Jul 20, 2023

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds & My Evolving Perspective

Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura
I was born in the early Eighties, and grew up watching every version Star Trek from the Sixties up through the Nineties (my dad was a massive Trekkie). One of my earliest memories was thinking about how incredibly beautiful Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) was. I still think that. In fact, I thought she was gorgeous right up until her death at 89--she was that fine.

In 2009, when the JJ Abrams version dropped, I was in my twenties and I was (briefly) thrilled about a Star Trek revival. That's also when I began shipping Spock and Uhura, because if Abrams, Orci, and Kurtzman did one thing right, it was finally putting those two together. They unveiled that romance with their whole chest, and despite everything else, I still commend them for that.

Fast forward to the late 2010s, Ethan Peck showed up in Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery, as the latest version of Spock. He had the height, the looks, and most importantly, that voice. Despite the questionable story choice, my initial hesitation disappeared. So when Strange New Worlds was announced, I was thrilled. And when Celia Rose Gooding was announced as Cadet Uhura, I was over the moon.

Now, as soon as they cast Gooding and I saw pictures of her with short hair and premium grade melanin, I braced for impact, because I knew how a certain demographic was going to react. And sure enough...they didn't disappoint.

The social media posts and comments have it all: racism, colorism, body-shaming, and--my special pet peeve--misgendering. It's all the usual complaints: she's "ugly", she's "butch", she's "too masculine", and there are endless complaints about the way her body is shaped. They're mad she's not a carbon copy of Nichelle Nichols and they are super, duper pissed about her hair.

Like...just say you prefer Eurocentric beauty standards and go. It'll use less words.

Just say you prefer thinner, flatter bodies with pale skin and straight hair, that you like thin lips and thin, pointed noises. Just say you prefer white(washed) women.

Had this been 2009 or even 2019, I would have come out swinging, trying to get the naysayers to acknowledge her femininity and appreciate her beauty. But I'm in my forties now, so I navigate fandom a little differently. You see, Celia Rose Gooding is my beauty standard, not theirs.

Contrary to her detractors, Gooding actually has a small frame. She also has certain natural assets which simply add curves to her frame. She's naturally dark-skinned, with a broad nose and full lips. Onscreen, she rocks a shaven head, which is both a popular and traditional look among women of West African descent...because our beauty standards are not Eurocentric beauty standards.

And if we're being completely honest with one another here, just as Gooding's critics are angered by our beauty standards, a lot of us--myself included--are repulsed by theirs. We just tend to be a tad more diplomatic about it.

Now, about Uhura in regards to Spock....

I'm a diehard Spock/Uhura shipper, but in my heart of hearts, I ship Leonard Nimoy and Nichelle Nichols' portrayals, not their replacements. Even when Star Trek (2009) dropped, my mind went back to them. I never liked Zoe Saldana as Uhura because I wanted someone darker-skinned with Type-4c natural hair, someone like Celia Gooding.

That all being said, I don't actually ship Spock and Uhura in Strange New Worlds. I ship Spock and T'Pring (Gia Sandhu).

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine remains, in my humble opinion, Star Trek at its pinnacle. And one reason for that which I feel is often overlooked, is that DS9 fully immersed us into alien cultures--Bajoran, Ferengi, Cardassian, Trill, Klingon--while other versions of Trek had us drowning in humans.

Strange New Worlds makes that same mistake, but through the Spock/T'Pring relationship, we not only got that much-needed alien representation, we got to learn a little more about Vulcans (who I feel are still woefully underused in this franchise). We also got some South Asian representation by way of Gia Sandhu. So pairing Spock with Nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush) not only set us back in terms of representation (on multiple levels), it's also the weakest point of the series. Yet it's the one that the writers won't stop beating us over the head with.

We recently met the Kerkhovians, the most fascinating species Star Trek as introduced in a very long time. They're a non-corporeal lifeform inhabiting interdimensional space, and introduce themselves with names like "Yellow" and "Blue". They're also hilariously bureaucratic. But instead us learning more about why they are the way they are, they were used as a cheap plot device to force Chapel to confess her feelings about Spock.

For a moment, I thought I'd taken a wrong turn somewhere and clicked over to the CW.

And then this week it finally hit me: Spock and Chapel are the Carmy and Claire of the Enterprise. Like I said, if this was years ago, I would've come out swinging. But now, all I want is for Uhura stay miles away from this mess. As much as I love Ethan Peck's portrayal, Spock is now so tainted for me I don't really want him interacting with Uhura at all--no lyre lessons, no pep talks, no anything. I'm ready for the iconic Uhura to have a fun, new romance that's hers and hers alone...preferably with an original character played by an age-appropriate actor (I don't care about the gender), who deviates from the Eurocentric beauty standard...just like her.

I'm an old(er) woman now; I don't care about the opinions of white supremacist trolls, nor the institutions which pander to them. And I don't care about these unseasoned couples that Hollywood insists on cramming down our throats--I just write them off as weak points and keep it moving. I don't want to change hearts and minds; I'm not trying to convert anyone to anything. All I care about now is where my money's going, so much that I don't even get mad anymore.

I just cut things off.

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