With a national conversation about race ongoing, the subject kept coming up during a weekend panel on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the first Star Trek show led by a Black actor.
Actors see DS9 under Avery Brooks’ leadership relevant to today
Over the weekend Nana Visitor (Kira Nerys), Armin Shimerman (Quark), and Andy Robinson (Garak) participated in a Deep Space Nine virtual event for Galaxy Con. During the panel discussion, the actors talked about the legacy of the show, noting how it is especially relevant to today and how that in part is due to the leadership of star Avery Brooks (Sisko):
Nana: I think the legacy of Deep Space Nine is: The more things change, the more they stay the same. I think there are questions that Deep Space Nine brought up and held up for people to look at that completely for this time, they are the same. I think Deep Space Nine is very timely.
Andy: In terms of the legacy of the show and thematically and what it means, I don’t know. Here we are stuck in this world where we live now and being assailed on all fronts, politically, medically, and personally, and financially. Times are hard and it is nice perhaps to turn on a show and see where there is a 24th century that has good actors in it.
Armin: The legacy of the show, I think Nana is right that the more things change, the more we stay the same. Because of what Andy said as well, we are dealing with strange times with an understanding of what the African-American community has been suffering for many years. We were always reminded of that on the show. We had a phenomenal actor who was very much concerned with Black Lives Matter, our captain, Avery Brooks. I think one of the legacies of the show is his performance and what they wrote for him to demonstrate the problems of being a Black in basically a white and orange society.
When later asked what they feel the show would be dealing with if it were on today, Shimerman emphasized how the show was dealing with the issues of the day, notably racism:
Armin: We would be talking about racism. We did talk about racism and we would be talking more about it… Our program wasn’t about boldly going anywhere; it was about boldly living with each other. And with people who didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with each other, but we had to live with each other. We were quarantined together on the station and we had to learn how to figure that out. And if we didn’t like someone, we had to figure out how to deal with him. That is what we would be talking about today. How do we live with people who are not familiar, because we must do that. We must learn to live with people who are not familiar.
A serious show, with a serious set
When asked about pranks and gags on the set—something the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation was notorious for—Nana Visitor made it clear, DS9 was a different kind of Star Trek show:
Nana: We weren’t that funny. I tried. The set is really run by whoever is number one on the call sheet, and that was Avery Brooks. It was more like a college class-run thing. Everyone called like, “Mr. Shimerman, good morning.” It’s how it was. We were all deadly serious. Also, it was pretty dark. We weren’t visiting planets and meeting different people. We were going through all this angst and I think that contributed.
Or maybe we are just not funny. We are not fun. We are not Jonathan Frakes! [laughs] Oh my god those guys are so funny. They would come on our set and be funny, but we were deadly serious.
While the people who worked on the show took it very seriously, Andy Robinson lamented that when it came to the industry, DS9 was dismissed as just another silly sci-fi show:
Andy: Of course, in the industry, the bias is, “We don’t give awards to people who act in science fiction things, because that is science fiction, that is a fantasy for children. You put on these funny masks and you make these funny sounds, and whatever.” But, the great irony is here is this show, and especially at that time. What other show was doing that? I know there were very, very few. And I know, because there were very, very few because I was doing them—usually playing the idiot of the week in something. Holding up a gun and saying, “Stick ‘em up, Jack!” “I got your daughter and I want $1 million.” Bullshit like that. And you walk into this show and you think like the episode “The Wire” about addiction. That is major.
Keep up with all the Star Trek conventions and event news here at TrekMovie.com.
Still the best of all of the series, hands down, as far as I’m concerned. But Nana’s comments dismay me a bit, knowing now that they didn’t have a little more fun on the set. I’ve grown very possessive of DS9, its characters, and the talented professionals who beautifully portrayed them. Their seriousness definitely translated to some of the best television ever. It just makes me a little sad that they couldn’t figure out a way to have a little more fun doing it.
The tone of the show was always more serious, and I believe that Avery Brooks felt the responsibility and arc of the series perhaps more than the leads of the other fine series- as Ira Steven Behr might have also fought against the constant push for DS9 to be lighter and episodic but going their own specific way, carried a weight. While I wish there was more stories of goofing and merriment, that’s okay; it’s the process that needed to be for DS9 to be the show it is. Perhaps the sets of Homicide and the Rockford Files could be compared; different tones but at the end of the day, two excellent shows. What’s nice about DS9 is the affection the actors have for the work, and for each other.
