Never read the book, can barely watch more than 30 minutes of the mini-series, and have no intentions to expand my exposure any further. Granted, I have no personal beef with Alex Haley, and who doesn’t love LeVar (Geordi!) Burton? In fact, I offer a respectful nod to the effort it took to even get it slotted on to major network programming (apparently, SOMEBODY called in a few favors that year). But nonetheless, unapologetically, I’ll pass.
Because in a way, I’ve already read the book. Already seen the movie before. I’ve been exposed to this kind of content, and it pretty much hits me like cold oatmeal (that is, I’m willing to accept it if nothing else is around, but damned if there aren’t better options for my palate). The tale is just all too familiar: noble Black man/woman/child protagonist (sometimes a combination of the three) courageously trudges through the muck and mire of unspeakably cruel acts, spurred by bigotry and ignorance affixed to various unsavory points in human history. Somehow this person (usually) manages to overcome at least some of these atrocities en route to some point of affirmation that he/she/they are worthy of more than the inhumanity they’ve endured from myriad social forces conspiring against their very existence, and ultimately we the audience are asked/expected to walk away with some kernel of insight into, or at least a basic acceptance of the relevance of Blackness (be it in this country or abroad) to our existence, and why we should “never, ever forget…”
My friends Noah, Ian, and I were sitting in Ian’s garage studio, trying to figure out what to do that evening. None of us were big partiers, but having been friends for more than a decade on both sides of the continent, we felt like we had to mark Noah’s visit to town with more than a movie marathon. Since both Noah and Ian had been involved in emceeing and DJ-ing respectively for years, we decided to make a hip hop track, just for fun.
While Ian happily dove into his seemingly endless stack of records, I sat with some trepidation. I had started my spoken word career as a slam poet, the loud-mouthed step-sibling to hip hop. And as much as slam poets want to say that emceeing and spoken word are pretty much the same thing; seriously, they’re not. Riding a beat may be like riding a bike in that once you learn you never forget, but it’s a hell of a lot harder. So as Ian began sampling records, I concentrated on how to make sure I don’t embarrass myself on this track.
But the second I heard Ian’s beat, all of that flew out of my head. The outer space pulsations were a galactic siren’s call, drawing me further out into the stars. When I got up to record my part, I wasn’t worried at all. Partially because Noah and Ian were super supportive and patient, and because it was Ian’s studio, there was no pressure about going over on recording time.
But it was also because I realized I was home. Immersed in the sci-fi geekiness I had known since I was in the womb, and getting to pair that with my political analysis. Watching Star Trek is my first memory. I begged my mother to send me to Klingon language camp when I was in middle school, and when she wouldn’t, I set up a weekly tutoring session with my best friend and fellow geek Yvonne who had gotten to go.
It seems that Spock and his mixed-species brethren and sistren haven’t served as multiracial muses only to me and fellow NOCClaire. Even during the last year of its original television run, just a year after the landmark Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case legalized all interracial marriage across the United States, Vulcan/human hybrid Spock spoke so much to a biracial black/white teenager in Los Angeles that she wrote to him, via a teen magazine, for advice, so moving that actor Leonard Nimoy wrote her back with a message of self-acceptance.
With Star Trek Week on The Nerds of Color coming to an end after an amazing week of posts both celebratory, critical, and somewhere in between, I wanted to introduce you to two artists of multiracial heritage who use Spock as a way to explore mixed-race identity in their work.
It’s Day 5 of ST:NOC and, at last, the full ST:NOC crew is revealed for your viewing pleasure! Joining the rest of our ST:NOC crew is Captain Benjamin Sisko in the captain’s chair! Also, our NOCs voted Star Trek‘s only space station locale — Deep Space Nine — as the franchise’s Best Starship.
As some of you may know, I’ve been a Star Trek fan for most of my life. Back in middle school, my friends and I had the Star Trek Encyclopedia, as well as any tech guide or manual that Simon & Shuster decided to put out. We were the ones watching all those Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns that used to clog up Channel 20′s schedule. As I got older, however, my pallet began to prefer more mature tastes, such as Power Rangers and Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I gave up the ghost during Voyager, and I’ve only seen a handful of Enterprise. That said, you can take the boy out of Trek, but you can’t take the Trek out of the boy. My brain’s still full of a lot of useless 24th century knowledge, and every now and then I find myself trying to make sense of it. During an usual bit of insomnia last week, I found myself wondering why, exactly, a human would even want to join Starfleet.
Black people were marching all over the South. Dr. King was leading people to freedom, and here I was, in the 23rd century, fourth in command of the Enterprise.
Star Trek first aired during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, between the time when Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Supreme Court declared prohibiting interracial marriage unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia.
Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Lieutenant Uhura, television’s first major Black female character who wasn’t a maid, did not at first feel the full weight of her role’s significance until after the first season was finished and she handed her resignation to Gene Roddenberry, the show’s creator.
