Sonequa Martin-Green Talks About Her ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Character’s “Vulcan Struggle”

Today brings some more details on Sonequa Martin-Green’s Star Trek: Discovery character Michael Burnham, First Officer of the U.S.S. Shenzhou, from the upcoming issue of Entertainment Weekly.

EW confirms what TrekMovie and others have noted, that Burnham has a “close relationship” with Vulcan Ambassador Sarek (James Frain). The article also reveals Burnham was the first human (and yes, fully human) “to attend the Vulcan Learning Center as a child and then the Vulcan Science Academy as a young woman.”

Green goes into more detail on her character’s arc:

“I have an inner war and it’s a journey of self discovery and finding out what it means to be alive, to be human, to be a Starfleet officer, what it means to be a hero.”

“I have the Vulcan conflict in my life from Sarek and Amanda so there’s always going to be that inner conflict with me. But I think it’s relatable because we all have some kind of inner conflict going on — who we are versus who we present ourselves to be. There’s a lot to be discovered.”

Burnham confirmed her close relationship with Sarek

Star Trek: Discovery premieres on September 24 on CBS, after a few delays pushed it back from earlier in the year.  Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery news at TrekMovie.




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A human that attended a Vulcan academy is an interesting twist, and helps push the “outsider” feeling that Fuller said he wanted to showcase. We’ve seen aliens attending Starfleet and/or in the Federation and feeling like an outsider (Spock, Worf, Odo, etc.) so I think this is an really fascinating twist on that, and something that shows me they’re being a bit more creative with the formula.

I agree; this seems as if it has a lot of potential. *crosses fingers*

The human being the outsider is a concept that I felt should have been done ages ago. For example, when I heard the story for TVH I really felt it would be a TON more fun for the crew to go back in time on Vulcan to save some made up Vulcan species. Same message. New take on the “fish out of water” concept.

Hmmm thats an interesting twist for sure. Her comments about “Sarek & Amanda” also tell us something. Its not just a matter of her going to school on Vulcan and Sarek being a mentor. If both parents are involved it implies a more personal relationship.

So…is she a relation of Amanda’s? Were her parents killed and Sarek offered to take her in as some sort of cultural exchange?

Probably not a relation directly, but perhaps a family friend, is my guess. Or, her being human, she could simply have developed a personal relationship given their common ancestry/race. And Sarek because he has a (perhaps unique) appreciation for humanity that other Vulcans do not.

Amanda was a teacher. Maybe she was her star pupil

That’s a cool idea!

An interesting twist, if her parents were killed, would be if she chose to adopt the Vulcan way in order to repress her emotions of that trauma. Clearly, a human can’t simply do that.

I hope the Vulcans aren’t portrayed as prats like they were in Enterprise

Hear, hear. I liked the initial idea that the waters weren’t always smooth between the two races, but man, did that get old quickly.

Yes! I want GOOD Vulcans, like Spock.

Of course, Vulcans make some humans feel inferior, which makes them want to put the Vulcans down. I guess sometimes this happens to the writers and showrunners, not just to the characters. :-)

I liked the Vulcan portrayal in Enterprise. It gave them some much needed depth.

I loved how they were portrayed in Enterprise. And yes, both T’Pol and Soval had sticks up their butts in the beginning but they both eventually came around.

That was oddly what Fuller wanted in this show, to understand each other. They were standoffish because they never let themselves form any relationships to humans, it was more of a tolerance of kind of thing because they had to. But once they started to work directly with them and understand them, then you saw how much their demeanor changed.

Honestly for me, the best thing that came out of that show was the dynamic we saw of the early Vulcan-human relationship.

Those comments sure do sound like ‘Trek to me, can’t wait!!

I think this is a neat character struggle. It’s also representative of a real struggle that black professionals, namely black woman, have to contend with in modern society. Black women are often perceived as ‘crazy’ or ‘angry’ and as a result have to pull back on their emotions within professional settings. Having a character completely suppress their emotional side is a neat metaphor for that struggle I think.

Good point! SMG (not the Buffy one) spoke on a panel about that.

That’s an interesting insight! You should join the writing team. :-)

Or it can be used to suppress the ethnicity of the main character. By giving her this Vulcan background she can seem less “black” and therefore less threatening to a white audience.

That’s interesting. Trek has been trying to re-create the Spock dynamic since TOS. Data worked as the inverse of Spock, trying to become more human instead of repressing his emotions. Odo as ‘outsider looking in’ soon went in a different direction, the holographic Doctor was mostly used for comic relief, and T’Pol didn’t have the inner struggle Spock had. I think Seven of Nine, oddly, came closest to bearing the weight of the Spock & Data ‘character who struggles with their humanity’ mantle.
So this is interesting. I hope she’s not revealed to be a blood relative of Amanda or Sarek; being raised by them would be enough.
Since seeing the trailer, I’m moving from ‘cautious optimism’ to ‘building excitement’. Keep it up!

