Your favorite racial justice media organization went to see Star Trek. And we, being the closet geeks and unabashed nerds that we are, had lots to say about the movie. Here are a few of our most pressing observations. Click after the jump to read everyone’s reviews in full. And, the movie earned $73 million its first weekend. We know some of y’all in the crowd went to see it too. Let us know your favorite, or worst, moments in the comments. Beware: Spoilers ahead. "The multracial casting’s nice but unimpressive. It’s a tad…. conventional. Black girl’s uppity. The Asian guy’s a dork then proves himself a model minority. The white man saves the day." -Daisy "Watching the new Star Trek movie reminded me that in a future where almost all the humans are white, so are the aliens. But what does it mean to have Spock played by a white (human) actor?"-Tracy "Did this new millennium Star Trek take us where no “human” has gone before when it comes to the socio-political commentary on race? Nice try, but we aren’t there yet." -Tammy "Ultimately Star Trek treats its characters’ backgrounds as flat medals pinned to a neutral white uniform; in a utopia of author’s convenience, race’s depth disappears with racial inequity. Does Uhura listen to rap?" -Channing "Winona Ryder, human wife to Vulcan ambassador: what the hell was that chest box on the front of her costume? Who could listen to her (very) few loving-mother lines when you were trying to figure out her breasts." -Darlene "Why in Gene Rodenberry’s vision of the future, a utopia where peace reigns on earth, where nation-states no longer threaten each other with nuclear annihilation or terrorist attack, why are there so few people of color?" -Yvonne Sonia Pena: I loved Star Trek! and, I just posted this on Facebook: The first interracial kiss on American network television was in the "Star Trek" episode entitled "Plato’s Stepchildren," which aired on November 22, 1968, when Captain Kirk (William Shatner) kissed Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). Some stations in the South (U.S.) originally refused to air the episode. Daisy Hernandez: I am a Star Trek virgin. Actually, I watched two episodes as a kid and thought that a) Star Trek was about men going to other planets and finding dead bodies and b) it was a white thing thing since I didn’t know any other Latino who watched the show. The multiracial cast was unimpressive. I grew up watching The Cosby Show, Diff’rent Strokes and telenovelas. My TVland was populated by people of color. But it was time to finally find out for myself what all the long-standing buzz was about. My colleague Julianne (a fellow Trekkie virgin) said it best: action with heart. There were enough planets blowing up to make me go, "Hmm, nice computer generated work," and enough of Spock having emotional and intellectual angst to leaving me feeling, "Awwww." On the race front: again, the multracial casting’s nice but unimpressive. It’s a tad…. conventional. Black girl’s uppity. The Asian guy’s a dork then proves himself a model minority. The white man saves the day. Spock is …. the typical Morgan Freeman character, the man of color who saves the day from behind the curtain. And I felt ambivalent about the Black girl with sort-of-white guy romance. It’s one of those loved-hated it moments, because what came across more clearly was the tension between her and the real-white boy. And that’s rather predictable. I give it a B for good acting, nice visual effects, a solid script and a predictable approach to race issues. Or what I’d say to friends: nice movie, typical race stuff. For more interesting movies dealing with race though, check out ColorLines film reviews and back issues. Tracy Kronzak: Spock. Interplanetary man of mystery. Oh the tortured Vulcan! Oh the overemotional human! Oh the hotness of Zachary Quinto with pointy ears! Its funny how after all these years, Spock still drives some of the central plots and themes in Star Trek. Watching the new Star Trek movie reminded me that in a future where almost all the humans are white, so are the aliens. But what does it mean to have Spock played by a white (human) actor? Would the Star Trek universe implode on itself if instead of casting Zachary Quinto, J.J. Abrams cast, say, Mos Def to play Spock? I know that in the Star Trek universe, Spock isn’t human, and presumably occupies a different space than the very pale, post-racial future Earth. But that’s not how I would posit Spock gets read today and now. (Spoiler Alert) So even though his relationship with Uhura in this re-imagined Star Trek universe is supposed to be some sort of groundbreaking experience for those living in the 23rd Century, it mirrors the same social conventions assigned to contemporary interracial relationships. Because in 2009, Spock is white and Uhura is Black, and that’s all we see. Maybe this is some kind of genius on the part of J.J. Abrams – you know, a sign that things to come are going to be as complex as they are today. But more likely I