In a 2011 conversation with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Nichols told the incredible story of how one particular fanboy convinced her to stay after all. She gave notice on a Friday, and attended an NAACP fundraiser in Beverly Hills the next day. At the event, someone approached her, saying he had a fan waiting to speak to her.
Welcome to Day 4 of ST:NOC, and it’s an all-alien reveal in the categories of First Officer and Counselor/Chef/Shoulder to Cry On!! Tune in tomorrow for the final day of ST:NOC, when we tell you the winner (by an incredibly razor-thin margin) of our choice for Captain, as well as our vote for best Starship!
Star Trek appeals — across generation, across gender, across language, across nationality — because from the very first episode it offered a bold, optimistic vision of the future; a vision so distinct from our own contemporary 21st century world as to seem at first glance to be more fantasy than science fiction.
Forty-seven years later, Star Trek endures for many fans precisely because of this fantastic quality. Five centuries into the future, humanity has forged a “more perfect union” with hundreds of alien races to build (and maintain) a peace that spans most of explored space and across one-fourth of the galaxy. In fact, the constant theme of Star Trek across all five series and twelve movies is one of unity: above all else, Star Trek is the story of community united across race, gender, class and even species to build a brighter tomorrow. Most of our favourite Trek adventures detail the struggle to overcome the obstacles that impede unity — whether barriers of language or distance or culture or war or time — through technological innovation, political wrangling, or personal ingenuity.
The prize for this unity is clear through Roddenberry’s vision: the United Federation of Planets offers its members an end to poverty, disease, and even war.
But, rarely does Trek interrogate the cost of that unity.
In all sincerity, I actually attempted to construct this in a more conventional narrative form, with the initial phase being the following series of roughly dated bullets. Upon completion, I realized the bullets actually covered my “nerdom coming-of-age” origin tale better than any formal composition.
So yeah, in all it’s abstract glory, here you go:
1980s… My Saturday Morning line-up for a decade was (in no particular order): Spidey and his Amazing Friends, Captain N: The Game Master, The Get-Along Gang, Pole Position, Fraggle Rock, The Gummi Bears, Danger Mouse, Inspector Gadget, Mighty Mouse (The New Adventures), Garfield and Friends, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, ReBoot…
It’s Day 3 of ST:NOC, and we’re revealing our surprise picks for Chief Medical Officer and Chief of Security — both men who are perhaps most noteworthy for having won the heart of a Dax! Read more and vote your favourites after the jump!
Lieutenant Stiles is a one-off character. He only shows up in “Balance of Terror” to be a bigot and learn the error of doubting Mr. Spock. He’s Federation. He’s Starfleet. But he’s not main cast. So it’s easy to think of him as an aberration. None of the crew — especially Kirk — evince any sympathy for Stiles, and so we don’t have to either. We don’t relate to Stiles.
My parents attended different Baptist churches in my hometown, vibrant, bright places of worship where suburban Blacks developed a respectful, life-affirming, joyous relationship with a living God. Each Sunday meant uptempo gospel music, dedicated Bible study, and hour-long sermons on the spiritual uplift offered through Christian precepts. This was the Black church: fine clothing, expensive hats, smiling children, gaunt deacons, relaxed tresses, choir robes, public praise, Negro spirituals, religious supplication, spiritual uplift. For my neighbors, for my mother, church was the emotional recharge, the soul cleansing needed before Monday morning’s journey into corporate White villainy. I don’t pretend the same of my father; I always found his belief an extension of his duty to family and country. Still personal, but reserved, stately, imperial.
Since it’s Star Trek Week, there are a lot of Trek comics that I could have discussed for the Wednesday Comics column. From the original issues by Gold Key and Marvel in the 60s and 70s to the modern era comics published by IDW, the four-color world of comics has been as integral to the Star Trek mythology as the television and film franchises (that said, the comics — and novels — still exist strictly outside of “canon”). But rather than writing about that, I’d rather you head over to Comics Alliance and read Kevin Church‘s excellent rundown of every single Trek comic era since 1967.
Instead, I want to talk a little bit about a book that comes out today and should be on the bookshelves of every Trekkie/er reading this blog right now: Titan Books’ hardcover of Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz.
Aside from being the most physically powerful man that I know of, my maternal grandfather was also the first nerd of color I ever met. He was enamored of all things weird, off-center, having to do with outer space, other worlds, or the possibility that a monster just might rise out of the sea. He was my gateway drug to sci-fi. My grandfather is directly responsible for getting me hooked. It started with television. It started with Star Trek.
The earliest — actually, the most coherent — memory that I have of my grandfather is of us, in my grandparents’ basement, watching the “Arena” episode of the original Star Trek series. I’m not sure what triggered it, but he had some serious issues with the Gorn.
As you know, one of the reasons we at The Nerds of Color decided to celebrate Star Trek this week — aside from it being the franchise’s 47th anniversary — was the fact that the latest iteration of Trek, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness, was being released on DVD and blu-ray today.
