Star Trek Discovery: Boldly Representing Women Of Color

Author:  Nancy Wang Yuen
The first scenes of Star Trek: Discovery were jaw-dropping, not just for the cinematic production, but the two women of color filling up the screen. They weren’t red-shirt ensigns or tokens observing the action from the sidelines.

star trek2017Rather, Michael Burnham (played by Sonequa Martin-Green) and Phillippa Georgiou (played by Michelle Yeoh) called the shots and fired the phasers—roles typically reserved for white men. This is significant when women of color are severely underrepresented in Hollywood even though they make up 40% of women in the United States, and will make up the majority of women by 2050. 

The value of seeing oneself reflected on screen is priceless—and sometimes revealing. To be honest, seeing an Asian female Starship Captain was disconcerting at first. After all, Captain Georgiou’s bemused looks and unpretentious demeanor were a huge departure from the impetuous and self-absorbed Captain James T. Kirk (played by Chris Pine in the most recent Star Trek film reboots).

Yet, I knew she could kick any Klingon’s ass with or without a phaser. Her power was restrained rather than overbearing, similar to Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation—the series I grew up with. She even called Michael Burnham “Number One,” a term used by Picard to refer to his first officer. As the first Asian female Captain on Star Trek, Michelle Yeoh recognized the significance of her role for Asian women: “it means so much to women of Asian descent everywhere around the world...Because it just tells them that we are recognized to be in a position of power.” 

I also loved Michael Burnham—a heroine with a perfect blend of intelligence, ingenuity and courage. Twitter buzzed with how she represented Black Women in real life: