treated us to an exquisite example of tender, nurturing father-son relationships between black men.
  • Penny Johnson Jerald as Captain Kasidy Yates, later Yates-Sisko (15/173 eps, 1995-99) of the SS Xhosa, the first black female commercial freighter Captain
  • Brock Peters as the captain’s Creole restaurateur father Joseph Sisko (6/173 eps, 1996-98).

Guest (1-3) appearances included:

  • Salli Richardson-Whitfield (A Town Called Eureka) as Fenna/ Nidell (1993);
  • Tim Russ as T’Kar (1993-95)
  • Felicia M. Bell as first wife Jennifer Sisko (1993-96)
  • Deborah Lacey as Sarah Sisko / The Face, Sisko’s mum (1998-99)
  • The great Bernie Casey as Calvin Hudson (1994)
  • Carlos Carrasco as D’Ghor (1994-98)
  • Tony Todd as adult Jake Sisko (1995) and as Worf’s brother Kurn (1996)
  • Phil Morris as Remata’Klan (1996-97)
  • Tina Lifford as Lee, a heroic administrator (1995).

In Star Trek: Voyager (1996-2001):

  • Tim Russ as Vulcan Security Chief, sometime Tactical Officer and Janeway confidante Tuvok.

Guest appearances included:

  • Susan Dalian as Enaign Kaplan (3 eps, 1996-97)
  • Bahni Turpin as Ensign Swinb (2 eps, 1996).

In Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-05):

  • Anthony Montgomery as helmsman Ensign Travers Mayweather (all 998 episodes)

Guest appearances included:

  • Tucker Smallwood as Xindi-Primate Councillor (2003-04)
  • Tommy Lister as Klaang (2005).

Yep, since Roddenberry’s passing in ’91 and the end of DS9 in ’99, the presence of other ethnic minorities has overtaken the African-Americans both in terms of number and prestige, and black female characters have spearheaded that particular nosedive. Still, as fans, we can’t help but retain some excitement as Discovery remains on course for an Autumn launch (after a postponement from January), with a premiere on CBS, followed by the first season on CBS All Access in the US and Netflix in the UK!

The first-look trailer was unveiled during CBS’s May 17th Upfront presentations. It’s a move to woo advertisers with an iconic property, in which we get our first look at Martin-Green’s Burnham, apparently, a human raised by Vulcans, judging by the conversations she has with Sarek (James Frain), Spock’s father. The Discovery then comes across an unknown object at the edge of Federation space, leading to a conflict with the Klingons…

Check it out! It looks great!