As Cmdr. Michael Burnham on Star Trek: Discovery, Sonequa Martin-Green is the first woman of color to lead a Star Trek series in the franchise’s 53-year history. During an event at the Paley Center, Martin-Green spoke to StarTrek.com about why representation is so important.
“There have been many times over the course of this series where I have talked about all the versions of diversity we have on our show,” Martin-Green says. “We’re certainly trying to forward the legacy, trying to be a mirror to society today, which is what every iteration has done. Of course, I understand as a black woman, especially being raised in the South, how important representation. Just, representation leads to actualization. It just does. You do what you see. You have to see something in order to do it, and I feel the fact that I’m in this position, the fact that God put me in this position to show young girls and young boys, and old boys and old girls, to show them what’s possible is so important to me because this character is a genius. That’s something that it's important to see black women being. And also someone that is integral to the common goal, and also someone that’s so sacrificial at the same time. So I feel like seeing disenfranchised groups be smart, useful, and sacrificial, its huge. It's huge. So it means a lot to me and its something I can point my son to as well, which obviously means everything.”
Martin-Green’s comments are similar to those made by Star Trek: The Next Generation star LeVar Burton while reflecting on his own relationship with Star Trek. That relationship goes back to even before he was cast as Geordi La Forge.
“I felt a responsibility, having been an enormous fan of the original series, Star Trek,” Burton said. “I’m a huge fan of the science fiction genre, always have been. Science fiction is my go-to body of literature for just pure pleasure and enjoyment. When I want to read something for me, it’s generally science fiction or fantasy. Star Trek was one of the very few representations of the future I encountered as a kid where people who looked like me were represented. So in an era in my and in America where it was rare to see black people on TV except on the nightly news during the Vietnam War era when most of the soldiers we were sending to the theater of were black kids, Star Trek was huge. What Gene Roddenberry, as a storyteller, was saying to me was, ‘When the future comes, there’s a place for you.’ That was...it’s hard to underestimate the power that seeing oneself reflected in the popular culture, what impact it has. It validates you. Absent seeing yourself represented, or people who are like you represented in popular culture, you are sent a very dangerous message, a message that says, ‘You don’t matter,’ that you’re not important. So you know, quite naturally, I clung onto that example of black people in the future.”
Star Trek continues to push forward with representation even behind the scenes. Hanelle Culpepper was tapped to direct the first two episodes of Star Trek: Picard, making her the first woman (and first woman of color) to direct the premiere episode of a Star Trek series.
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