Uhura to Guinan - Whoopi Goldberg and Star Trek
In a recent interview, Whoopi Goldberg told a story about Star Trek I'd never heard before. In a world where we so often seem to be slipping backwards, stories like this show us just how far we've come.
Whoopi Goldberg, you'll be pleased to hear, is also a sci-fi fan. She grew up watching the original Star Trek series with William Shatner as Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Spock and Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura.
Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura
When Gene Roddenberry finally rebooted the series with Star Trek: The Next Generation, Whoopi Goldberg approached him about appearing on the series.
Initially, they didn't take her seriously. By this point, Goldberg was a massive star and a Hollywood darling. They couldn't imagine why she would want to do a television series.
"Do you not know that before Lieutenant Uhura there were no black people in the future?" He said, "What do you.. what?" I said, "I'm telling you, before this character, there is no representation of a person of colour in the future." Whoopi Goldberg
Listening to this blew me away. I was the generation who grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation.
It had started the year before I was born, but with sci-fi-lovers as parents, there was no way I was going to escape it. I am a life long Trekkie.
Guinan is one of my most beloved characters
Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan
Most fans of Next Generation would agree. Guinan was intriguing, funny and mysterious. She was written as a sage type character and was a person everyone respected, admired and was slightly wary of. She was a very different type of female character than any of the others on board.
Deanna had a quiet strength but was essentially a soft and calming figure. Beverly was an authority figure with a mothering side. But Guinan towered above them all in age, experience, wisdom and strength, but never felt the need to show off. And when you discovered she was the only one brave enough to knock the all-powerful Q down a peg, you knew she was a complete bad-ass.
Star Trek: The Next Generation made amazing strides in a diverse cast, only matched by the series DS9. And the Star Trek: Discovery is clearly carrying on that legacy and we now have the incomparable Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green.
Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham
You'd think that, particularly in sci-fi and fantasy, this is one of those issues which should not still be... an issue. But Star Trek really stands out as one of the most inclusive examples of the genre.
The other space opera heavyweight, Star Wars, being pitifully behind the curve. While they employ actors from all different backgrounds, the amount of diversity amongst the human race onscreen is still woefully lacking. One of the many reasons why people are gradually growing bored with the franchise.
I mean, Star Wars, when a forty-two-year-old franchise (worth more than Harry Potter and James Bond combined, incidentally) is only just competing on the diversity front with The Orville, you need to rethink your priorities.
Of course, we are nowhere near the end of this journey.
But sometimes, I think it's encouraging to know that we went from an age where the future was for the few, to a point where the future is for everyone in one lifetime. And that's no small feat.