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.
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