think it’s a trick on the part of Hollywood. Sort of a, "we’re not just going there, but we’re GOING THERE" play for the shock value of it all. Because Hollywood knows that because Spock is passably white by human perception, it’s going to trigger all of the same emotional reactions as an interracial relationship currently triggers. And this makes me a little sad, because while Star Trek did feature the first interracial kiss on television back in the day, it did so for a reason: to challenge our social norms and conventions to create social change in the context of many episodes designed by Gene Roddenberry explicitly for this purpose. Today’s Spock/Uhura relationship doesn’t challenge these same norms in the same way during the big, glamorous action-movie Star Trek redux now on screens nationwide. There’s no context for it in the movie and no purpose behind it other than to trigger an emotional response. And this emotional response leaves the viewer with a vague sense of having been challenged, but not knowing why, and nothing to do about it but wait for the next action sequence to make them lose consciousness again – kind of like that famous Vulcan nerve-pinch. Tammy Johnson: The 2009 Star Trek is a mainstreamed, Hollywood juggernaut. So my expectations were low. I was in for a surprise. Karl Urban’s Doctor McCoy was spot on! Quinto’s eyebrow lifting, simmering hotbed of sexiness beneath the surface, was an excellent young Spock. Pine’s exuberant Kirk was…exuberant. And the supporting cast of Saldana (Uhura), Pegg (Scotty), Cho (Sulu), Bana (Nero) and Yelchin (Chekov) brought it altogether nicely. The little Trekker inside me was pleased. Director J.J. Abrams did a better than fair job. But did this new millennium Star Trek take us where no “human” has gone before when it comes to the socio-political commentary on race? Nice try, but we aren’t there yet. For instance, old school white affirmative action is still in effect. Because, despite the logical outcome of current population trends in the US and globally, Star Fleet Academy is still pretty white. And evidently, Hollywood still can’t resist its stereotypes. Uhura is that tried and true bossy sister, who will pause her ranting long enough to wipe away your tears in your moment of need. Although I have to admit that the possibility of a Kirk, Spock and Uhura triangular throw-down is juicy. And Sulu is that trusty right hand man, who has to be saved before the mission is complete. The fate of the Romulan Nero mirrors the Somali (so-called) Pirate situation. A dominant force “accidentally” decimates a land that isn’t their own and is shocked that there are people who are bit peeved about it. Who is held accountable? Not the Federation. The annihilation of a people is simply reduced to individual remorse. And who cares, as long as you kill bad guy in the end. So let’s not get it twisted. This isn’t a multi-racial or even species vision of utopia. It’s good old Hollywood movie making. Channing Kennedy: Star Trek has always led to some interesting-if-artless interpretations of the future of world relations. Some were clear victories — Uhura was the first black female in a major TV role, and a powerful and capable character that would be welcome today. Some were cautious — the outsider character in each series (Spock, Data, Odo, the Holodoctor) could have been an explicit tool to explore race a la Invisible Man, except for the whole white male thing. And some aged fast — Chekov, once a symbol of hope for a life after the Cold War, can only be revisited in punchline form in his 2009 incarnation. Ultimately Star Trek treats its characters’ backgrounds as flat medals pinned to a neutral white uniform; in a utopia of author’s convenience, race’s depth disappears with racial inequity. Does Uhura listen to rap? Does Kirk (and do the Beastie Boys count)? Does Frisco-born Sulu have relatives who work in Japantown for less than minimum wage? Why is he played by a Korean actor in this movie? How can a world contain both sexually confident green women AND a total absence of biracial people? Most suspiciously of all, what did they do with all the gays and lesbians in this new San Francisco? Does it have to do with that canyon in Iowa? The 1960s Trek, which is two years older than the pocket calculator, reduced Earth to a single culture so it could better sneak in its much-needed messages through parables about aliens and the future. In 2009, we don’t need identity politics, even in as badass a package as Abrams’ film. We need a new narrative to boldly take us where the universal translator fosters real dialogue. Darlene Pagano: Let’s just say that for women this Star Trek has NOT boldly gone anywhere. 1. Eight named starring actors: one is a woman. 2. The one female central character, UHURA has to carry dual roles: Communicator (Only non-science or warrior officer) and, OF COURSE, creator of an emotional life for a male character. 3. Oh yeah, not only is she beautiful but she sure is SASSY. Kirk likes that a lot. 4. Winona Ryder, human wife to Vulcan ambassador: what the hell was that chest box on the front of her costume? Who could listen to her (very) few loving-mother lines when you were trying to figure out her breasts. No other character on her planet (they only showed one other woman existing on the planet, its true) wore anything so artificial to their bodies. 5. Other women characters: another mom (in the process of giving instant birth and then her role disappears for the rest of the child’s life) and one slut. (or so accuses her roommate, Uhura. Therein covering the one and only relationship between/among women in the whole movie.) What was the status of women in the original world of James T Kirk? Women only exist in relation to and in service of men. It still is. EXCEPTION ALERT:……to boldly go where no ONE has gone before. Yvonne Liu: “I want to join the Starfleet Academy!” I exclaimed to a colleague when leaving the theater. Watching the new Star Trek movie left me with a sense of optimism about intergalactic governance, a desire to trust and give of myself wholly to the Federation, who will school me, train me how to kill Romulans, and then (if I’m a white man) make me captain of a starship. But, that’s the thing: I’m not a white man. Neither are most on this planet. Then, why in Gene Rodenberry’s vision of the future, a utopia where peace reigns on earth, where nation-states no longer threaten each other with nuclear annihilation or terrorist attack, why are there so few people of color? Okay, yes there is Uhura. There’s the Asian man who’s name I can never remember. And, there’s also the one with the thick Russian accent, proof that the Cold War is over as humans unite to conquer the dark space. But, scanning the faces of the instruments of empire, the Starfleet Academy located in the center of white U.S.: San Francisco, I saw very few faces similar to my own. There was the obligatory green woman, a love slave on former episodes of the television series, the weird alien-thing, and a black man as head of a council. Every other face is white, white, and more white. What type of future utopia is this anyway? There’s one intergalactic government, modeled apparently after the United Nations, ruled by a charter and a labyrinth of bureaucratic codes and practices, that every budding Starfleet member must remember and recite at climactic moments. It’s funny how at times of interpersonal conflict, whether between Starfleet soldiers or between Starfleet and other beings, an arcane Federation code comes to the rescue with an answer. It seems that in the future, you would live long and prosper if you have the ability to remember contents as prosaic as the listings in the Yellow Pages or the fine print that accompanies your new Linux installation. What is the purpose of boldly going where no (white) man has gone before? To bring order, civilization, and warp speed to the far reaches of the universe. How interesting that it becomes the duty, no, the destiny of the white commanders of the Federation to shine the light of rationality and reason on undiscovered peoples and planets. How similar to the burden that white men have operated under in the past two centuries of imperialism and enslavement of the global south, making the darker ones either cheap labor or new markets to push their goods in. The Romulans in this incarnation of the Star Trek universe are reduced to “tribal” peoples. Their clothing is crude, in a steampunk and future primitive kind of way. Their foreheads are marked with the swirl of overtly-tribal jagged black arcs, emblems for many fraternity members who have these signs tattooed on their skin as signs of how they’re down with the people. Does it matter that the Romulans are pissed? Does it count when there is genocide of one species but not the peoples of the Federation? In a way, the Romulans now symbolize the struggle of the misunderstood, non-white people who have been explicitly (or accidentally) manipulated by white empire. Everyone agrees what a tragedy has befallen them, but yet their motives are still suspect. Now, I am dubious of my zeal to be a Starfleet member. Especially if it asks me to choose: do I want to be a Vulcan or a human? Spock, cursed with this double consciousness, is asked to choose sides. He is born with a veil, gifted with second sight of logic and reason, but a commander in a human-dominated world. This double-consciousness makes him ever feel his two-ness, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one pointy-eared body. The biography of Spock is the history of this strife for people of color, this longing to merge our selves into mainstream society. Beam me into the future and I will shun the Starfleet Academy. Instead, I would join the rebels on the planet Tatooine. Meet me in the Mos Eisely Cantina, where we’ll plot the overthrow of the Empire. Or, wait. Am I getting my sci fi/fantasy worlds confused?
RaceWire Goes to the Movies: Star Trek Edition
By Julianne Hing May 12, 2009