I agree, it is too bad. I think TNG is like the model every cast aspires to be, this fun group of actors making a great TV show, but it seems like many of the other casts weren’t ultimately that fun to be working with, like the Mulgrew/Ryan drama, TOS and Shatner, dunno about Enterprise actually. I know that a lot of the actors became very good, lifelong friends, which probably makes it all worth it despite the quality of your day job for seven years when you were younger.
And I find this interesting in that it seems the cast that was the chummiest… Most friendly with each each other and stayed closest with each other over the years is the cast whose characters displayed the very least of that in the episodes of their show!
Nonsense, they always had good chemistry on the show. They were very much like a family.
The chemistry they displayed as actors and friends off screen I did not see translated in any way on screen. The characters were professional and respected each other. But they never were presented as being all that close. Just as Kirk was never that close to Sulu or Chekov. But it was obvious there was a deep friendship with McCoy and Spock. But I never saw a relationship like that among the TNG crew. Geordi and Data probably came closest but even that one felt a little forced.
What are you talking about? Picard and Crusher (the only one who could call him Jean-Luc), Riker and Troi, Troi and Worf. As you mentioned Geordi and Data. Picard also had a close relationship with Data.
Picard and Crusher never felt close. In fact, he intentionally kept her more than at arms length. Riker and Troi never showed any chemistry. Troi and Worf felt weird and unearned. I mentioned Geordi and Data felt forced and it never felt like Data was close with anyone due to him not having the ability to feel anything. That is what I’m talking about.
Dude what show did you watch?????
There was a lot of chemistry. Hence why the characters are so popular today.
I don’t think their on screen chemistry was the reason for the show’s popularity. Because there was none. They treated each other like colleagues more than friends. There was obvious respect and courtesy. But actual friendship? I really didn’t see any of that until the features.
Agreed Dvorak It’s actually why the TNG cast is still so adored in fandom today. People liked the chemistry the characters had with each other, even if they were more serious characters. Its certainly why I love them so much.
Well, they were serious on the job and now the excellent show has been crafted, they can have fun at conventions and for things like the documentary. I think DS9 is the best too. Imagine working on a show like that with Ira writing it and Brooks leading the cast. Strong and wise leaders!
they clearly had fun and have fun… have you seen the show they put on at the conventions? the rat pack stuff? nana and jeffrey and max and casey… i take what she said as meaning it was just a more serious set… it didn’t mean they didn’t have fun… they clearly all still like each other and love getting together… and i think we should be happy it was a more serious set because this show absolutely is timely and works today because of that seriousness and struggle they had putting it together… i’m almost at the end of my rewatch with a friend who has never seen it and it’s crazy how it holds up.
Does anyone know why Bashir is missing on the title picture?
It stood out to me that a photo without Alexander Siding was chosen. It’s really unfortunate.
Siddig is definitely Black. He’s biracial Sudanese-English, and was born in Sudan. Particularly after 9/11, he’s identified himself strongly as an African Muslim man.
Oops! Good point.
I am more interested about the origins of this photo, because it looks like a “official cast photo” and I am interested what happend back then to not have him on the photo.
Uh, no disrespect, but in recent years, during interviews, Avery Brooks seems a little….eccentric? Some might even suggest that the bulb is out in his lighthouse.
Wasn’t he always like that though?
Saw him onstage as Paul Robeson years ago. I get the impression that he sees himself as “pure thespian”, and really hasn’t the time to seriously discuss Star Trek minutiae…
Avery Brooks has apparently always been like that. It is a stark contrast with his intense acting style and his professionalism when on the clock, yes.
Another commenter some years ago probably described it best by likening Mr. Brooks eccentricities to transforming the concept of jazz into a philosophy of life.
What you’re seeing is the difference between him doing an interview in his role as an employee of a show, and doing an interview as just a person.
He’s like a theoretical college professor. With tenure, so he has the freedom to do whatever. Kind of a breath of fresh air at times.
I fully agree.
I remember how proud I was to have a massive poster of SISKO and WORF side-by-side, representing a new kind of TREK.
It was truly a powerful image for me to see two black icons on one STAR TREK show*.
Correct. It has irked me for years that the makers of DIS have propagated this myth that they are society changing groundbreakers when Janeway and Sisko did it decades ago… AND BETTER!!!