Oh dear. They really can’t do anything different can they? Saddled with the ten years before TOS premise we really aren’t going to be going where no one’s gone before.

Can’t win it seems– no matter what they do, it’s either too much of a departure, or not original enough. Go sing another tune.

I think Chris makes a valid point. This is a variation of a character theme that began with Spock and was regurgitated with Data, Odo, Seven, and to a lesser degree with T’Pol. Now here we have it again. The fanboy within me is slightly intrigued, but let’s be honest: this is painted-by-the-numbers television with a twist.

One would call that derivative, another may says it’s simply a common theme of Star Trek stories. It’s the difference in perspective, and that’s what I mean by they can’t win, because some fans will always see the negative side.

And even if you want to be cynical and call it derivative– derivative is not always a bad thing, particularly if there’s a strong subversion of the trope.

There’s a theme about being an outsider in a LOT of science fiction, because a lot of SF writers (and fans) feel themselves to be outsiders in mainstream culture. Spock (and Data and the others) are part of that theme, but it’s broader than they are, and it’s not surprising to see it turn up again. It’s a part of the human condition.

And if true, wouldn’t be a breath of fresh air not to constantly repeat said themes since there are many that can be explored? But I guess in an era where so many, remakes, sequels, prequels, repetitive adaptations are the norm, that wouldn’t fit the spirit of the times.

And not surprisingly, said characters are usually the ‘breakout characters’ of their respective series.

True. But that’s also because the series structure, story and concept are formatted and geared to make that character the breakout character. They could come up with an original and exciting backstory, put the weight of the show on that character and achieve the same result. My point is, how long can they continue to regurgitate said formula? As I mentioned above, as a fan I get it, I really do, but the artist in me screams for them to do something creative. Thanks.

It’s derivative and a common theme. I just don’t feel it has to always be used. There are already many derivative and common elements in this adaptation of Star Trek that are already apparent. It’s bad enough to go to the same well, but even worst to too frequently go to that well with the same baggage.

A perspective that calls for creativity? I think that’s the best viewpoint for any art form to have. It’s not being cynical or negative to desire artist to be creative and push the envelope.

Agreed. I was really looking forward to this show, hoping Trek would finally break out of its fanboy shackles and give us something new, smart, and more adult -taking Trek to the next level. Instead we may just wind up with a fancier, modern version of nerd angst. Dissapointibg.

My bet is that her parents are ambassadors and they have/had to be stationed on Vulcan for a long time, hence where she goes to school.

That is very plausible as well.

For my money this idea is potentially one of the most interesting aspects of this show. Not sure I can entirely buy into it from a canon perspective – if Michael Burnham, a human, was so important to Spock’s family, it rather begs the question of why we never heard of her previously — but if it’s well-written enough, I won’t care.

I wonder if the actor playing the “young” version of Burnham isn’t a regular fixture on Discovery, intended to appear in a series of flashbacks throughout its run a la Kung Fu.

Well it seems like she’s not a family member, but a friend, and one that perhaps she only keeps in touch with via subspace. We never did hear much about Sarek outside of a handful of episodes, so it’s understandable we’ve never heard of her. I mean, if there was a show about you, and your life in your job, how often would we hear about an old family friend from 10-15 years ago?

True, but you’d think Spock’s early exposure to a human about his own age would’ve tempered his often caustic view of humanity. And it still seems to me her name would have come up, especially since Sarek didn’t disown her for making the same choice Spock did: a career in Starfleet over the Vulcan Science Academy. I suppose it’s possible that the DSC writers will find a way to address this. In any case, it’s not that big of a deal.

Spock would be, maybe ten years younger? So if Michael went to Star Fleet at 18 and Spock was 8 or younger, they might not have been overly close. But perhaps she was the reason HE became more interested in joining.

In “Journey To Babel” it’s pretty well hinted that Spock and Sarek really didn’t get along/see each other much at all presumably, during this time. Maybe Spock never would have met her, or simply dismissed her(?)

Just trying to make continuity work for me here as much as possible…:)

So she’s Spock without the ability to mind meld or neck pinch? Or can Vulcans teach that stuff? :-)

Picard or Data (can’t remember which) uses a nerve pinch at the end of Unification

On the one hand, when Leonard Nimoy talks in his autobiography about making up the neck pinch, he says that Vulcans emit “a special energy” from their fingertips — an energy that humans don’t have — which is what makes the whole thing work. On the other hand, Spock says in “The Omega Glory” that he’s tried, unsuccessfully, to teach the neck pinch to Kirk. But given what Kirk is like, perhaps Kirk simply insisted, no matter how much Spock told him that it wouldn’t work without the “special energy.” :-)

I think TNG took some liberties with the concept when they had Picard become able to do it, but canon tends to spread and become less specific over time, because that’s the way we humans roll. ;-)

Well if you want to come up with a reason, one could argue Picard’s meld with Sarek passed him some of that energy? No accounting for Data, I suppose…

Why, it even works on horses!

