‘Star Trek” pioneered diversity in television

Kendall Aronson Campus Carrier Asst. Arts & Living Editor

Last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of one of the most iconic television shows of all time, “Star Trek.” 

I grew up watching “Star Trek” reruns after I got home from school each day and with my parents on many a night. My parents are Trekkies, so I guess I got it from them, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I truly realized what an important impact it had on the world.

“Star Trek” was first released a little over fifty years ago and during that time we were a nation full of tension. Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting for civil rights and we were in the Cold War. Gene Roddenberry created a show about the future with an interracial cast and lots of moral-questioning episodes. 

This cast included Chekov (Walter Koenig), a Russian who was working with the American Captain Kirk (William Shatner) in perfect harmony. 

It also included Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), a black woman who was the highest ranking officer on television who was either female or black at the time. She was powerful and she didn’t take no for an answer. 

She was a part of what is regarded to be the first interracial kiss on television, between Uhura and Kirk. Her role on the show was so important to minorities at the time that when she was considering leaving the show to pursue acting on Broadway, Martin Luther King Jr. himself called her and urged her to stay. He also said she had “the first non-stereotypical role portrayed by a black woman in television history.”

She influenced many people by her role on the show, especially young audiences. These included Whoopi Goldberg, who decided to pursue acting because of Nichols’ character. Goldberg eventually demanded a role on “Star Trek the Next Generation” because of Nichols as well. 

Astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to go into space with the U.S. space program, also cites Nichols’ character as inspiration. 

“As a little girl growing up on the south side of Chicago in the ‘60s, I always knew I was going to be in space,” Jemison said. 

At the time, however, the show was thought to be too radical. It was cancelled after only three seasons. Thankfully, this was not the end of “Star Trek.” The reruns of the show that would play at odd times of day began to gain momentum. 

Eventually, a cult following began to develop around the show. Because of these newfound viewers, the franchise began to make the original “Star Trek” movies. 

They then created a spinoff series, and movies off of the spinoff series. The franchise is now comprised of six television series and 13 movies. There is also a new television series coming out in May called “Star Trek: Discovery”. 

Among its other influences, the series has also created an increased interest in space exploration. Many real stars and planets have been named after the creator Gene Roddenberry and famous characters such as Spock. It also influenced the creation of many other science fiction productions like Star Wars.

One of the coolest things that made me gravitate toward the show as a child was, unlike many other science fiction shows, it has a positive vision of the future. The future depicted by “Star Trek” is one in which we have moved beyond lots of our prejudices, and in each episode they tackle topics like racism, religion, death and euthanasia. “Star Trek” has never been afraid to tackle topics that create a divide among people. By using alien encounters as a metaphor for our own faults, we can more easily learn about them. 

“Star Trek” continues to be an influential and important part of my life and it has shaped the person I’ve become. If you haven’t seen “Star Trek,” you should. It’s all on Netflix. 

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