"Star Trek has to be sexy. That’s in keeping with the original spirit of the series. In the 1960s they were limited because of the time, but so much was insinuated. Part of the fun of our first movie was playing with the idea that Uhura and Spock were a couple. This movie takes that further and asks how that’s possible. Why would she be interested in that kind of guy, and why would she put up with him? It’s obvious what he would like about her. I mean, it’s fucking Zoe Saldana” - JJ Abrams (Playboy Interview)
Ladies and gentlemen, the man who is currently in control of creating new content for our beloved franchise is a sexist, ignorant idiot who not only doesn’t understand Star Trek but also doesn’t understand that many of its fans are women.
This might not be so bad if the rest of his creative team, including his writers, weren’t also sexist, ignorant idiots who - while some of them may have seen Star Trek and be able to throw in plenty of nerdy references - still don’t understand the fundamental aspects that make it what it is.
When Gene Roddenberry first created the show in the 60s he wanted a female officer - Number One - to be second-in-command of the Enterprise. He also wanted half of the crew of the Enterprise (and all of Starfleet for that matter) to be female. In other words, he wanted equality.
He was also, as much as we love him, a flawed man who preferred that these females dressed in as little as possible, which is a trait he apparently shares with JJ and the rest of his team. Maybe that was, if not acceptable, at least tolerable in the 1960s. But it has been almost fifty years since the Original Series first aired, and yet we still haven’t been able to shake this fundamental problem that has plagued every series since TOS.
Each series has primarily been run by men - straight, white men (of course) - who usually had at least one character in a revealing outfit, and who made all decisions on the make-up of female aliens based on the fact that they should remain beautiful. However, for the most part, that was where the similarities between the original show and the later series ended, because even if their appearance was a primary concern, the showrunners didn’t let that get in the way of writing complex, three-dimensional female characters.
Even the character of Seven of Nine, who was added to Voyager purely to boost the ratings by adding sex appeal, had a complicated backstory that allowed her to grow and change over the course of the series. Not to mention the fact that she was a brilliant scientist who became a valuable member of the crew, and that her character got to do everything from fight to fall in love.
I would argue that that is what’s missing from the reboot.
Hold on, I can hear the pitchforks being raised, the cries of ‘but Uhura did xyz!!’ and ‘it’s only a movie, how much do you expect her to do?’ - those are very valid points. Reboot Uhura has done more in her two movies that the original Uhura did in her six. But it’s not simply a matter of quantity. It’s a matter of what she did in the movies, and who she had scenes with - and I think we all know the answer to that.
Here we go again, you all say, yet another person complaining about Uhura being Spock’s girlfriend. Well, sorry to disappoint you all, but yep, that’s exactly what I’m doing.
Because it seems to me that people think this is an either/or situation. Either Uhura only gets to have a couple of minor moments in the movie OR she gets to play a more major role, by being involved romantically with Spock.
And that is what I ultimately have a problem with. The fact that these writers apparently can’t think of another use for a female character but for her to be a romantic interest. She can’t ‘just’ be a member of the crew, who was respected and admired by the rest of her crew, like the original Uhura. If we want her to play a major role, then we’re just going to have to suck it up and have almost every scene she’s in be with and/or about Spock.
Or at least, that’s what they want us to not only believe, but be resigned to.
Before we go any further in this discussion, I have something else I need to add, just so you’re all clear on where I stand and how I feel.
I like new Uhura. Why wouldn’t I? She shares many of her defining characteristics with her original counterpart. Both are extremely intelligent, eminently capable and very, very brave. They are defiant - not an insubordinate way - but they have this way of looking at people who are threatening or challenging them, and it is a look that speaks volumes.
I always felt, when Uhura had that look on her face, that she was facing down not only her enemies but the universe itself, as if daring it to throw more than it already had at her. Because to me that look was that of a woman who knew that no matter how much the universe threw at her, no matter how dangerous a situation, how close to death or defeat she was, she would come out the other end still standing tall.
Uhura is awesome.
Having said that, I don’t love new Uhura. And a lot of people seem to be confused when someone says that. They act as if this is a binary situation, whether you either blindly love something or you utterly loathe it.
