SyFy Sistas Shuttle Pod Takeover: Black Representation In Star Trek Cinema

This week, the Shuttle Pod feed has been taken over by the SyFy Sistas: Yvette, J.D., Subrina, Fran, and Tamia. The SyFy Sistas cover Sci-fi movies, books, comics, TV series, conventions, and podcasts from a black female point of view. It’s where science fiction meets Afrofuturism! You can read more content from the Sistas on their website or listen to their podcast on the Trek Geeks network.

For this takeover episode, the SyFy Sistas ask: can any Star Trek movie pass the SyFy Sistas Inclusion Checklist test? Many listeners may be aware of the Bechdel test, in which a film or television show passes the test if two female characters have at least one conversation that is not about other male characters. The test became famous because, despite the extremely low bar for female representation in film, a surprisingly large number of movies and TV shows fail. The Sy-Fy Sistas have taken a similar look at the Star Trek movie universe, but with respect to characters of color.

The Sy-Fy Sistas Inclusion Checklist consists of six key points that a Star Trek film must have to pass the test:

  1. At least two named characters of color
  2. Dialog of those characters must be more than merey supportive of the white characters
  3. Characters of color must have a skill that contributes to the survival of the group
  4. Characters of color don’t have a criminal record
  5. Characters of color must have a positive relationship with another character
  6. Characters of color are not magical stock characters

The first run of this podcast episode is exclusively here on The Shuttle Pod, and will be published on the SyFy Sistas podcast on later this week.


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I think most Star Trek meets these criteria. Although, I hope future Trek writers incorporate these criteria seamlessly to the story. If the checkboxes are blatant, it can actually distract from the quality, IMO.

That’s hard to pass. I cannot imagine any Trek movie or series to pass, not even DSC… Burnham fails 4, criminal track record from episode 1 on and Owo and Rhys mere supportive characters. Book has a criminal track record as well. Lone survivor: Culber.

TNG and DS9 could make it if Worf counts. But he’s Klingon. Is a Klingon black or something completely different? Does Tuvok count?

Well, when TOS was on air, the Klingons were (usually) white men wearing black/brown face. So there’s that..

It’s difficult for the movies so far, but when it comes to the tv shows, DS9 does repeatedly pass all of the criteria. Among other things, three (the majority) of the show’s core human characters were not white, and there were numerous characters of colour in guest or semi-recurring roles throughout the show’s run too.

TNG and DS9 could make it if Worf counts. But he’s Klingon. Is a Klingon black or something completely different? Does Tuvok count?

Despite appearances, Klingons like Worf, Kurn etc or Vulcans like Tuvok are not actually “characters of colour” in the real-life meaning of the term, because they’re not human. Some of them just seem to be “characters of colour” from the human perspective because they broadly look similar to the billions of humans who really are people of colour. But since Klingons and Vulcans are aliens, it would make little sense to regard them like that, in the same way that it would be misguided to regard orange Ferengi, blue Andorians and grey Cardassians as “characters of colour” too.

However, there’s definitely been much greater racial diversity in terms of casting actors for Klingons (black actors in particular, as others have noted), which is a good thing. As with so much else, DS9 has been the most prominent in this, and not just because of Worf/Michael Dorn.

Anyway, as any South Asian Trekkies would tell you, including your friendly correspondent here, Klingons are obviously Punjabis ;)

I see 3 as a tough sell, but why 4? Must all POC have a criminal background in popular entertainment? After all, there are plenty of white characters on television that have no criminal histories.

As a writer myself (and an okay one, not great but not crappy), I’ve begun to assess characters by a similar standard as this in an attempt to not only be more inclusive, but to do so fairly and not just inserting “stock” or “token” characters into my writing.

And I wouldn’t call this self-entitlement. Setting the bar damned high, yes, but self-entitlement? Nuh-uh.

I think they’re saying that they DON’T want POC to have a criminal record.

I agree there…. I was responding to a post that has since disappeared…. so take my original post with a grain of salt.

I’ll be interested to hear the analysis.

That’s a fail….

  1. Uhura and….Klingons??
  2. Yes/no, Captain. Today is a good day to die.
  3. Multilingual. Likely not the only linguist on the ship. Cannon fodder.
  4. Don’t all Klingons have records?
  5. Lately, Uhura’s relationship with Spock wasn’t that healthy.
  6. Red Shirts of color. Set phasers to vaporize. Or constantly getting sucked out of hull breaches. Klingons.

I hope it passes – Uhura is a great role model. And I really do like now Captain Burnham, she made the hard calls when she had to even when it wasn’t the easy choice.
Let’s not forget Sisko, another good role model.
Hopefully the multi-racial crews help – let’s people see they belong and move beyond race.

I remember one TNG episode where Worf, Geordi, and Guinan were all sitting at a table in Ten Forward together, talking about stuff, and I was so happy that the show had enough Black major characters that three of them could hang out.

The one that comes to mind for me is First Contact but it’s borderline.
1. Worf, Geordi, and Lilly are all named characters of color.
2.This is where I’m on the fence, I’d like to see how they define “supportive”, but Worf does give orders while commanding the Defiant and Lily outright confronts Picard.
3. Worf’s combat skills, Geordi’s engineering.
4.I guess this fails, since you could argue Worf has one but you would only know that if you watched the shows.
5. Geordi and Riker, Worf and Picard, Lilly and Picard.
6.None of them have magic powers, although Lily is an audience surrogate and is a redeemer. Geordi may be “magical” given his Ocular implants.

First Contact did slip my mind previously. Lily isn’t that strong a candidate, though:

  • Lily does confront Picard, but she is a bit subordinate to him throughout, and very subordinate to Cochrane.
  • Lily’s strongest attribute. It’s pretty obvious she built the Phoenix. Cochrane was hung over most of the time. Another case of the man getting the credit for the woman’s work.
  • For as often as Worf killed someone, it’s hard to imagine there wern’t charges filed…somewhere.
  • I’d lean on Geordi and Data having a genuine friendship.
  • I inferred “magical” as more of a deus ex machina attribute. Scotty would be a magical stock character – miracle worker, always finding a way to work around the laws of physics. So is War Machine in the Marvel movies, always shows up when some extra firepower is needed. In my opinion, anyway.

Worf was reprimanded by Picard for Duras and was Court Martialed that time he was commanding the Defiant and destroyed the Klingon ship but those are not plot points in the movie and had you never seen either series you wouldn’t have known about them.
Same reason about Geordi and Data, it’s not a plot point.
Geordi using his implants to find Cochrane is what came to my mind. He used IR vision and the tech in his implants to do that which is something that borders on magical.