Like a good fanboy, I went straight to Target first thing this morning to secure my copy as soon as possible. After carefully examining about a dozen different cases, I finally chose one whose slipcover was minimally damaged by Target’s idiotic security cases (I’m very picky about the condition of the packaging).
It wasn’t just happenstance that I went to Target to get my copy of Into Darkness. You see, when Paramount Home Video announced the blu-ray release back in May, they also announced a series of retailer-exclusives and multiple versions of the disc. As of today, there are nine different ways to own Star Trek Into Darkness on blu-ray (and this doesn’t include options such as iTunes or DVD). Now, giving different retailers incentives is not a new phenomenon. In the past, the kinds of exclusives offered by different outlets ranged from unique packaging (like variant slipcovers or steelbooks) to including little tchotchkes (such as collectible figurines or other paraphernalia).
It’s time for the Day Two reveal of our first official ST:NOC crew (check out the earlier entries here)! Today, we reveal our picks for Chief Engineer and Communications. Vote for your favourites after the jump!
Seeing the results of the first round of The Nerds’ first ever Star Trek fantasy draft, it was not a surprise to see that Lt. Sulu — as portrayed by George Takei — was the Nerds’ choice to helm our virtual starship. It was mildly surprising that the contest was so close, with Takei’s Sulu squeaking out a one-vote victory in a nailbiter of a contest. What was very surprising was that the helmsman who came in second place was Lt. Tom Paris from Voyager. See, the line out of Vegas had Takei battling John Cho in a Sulu-on-Sulu deathmatch for Enterprise helmsman superiority. Preferably with fences.
“Balance of Terror” is rightfully considered one of the best episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS), with anti-war and anti-bigotry messages couched in an intense battle of wits and starships. It’s also an important episode for the franchise as whole because it introduces major antagonists for the United Federation of Planets in the unsettling form of the Romulans. In the opening of “Balance of Terror,” we learn that the Federation, despite having warred with them a century earlier, never actually saw what a Romulan looked like. Without knowing the face of the enemy, Kirk and his crew have to entertain the possibility of a spy in the crew. But before they can start accusing one another, a chance visual transmission is intercepted by Uhura, and the crew and audience share in the stunning revelation that the Romulans have pointy ears.
Although Romulans, with this episode, have pretty much been with Star Trek since the beginning, they have also remained — 47 years later — remarkably undefined. As we learn more about Klingons, we learn about their bushido-like code and oligarchical feudal system of government. The Ferengi are commerce-minded chauvinists that don’t like war (though war is good for business). The Cardassians have a Prussian efficiency and ruthlessness that they share with the Romulans, but they go on to demonstrate other aptitudes and capacities through seven seasons of development on Deep Space Nine (DS9). Moreover, those three races change quite a bit in the course of the audience’s time with them. We meet characters that are quite often wrestling with their cultures and governments in rapid flux. Cardassia flirts with a Weimar Republic before the Dominion War. Ferenginar becomes more progressive as Quark’s mom challenges gender norms. Chancellors Gorkon, K’mpec, Gowron, and Martok all evince different personalities and approaches to changing and saving their government and their people without losing identifiable Klingon cultural tics.
It was probably not a coincidence that my adolescent Trekkiehood (and no, I’m not uptight over the whole -ie vs. -er thing) coincided with the beginnings of the interrogation and articulation of the politics of multiracial identity that has preoccupied my academic and extracurricular life since then (and I’m 39 now).
I’d already spent a good number of my childhood Saturday afternoons watching Classic Trek reruns on Channel 13 when Star Trek: The Next Generation started airing at the same time that I started junior high. I don’t think I was quite sure why, exactly, I was so into it, but I was. My friends and I would spend science class talking about the previous night’s episode or passing around the latest NextGen comic book. I filled my bookshelf with TOS and TNG novels from Pocket Books, plus all the oversized manuals and behind-the-scenes-looks and field guides filled with art and graphic design. I hung a framed poster from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (a.k.a. The One With The Whales) over my bed and taped a pair of those shades they give you after the eye doctor dilates your eyes to slide into your glasses over Spock’s eyes.
I wore an original series command uniform made by my mom of soft gold velour to school on Halloween at least once if not twice (and somehow avoided getting beaten up). I received TNG action figures as gifts and pinned them to my cork board, keeping them mint-in-box. I went with friends from school to the monthly LA comic-con, first at the Ambassador, then at the Shrine, to browse the dealers’ room and see special guests (the “Save Max Headroom” flyer I got signed by Matt Frewer, Jeffrey Tambor, and George Coe hung on my bedroom wall for a long time after that show’s demise). We graduated to Creation cons devoted to our beloved Trek, and took the bus to the Westin Bonaventure downtown or got my dad to drop us off at the LAX Hilton, where I won a mug in a Pocket Books trivia contest and we saw a surprise preview screening of “The Best of Both Worlds, Part I” introduced by The Great Bird of the Galaxy himself in what was to be one of his last con appearances. I was a teenaged Trekkie, and I was not ashamed.