What "Star Trek" Taught Me About a Hopeful Future

When Gene Roddenberry first sat down to write Star Trek, it was exactly the kind of television show that everyone needed at the time, even if they didn't realize it yet. For the time in which the show submerged, it was very progressive. The cast was one of the most racially diverse casts on television at the time. The show aired September 8th, 1966, and the cast included an African American woman, a communications officer played by Nichelle Nichols, an Asian helmsman played by George Takei, and Roddenberry chose Walter Koeing to play a Russian weapons officer. There was also, of course, the alien on the show, played by Leonard Nemoy. During the Cold War, it was usual to see a cast that promoted such diversity. Roddenberry intentionally chose each member of the cast in order to show the viewers that there was hope for a peaceful future. It was quite a refreshing take on the future, especially during the Cold War, when so many people were fearful of nuclear threat. Roddenberry’s vision didn't stop at the cast of the show, but extended to the plot and storylines. Many episodes tackled issues of racism, intolerance, and sexism. While many of these episodes seem a bit heavy-handed today; in the 60s, these types of episodes, with strong allegories addressing these issues, were necessary.

It wasn't just The Original Series that taught these messages. As the Star Trek franchise grew, Roddenberry created Star Trek: The Next Generation and others when on to make Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise. As is the Roddenberry way, each series followed the agendas that lingered throughout the times in which The Original Series ran. Star Trek, The Next Generation, Voyager, and Enterprise discussed hostilities between different races, while always finding diplomatic ways of solving their problems. The other thing that set this sci-fi franchise apart was the fact that, when at all possible, the crew’s found diplomatic solutions by talking through the problems instead of fighting. It portrayed the future in a positive light, not in destruction and downfall like so many before and after it. It was one of the only Science Fiction franchises on both television and in films that gave us hope for a peaceful future. Even if each crew had to fight for that peace, they would always try diplomacy. It is an important message to convey, especially during times of war.

However, war was addressed in Deep Space Nine. The show centered around a space station caught in the middle of a war between two species, The Bajorians and The Cardassians. The United Federation of Planets was forced to choose to remain neutral or to join the fight and help the Bajorians and hopefully win against the Cardassians oppressive regime. Sound familiar? This show revolutionized the way that Star Trek was run. In Deep Space Nine, war was inevitable and the characters, most importantly Captain Sisko, was forced to make some of the toughest decisions to end the war and to stop the killings. Deep Space Nine allowed for a new spin on Star Trek, showing its audience that sometimes we can avoid conflict with diplomacy and other times we cannot. It was a very candid depiction of how war functions and the hard decisions commanding officers must make.

Yet another revolution was that of female representation in gender-defying roles. Although Star Trek: The Original Series was the first step with an African American woman, each series went farther to promote gender equality. The Next Generation brought in female security officer Tasha Yar, to lead the security team. Deep Space Nine had a female first-officer Kyra Nyris in a position of leadership, and Voyager finally gave Star Trek a female Captain. Kate Mulgrew played Captain Katharine Janeway, a strong-headed woman with excellent decision making skills, ability to lead, and overall badass. She showed girls and women everywhere that woman are just as capable of leading as men are. Over the years, each Star Trek series has promoted diversity, equality, and peace for the future. They did not shy away from difficult topics and allowed the viewers a fresh perspective on the future. With five television series, one animated series, 13 movies, and over 4 million viewers, Star Trek is an immensely important franchise to help us believe in a brighter future.