'Star Trek: Discovery' Stars Respond to Casting Backlash

Star Trek: Discovery's choice to cast two women of color in leading roles - Sonequa Martin-Green as Commander Michael Burnham and Michelle Yeoh as Captain Phillipa Georgiou - was so bold and unusual it caught even the stars themselves by surprise.

Speaking at the "Star Trek: Discovery - The Future is Definitely Female" panel at Vulture Festival on Sunday, Yeoh recalled being shocked when she heard that this was the direction CBS All Access was going with the series.

"I remember when I first came to Hollywood, and a director, who is a good friend, said if they cast a black male lead, they won't be able to cast me," Yeoh said. "How times have changed! I'm so blessed that I am still in [the industry] while it is changing."

The direction of Georgiou's story meant that Yeoh's role was less that of a lead actor and more that of a special guest star, but Martin-Green is the first woman of color to lead a Star Trek series. Star Trek has a history of progressive casting for its lead roles - Avery Brooks led Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Captain Benjamin Sisko and Kate Mulgrew led Star Trek: Voyager as Captain Kathryn Janeway - so one may have expected Yeoh and Martin-Green's casting to be business as usual. That turned out not to be the case. Star Trek: Discovery met a backlash over the casting and was accused of pushing an agenda.

"Diverse characters are not just tokens," Martin-Green said. "They were adamant and they stuck to it. It was an incredible process. I feel that God worked it out."

Yeoh points out that "this is the spirit of Star Trek."

Martin-Green echoed Yeoh's comment about this being the spirit of Star Trek in a separate interview.

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"Yes, always about universality," Martin-Green said. "I think when you have that at your core, and one of the tenets of your story is universality, then you now have a responsibility to innovate, and you have a responsibility to press forward because every Star Trek reflects the society it's in at that time. If universality is going to be one of the tenets, then, of course, we have to keep moving. We have to keep making this picture of the future that people can look to. It's always to make people look ahead so that they can bring that future into their lives in the present."

The first season of Star Trek: Discovery is available to stream in its entirety on CBS All Access in the United States, through CraveTV in Canada, and through Netflix in other international markets. Star Trek: Discovery Season Two is now filming in Toronto.