Absolutely right, with no more than around 10 hours a season and half of it devoted to cinematic sensationalism, Disco certainly isn’t blazing any progressive trails nearly as much as they would have us believe.
I guess the real difference is that Disco’s producers make it a point to center that commitment to diversity and inclusion. It’s definitely a good thing that they’re talking very deliberately about the values behind Star Trek. What’s too bad is the TV show itself and how bad it is lol and how ham-fisted its messaging is
And they weren’t even the first to have a serialized season. Not only did we have multi-episode arcs on DS9 but Enterprise had an entire 20+ episode season with a full story arc. And it was done a thousand times better than STD did! The producers of that show LOVE to pat themselves on their backs.
ds9 is amazing…DISCO is ahead of ds9 if you compare 2 season to 2 seasons… and it has nothing to do with angry trek fandom’s theories of what producers of DSICO didn’t say… DISCO has continued a great tradition in trek. why isn’t it possible for trek fans to celebrate one show without crapping on another?
When have the producers of Disco ever said that?
DS9 was absolutely a show that show that featured African Americans and more importantly occasionally tackled uncomfortable topics for some. Just a couple of memorable DS9 examples for me – Brooks portrayal of Benny the writer in Far Beyond the Stars (an ode to the line from Beyond the Sea??) is classic and I hope it educates those who do not see racism as a problem, even today. I also love the scene when Sisko explains his aversion to visiting Vic’s fictional bar set in Las Vegas. Now Star Trek Discovery takes over the mantle from DS9 and continues to build on what other shows in the franchise did before.
As a foreigner (Canadian) I will never try to guess what African Americans feel about their country – all I can do is listen and learn. Whether its listening to the pain of fictional Benny Russell on DS9, friends that I met while working in DC, listening to Nichelle Nichols talk about her experiences in TOS or just last month listening to the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar praising Discovery as one of “the most morale boosting” series on TV today thanks to its diversity. He pointed out, sure Discovery has Michael, but the show also has an Asian Captain and the mirror Emperor – sure there was Sulu before but he was an ensign. As Kareem says “Good shows can boost a community’s morale and self-esteem — and make them feel connected to people like them and valued by people not like them.”
Obviously Star Trek in all of its forms had, and continues to have, a profound and positive impact on minorities and that makes me proud to be a fan of this franchise.
Well said my bro
Sulu was a Lt. Georgeau/Space Pol Pot is hardly a role model. And this is key… “Good shows can boost a community’s morale and self-esteem…”
He said GOOD shows. STD is for sure NOT that.
Very well said DeanH!
The great thing about Star Trek is that it did highlight minorities, especially with TOS obviously in a way other shows didn’t at that time. But I will say while TOS and TNG highlighted blacks, Asians, etc DS9 was actually the first show that took on race itself directly. And that’s probably because the lead actor was black. So that was great to see done.
Even for me, the scene you brought up with Sisko and Kasidy talking about Vic’s place and racism during that time was a bit jarring because I never heard black people discussing black issues like that on the show before. It’s hard to pull that off when you now live 400 years in the future in a color blind society but it was a great reminder the past was still there and it took a long time for black people just to be treated and looked at like everyone else…like we are still struggling with today.
And I don’t EXPECT that done in Star Trek, but it is nice to see once in awhile. They haven’t really highlighted race on DIS like they did on DS9 but you’re right, it was still great to have two women of color with Georgiou and Burnham in the opening episode. And I’m happy to see DIS continue that trend.
Thanks Tiger2. Yeah the show is so very good on so many levels – I am embarrassed to say I didn’t watch it it when it was in its first run, but so happy I finally got around to it in the early 2000s. Regarding the Kasidy scene with Sisko, I was wondering if that was the reason for Sisko not wanting to go to Vic’s and I was pleasantly surprised when they hashed it out. I really love the line… something about no longer being “bound by limitations except those we impose on ourselves” I could have used that line so many times growing up haha.
As for Captain Georgiou and her Number One in that first episode, yeah it was pretty cool and I was so disappointed that they killed her prime character off, even if playing the evil emperor haha is of course so much more fun for the actor. Redemption has always been one of the positive themes in Star Trek, so it will be interesting to see what they eventually come up with for Georgiou – should the S31 show actually ever see the light of day.
