Star Trek: Discovery is set to hit airwaves just more than 51 years after the original series debuted. It seems history is about to repeat itself.
Protests abound, led by the oppressed against their oppressors. Wars are being fought on foreign soil, while misinformation and under-information abound. Tension crackles along racial lines all throughout the United States. A brand new science fiction show is set to debut, complete with a diverse cast and a bridge crew populated by aliens and a rainbow of ethnicities, and society isn’t sure how to react. The year is 1966, and that show is the original Star Trek.
Fresh from a promising but failed pilot episode in 1965, Gene Roddenberry brought with him a modified crew and approach. In that pilot, test audiences were uncomfortable with the extreme pointed ears of Spock (finding him to be too similar to the devil) and the presence of a female executive officer known as Number One (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, later to become Roddenberry’s wife).
Roddenberry battled public perception and studio interference throughout the three-year run of TOS. He modified Spock just enough to make him publicly acceptable, but no more than that. Number One was moved from her executive role to that of Nurse Chapel, and Barrett ended up having roles in multiple Star Trek series (as both Chapel and Lwaxana Troi) and as the voice of the computer of every iteration of the franchise on both the small and big screen until her death in 2008.
Throughout the mid-to-late 1960’s, racial tensions percolated to a boiling point. In 1965, in Watts, California, in 1967, in Newark and Detroit, and other riots across the nation throughout the decade, the tensions rising out of injustice exploded into violence and riots.
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Through the injustice and racial divides, a little African-American girl named Mae Jemison, born in 1956, was inspired by Nichelle Nicholls as Lieutenant Uhura on the U.S.S. Enterprise. Jemison was born in Alabama and grew up on the south side of Chicago. Her teacher told her she should be a nurse, but she wanted to be a scientist because she saw Uhura as a strong African-American female role model who went to space. That little girl grew up to become the first African-American woman in space, traveling on the 1992 Endeavour shuttle as a science mission specialist.
Fast forward 51 years, and we have a world more similar to the turbulence of the 1960’s than many are comfortable admitting. Racial tensions have never gone away, but they’re highlighted on a daily basis. Wars are still being fought overseas, and protests are a sign of a free society, but also a society that has some real work and improvement on its hands. And if we’re going to talk about misinformation, “Fake News” is an actual thing.
Through the midst of all this, once again a new science fiction show is set to debut, complete with a diverse cast and bridge crew populated with aliens and a rainbow of human ethnicity and sexual orientations. And because those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, once again, some in society aren’t sure how to respond to such diversity.
That show is Star Trek: Discovery.
Star Trek is a show founded on a principle of “infinite diversity in infinite combinations”, (IDIC) and at a time where diversity can be a problematic social element for some, there may be no better time for Star Trek to come back with a refreshed and reinvigorated message of IDIC.