(One of the more ‘Huuuuurrrrrghhhhh…’ moments of STV: TFF)

Did Picard do it? It was Data wasn’t it?

It was Data. Watched it a couple of days ago.

Yeah but none of that was canon. I think Nimoy was saying how he thought about it, not the writers themselves.

I mean I been watching Star Trek forever, I never heard that until now. I doubt few have.

Since Nimoy CREATED the neck pinch, he IS the writer in this situation. :-)

But not if how he uses it is ever expressed on the show itself. Humans aren’t mind readers lol. Unless that was stated in a script then it doesn’t matter.

It’s famously said that eventually the neck pinch became common enough in TOS scripts that it was referred to simply as “FSNP,” which stood for “Famous Spock Neck Pinch.” Do you happen to know why fans started calling it a NERVE pinch, when the script writers were calling it a NECK pinch?

Not to out think Nimoy but I think the neck pinch would be an extension of a mind meld, a Jedi mind trick “Sit down and shut up” move.

It was also a variation of the Karate Chop move of the time. A sharp snap on the neck with a rigid hand would sit someone down too.

Yeah, I’ve always assumed that the “special energy” was telepathic energy.

And of course it was part of the early conception of Spock’s character (listed in a memo that Roddenberry sent around in May of 1966) that Spock had a hypnotic effect on Earth women if he looked at them the right way. Hmm. That puts Sarek and Amanda into a different context…

It would be cool to see Winona Ryder again as Amanda.

Not a bad supposition to have an actress with charisma , Ckwin !

That would be great actually.

Perhaps it will be revealed that Burnham’s entry into Starfleet was partially what inspired Spock to do the same. He’d be, what, 10 years younger?

She’s about the right age, too. Amanda was in her late 50’s in “Journey to Babel,” and this takes place around ten years before then, so she should be in her late 40’s in Discovery. And as it turns out, Winona Ryder is 45…

Of course, the Amanda in “Journey to Babel” had blue eyes; it’s only in the Kelvin timeline that she has brown ones. But I guess they could give her contact lenses if they wanted to be nit-picky about canon. :-)

Seeing as Winnona is the Kelvin Timeline Amanda its not a big stretch.

I speculate that the inspiration for Michael Burnham is Majel Barrett’s ‘Number One’ from The Cage. She was very logical in a Vulcanesque way (even in contrast to early-Spock). I don’t know if Burnham will literally BE ‘Number One’ from Pike’s ship. Maybe originally the Enterprise and Pike were to make an appearance and send Number One off to the Discovery, but it ended up being the Shenzou and Michelle Yeoh. If so, it’s funny because the Enterprise and its other captain, Robert April, were originally imagined to kick-off Star Trek ’09 and that was later changed to the Kelvin and Robau.

In any case, you can see where Fuller and company may have been coming from in the early stages with Michael Burnham, imagining a possible backstory for Number One, even if they don’t stick to that connection literally going forward. Again, speculation but possible.

I would think you’re right, It could also explain part of her name (MB for Micheal Burnham are the same initials as MB for Majel Barrett).

>>> Burnham will literally BE ‘Number One’ from Pike’s ship. Maybe originally the Enterprise and Pike were to make an appearance and send Number One off to the Discovery, but it ended up being the Shenzou and Michelle Yeoh. <<<<

Captain Pike: What a second, Number One. We're you a Caucasian officer with blue eyes during the Talos IV mission, but now that we've boarded the Discovery, you are magically an African-american woman?

Sarek: That would appear to be the case, Captain. The writers of this "prequel" are even more illogical than the ones who came up with Star Trek Into Darkness.

I’m going with the personal feeling that Commander Michael Burnham is Spock , and that her mother Amanda is a dark American in this new iteration of classic Star Trek !

Here’s my theory, Sarek became friends with Burnham’s Dad at some point in the past. Burnham’s Dad is raising his daughter on his own. Perhaps he’s in Starfleet or is an ambassador to Earth. Burnham’s Dad introduces Sarek to Amanda and they eventually get married. Burham’s Dad and Sarek remain great friends. Then something awful happens and Burham is mortally injured. He asks Sarek to take care of his daughter, and Sarek raises her.

Wow this would be interesting if a human was actually raised on Vulcan. That would be a great reversal. I can only imagine how much those Vulcans would make her life miserable considering what poor Spock got as a kid for having a human mother in ST09. This is shaping up to get more and more interesting.

Yeah, that thruster suit is VERY pre-TOS-looking. Hahahahahaha!


At least she’s not Ensign Mary Sue, who’s smarter and more clever than any other character and also happens to be half-Vulcan and everyone is in love with her…