Btw it seems like a small detail, but I was surprisingly impressed when I read somewhere that Yeoh purposely kept her accent for the show. That may seem strange, but for context purposes, go listen to today’s interview with Patrick Stewart on NPR’s Fresh Air. He not only talks about Jean Luc not having a French accent along with that ridiculous and infamous alternate voice over for the starting haha, but he also talks about growing up with his own accent and having to not only hide it, but being told to change the way he spoke if he wanted to be a successful actor. Okay Happy Fourth to my American friends, stay healthy and safe!
Black Lives Matter
Those three words mean so much especially to me as an African American living in white America.
Didn’t see a lot of Deep Space Nine growing up but I agree how it was a serious show discussing serious topics and issues in our society .
you should stream it now… it’s crazy how well it holds up and addicting it gets…
Yup Faze Ninja, probably the first real examples of serialized story-telling in any iteration of Star Trek and as Tom Riker says, it can become addictive. As for the topics, eveything from racism to war crimes to PTSD to the use of secret and unlawful intelligence agencies to… well you get the picture. In the Pale Moonlight just aired this evening up here in Toronto and if you haven’t watched it yet, go check it out. Maybe even watch the episodes leading up to it first.
Pale Moonlight is a GREAT Trek episode. One of the best of any series.
Correct but you mustn’t watch it in isolation. The full effect of it will only be appreciated if one watches the entire show,
I think it still might work pretty well on its own. But yes, in context with the greater overall story line… Yes. It carries a lot more weight.
Watch it bro. Promise you won’t be disappointed. You’ve got Dvorak’s guarantee!
DS9 stood out because its main character was raising his son on the station. The interplay between Jake and his dad made for many memorable episodes. The others weren’t one-dimensional characters either. Watching Gul Dukat’s descent from a mildly irritating self-important bureaucrat into a man destroyed by the death of his daughter required a range of acting not appreciated by many. Garak was an enigma, a shape-shifter in his own way. I could go on but you get the idea. Having the show on BBC America during this pandemic has been a blessing.
Yeah totally agree with this aspect of the show. DS9 was so great on so many levels and you point out an aspect of the show that is often overlooked, but shouldnt be!
When I watched Past Tense Pts. 1 and 2 early last month (cuz the internet wouldn’t stop referencing it) I was in tears by the end of it. My friends are out in the streets of NYC every day outraged over police brutality, only to be met with more brutality. Some of the images in those episodes truly do look ripped from today’s news. It’s heartbreaking to see, even harder to live. I pray America wakes up to the injustice afflicting us all, and that we align with Black Lives Matter and build the society we claim we want to be.
The DS9 that had me welling up was “The Visitor”. “Past Tense” was far too ridiculous to take seriously.
“Past Tense,” or as we call it today, “The News.”
“Past Tense,” or as we call it today, “The News.”
LOL, so true!
DS9 is still my favorite Star Trek show by far (although I generally like them all). This show did so many amazing stories that reflect our world more than any other Trek show IMO and obviously that includes race and inequality.
Avery Brooks has always said the reason why he did the show was because he wanted to show a positive portrayal of black people in the future; that not only that we are still there but thriving. That’s what attracted him to play the character in the first place. As a male black teenager at the time, it was great to see someone like Sisko in command. That’s not why I watched the show since I had been watching Trek since the late 70s but it certainly made me appreciate it more.
And DS9 probably ended up having the most black actors than all the other shows which made me appreciate it more. When Worf came on the show I remember stories in the media highlighting the fact two of the main actors were black which was still VERY rare in both TV and science fiction shows. It’s crazy thinking about it but it was true. DS9 broke a lot of barriers and frankly no other Trek show has done ever since.
Tiger2, I know we respect each other.
Can you tell me please why I American fans don’t seem to see Alexander Siddig, born in Sudan, as Black?
To me Black is a term that is not exclusive to Americans of African descent. Black Canadians and Black Britons have a different history, but in both cases it’s fraught with systemic racism, and Black is how people call themselves.
Yes, Siddig is biracial, and delivered his part in what the British call “the received accent” (otherwise known as the Queen’s English).
But other than his being more light-skinned (his maternal uncle is Malcolm MacDowell), there seems to be something that leads Siddig always to be left out, whether visually in TrekMovie’s choice of cast photo above, in the poster of Sisko and Worf mentioned above, or verbally in your media reference above.
