Takei Responds to Critics of Diversity in ‘Star Trek Discovery’

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From right: Michelle Yeoh as Capt. Georgiou, Sonequa Martin-Green as First Officer Burnham, and Doug Jones as Lt. Saru in a scene from “Star Trek Discovery.” (CBS)

The just-released trailer for “Star Trek: Discovery,” a new series that will premiere later this year on CBS All Access, prominently featured two women of color as Starfleet officers.

While many “Star Trek” fans have applauded the inclusiveness of the new series, some have voiced their displeasure through social media.

The actresses in question are Sonequa Martin-Green (“The Walking Dead”) as First Officer Michael Burnham and Michelle Yeoh (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) as Capt. Philippa Georgiou. Of the seven main characters — not all of whom are seen in the trailer — four are men and women of color and one is gay.

One commenter went so far as to describe the show as “white genocide in space.” Gizmodo.com compiled some of the other negative tweets:

Conscious Celt — “CBS upcoming Star Trek Discovery only one white cast member & surprise — he’s gay! Another SJW failure, like Marvel Comics.” (SJW or “social justice warrior” is a pejorative term for a person promoting socially progressive views.)

David Laettner — “Star Trek: Discovery moar liek Star Trek … forced Diversity.”

LubertDas — “Star Trek Discovery: The only white males are a Vulcan a-hole and a wimpy helmsman. This show appears to be fully SJW converged.”

Similar remarks were seen in response to the all-female version of “Ghostbusters,” the diverse casts of the last two “Star Wars” movies, and other genre films.

Actor and activist George Takei, who played Sulu in the original “Star Trek,” weighed in on the controversy during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joy” on May 28: “Today in this society we have alien life forms that we call trolls. And these trolls carry on without knowing what they’re talking about or knowing even less about the history of what they’re talking about.

“Now these so-called trolls haven’t seen a single episode of the new series, because it hasn’t been aired. And they don’t know the history of ‘Star Trek’ … Gene Roddenberry created this with the idea of finding strength in our diversity — and also the delight of life in diversity …

“We had a guiding acronym, IDIC, which stood for ‘infinite diversity in infinite combinations.’ We boldly went where we hadn’t gone before because we were curious about what’s out there. And when you go out into space, you are going to have even greater diversity.”

Takei, who was incarcerated with his family during World War II, added, “We’ve made tremendous progress. When Donald Trump tried to characterize Muslims as the ‘other’ and wrote two executive orders, massive numbers of Americans rushed to the airports to protest that. And the deputy attorney general of the United States, Sally Yates, refused to defend that executive order … We still haven’t made progress in terms of the president. The president is totally ignorant … of that chapter of American history.”

Takei noted that when his musical “Allegiance” was on Broadway, he issued an open invitation for Trump — whom he had met while a contestant on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” — to attend the show and learn about the Japanese American experience, but the presidential candidate was a no-show.

“These people who are claiming that ‘Star Trek’ is … white genocide don’t know what they’re talking about,” Takei told host Joy Reid. “They’re equal to the president of the United States. I think the president is as foolish, as uninformed and as ignorant as these trolls are.”

Roddenberry’s original “Star Trek,” which aired from 1966 to 1969, featured an Asian American (Takei) and an African American (Nichelle Nichols) in the main cast, but no female captains were depicted. Sulu commanded his own ship in the movie “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.”

Subsequent shows in the franchise had more women and people of color in positions of authority. In “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (1993-1999), the lead was an African American (Avery Brooks as Capt. Sisko) and in “Star Trek: Voyager” (1995-2001), the lead was a woman (Kate Mulgrew as Capt. Janeway).

“Star Trek Discovery,” which is set 10 years before the original series, is the first to have an African American woman (Martin-Green) as the lead. In addition to Yeoh, the cast also includes Jason Isaacs as Capt. Lorca, Rekha Sharma as Commander Landry, Doug Jones as Lt. Cmdr. Saru, Anthony Rapp as Lt. Stamets, Maulik Pancholy as Dr. Nambue, and Chris Obi as T’Kuvma.

Martin-Green told Entertainment Weekly what she would say to the online critics: “Well, I would encourage them to key into the essence and spirit of ‘Star Trek’ that has made it the legacy it is — and that’s looking across the way to the person sitting in front of you and realizing you are the same, that they are not separate from you, and we are all one. That’s something ‘Star Trek’ has always upheld and I completely believe that is why it’s been a mainstay in society in the hearts of so many people for so many decades.

“I would encourage them to look past their opinions and social conditioning and key into what we’re doing here — which is telling a story about humanity that will hopefully bring us all together.”

The first episode will be broadcast Sept. 24 on CBS, then all others will be exclusively on the CBS All Access streaming service.

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