Well I was talking about African-Americans specifically in terms of the American experience. But yes you’re right Siddig isn’t always pointed out as much even though he was born in Sudan. I think part of that is because he rarely, if ever, brings it up himself. I can’t think of a single interview anywhere for instance (that I seen personally) that talk about his race and/or association with the show the way Avery Brooks does.
And yes maybe the fact he’s biracial is another issue (although that shouldn’t matter of course). But yeah you’re right, even in official media it’s never really mentioned like it is for Brooks or Dorn.
It is very hard to consider Alexander Siddig as ‘Black’
I am a White Australian with an extremely powerful tan, dark brown eyes and black hair. I look very much like him, so in that case am I Black too?
I’d say he’s more Arab than black, and I don’t blame him for downplaying it one bit. He probably doesn’t want to be thought of as a member of a race, just an actor.
Siddig definitely calls himself an Arab Muslim, but he originally read for the position of Sisko which called for a Black actor.
The EPs didn’t see him in that role but liked him enough to rework the doctor’s position for him.
According to the a behind the scenes thing I saw some time ago they claimed when they were casting Sisko they were not looking for him to be any specific race. He was just male. And they tested many actors. They said the only time they were casting based on race was for Jake once Brooks got the part. So it makes sense that Siddig could have read for Sisko.
And for the record Alexander Siddig comes across to me as Arabic/middle eastern. Which makes sense as The Sudan is a Muslim country. Most of the population is of Arabic ethnicity. Arabic is one of the official languages. Make what you wish of that information.
Yeah I have to agree with this as well. I don’t think Siddig really identify himself as black and why it’s never brought up. There are definitely black people in the Sudan but it’s mostly Arabic people. My guess is that’s what he identifies himself as.
And you’re also right many actors read for Sisko including white actors although they did want a person of color. And they liked him but determined he was too young for the role.
Thanks for the discussion guys.
I’ve managed to find a more recent interview with Siddig where he reflects on coming to his Arab identity post 9/11.
He talks about how, when his family moved to the UK when he was a child, he was really assimilated and thought of himself just as British. He lost his Arabic language and attended schools that were Christian. That said, he was very aware as a child of his mother receiving racist reactions in the UK for having a dark husband.
His father was a member of the ruling family of Sudan, so definitely that could lead to identifying more as an Arab man than a person of colour.
All to say that while today Siddig is conscious of being an Arab person of colour, and African, Black hasn’t been how he’s described himself up until now.
Perhaps his view on this will also evolve.
There are Muslim Arab people from Africa in my community and workplace who see themselves as Black and are very engaged in Black Lives Matter discussions here.
FWIW I saw him call himself Black in a video from a convention once, when he told a story about Colm Meaney taking him to an Irish pub and asking him to order the drinks. The way he told it the Irish bartender said “we don’t serve your lot here”, to which he was like whaaat the fuuuck, and then Meaney said “it’s not because you’re Black, it’s because you’re English!”
Though that’s just from my vague memory. Maybe Meaney was the one to tell it. Or maybe they told it together. Though either way for Meaney to identify him as Black and English in the story at the time (since Siddig has said about identifying more strongly as Arab post 9/11) suggests he did identify with the term, at least a little bit, and at least in private with cast members while going out for drinks.
But yes, certainly in interviews from the 90s he mostly just seemed to call himself “not white”, such as when he discussed how he liked that the show didn’t draw attention to the fact that he wasn’t white. He was just there, alongside the rest of the cast, as the doctor. He has the Arabic name Bashir but the closest the series ever got to putting a lampshade on that fact was when Augment Jack asks “Singh Al-Bashir, any relation?” But of course there’s every possibility that he was extra self conscious about what he did and didn’t say, since he had the “abbreviated stage name” thing and then soon after even changed it to Alexander Siddig from Siddig El-Fadil.
Certainly he wasn’t as vocal about that aspect as Brooks was, regardless of what things we can glean from stories told at conventions about what went on after shooting. But yeah.
The header image was chosen simply because it was a cast photo with Avery in the middle, flanked by Armin and Nana, who were the primary voices of the article, talking about Avery. and it had to be an image the cropped well to 16:9 ratio. There was no motivation to keep Siddig out, no idea why this cast photo didnt have him in it.
Black Lives Matter