But nothing is that simple, or that black and white. It is possible to like a character while finding fault with them. It is possible to enjoy a character but wish they’d been written better. It’s even possible to love a character but believe that there is room for improvement. There are yet more possibilities, on how a person can feel about a character, and if we wanted to discuss them all we might be here all day.
Suffice to say, I like Uhura, I think she’s fantastic, but there are aspects of her character that I find huge fault with. I believe that there is a lot of room for improvement. And I’m not going to keep quiet about it just because much of this has already been said, or because some people can’t understand that no I don’t loathe her, but I don’t blindly love her either.
Returning to my previous point, one of those aspects of her character that I find fault with is her romantic involvement with Spock.
I didn’t really mind it when I first saw 09. I didn’t leave the theatre going ‘NOOOO HOW COULD THEY?’ - actually I left humming the classic theme song, but when I thought about it later my thoughts on the issue were along the lines of - ‘huh, Spock and Uhura, didn’t see that coming’. I didn’t really care either way.
I didn’t see the point of pairing them up, but I didn’t realise then what this would mean for Into Darkness.
I didn’t realise that, to quote this article, this would be the end of Uhura as an autonomous, interesting character.
Or that having Uhura and Spock in a relationship would mean that, to quote this article -
One of the main arcs of the story is Spock’s emotional expression, or lack thereof, and through part of the film, he and Uhura are fighting because she feels that when his life was in danger, he expressed no sadness, anger, whatever about their relationship and what losing him would do to her. He later explains that he chose not to feel/express those emotions because they’re too hard, and that his lack of emotion is evidence of what she means to him. She is moved, and satisfied.
Later, when Spock thinks he has lost Kirk, he cries openly. Blah blah exposition about all the emotions he’s feeling. Me, yawning in the theater—because I am so goddamn tired of the “straight men’s stoicism is evidence of how much they care for women, but they have all the feels for other straight men” narrative.
This isn’t a neutral narrative. It reinforces the idea that women’s value to men is less than men’s value to other men. And in a film that barely features female characters at all, to see Spock explain to his partner that a lack of emotion is evidence of his care for her, then weep for his male friend, is problematic, to put it politely. (Which is to say nothing of the fact that his partner is a black woman, and his friend a white man—in a film already engaging in whitewashing.)
There are literally dozens of articles that articulate many of the problems I had with the evolution of Uhura’s character in Into Darkness.
But I’m only going to quote one more because it coincides so brilliantly with my thoughts on the issue.
Because every time someone mentions how annoying/troubling/problematic/frustrating it is that Uhura’s role was reduced to that of Spock’s girlfriend, or that every scene she has is either her arguing or reconciling with Spock or discussing her relationship with Captain Kirk, there is always one argument that is inevitably brought up as if it fixes all of that in one fell swoop.
'But Uhura went to talk with the Klingons!!'
To which I quote this review, because this sums up exactly what I’m thinking every time I hear that argument -
It was during the away team’s mission to Kronos (more commonly known as Qo’noS) that Uhura was finally able to make use of her fluency in Klingon. After having watched Deep Space Nine, and seen a capable woman (Jadzia Dax) talk to Klingons in a way that forced them to listen, I had high hopes for Uhura’s conversation with them. I saw this as an opportunity for her to be useful in her actual job, as opposed to becoming a prop to illustrate Spock’s emotional issues yet again. This scene was, however, a letdown. Uhura was unable to make the Klingons listen to her, and ultimately ended up as a damsel-in-distress. While she was able to hold her own in the firefight afterward, her star skill, her linguistics, was useless in the heat of the moment. This served as the cherry on top of the sundae for Uhura’s unimportance to the plot. She did not serve as a character in her own right, but as the exposition for Spock’s emotional state.
I know, how unfair of me, to use evidence from one of the TV shows of a better written, more complex female character who was more than a romantic interest for one of the main characters.
Because we all know that the TV shows are different. Movies don’t have enough time to show all that nuance! Female characters have to be reduced in their roles, the same as the male characters. That’s just the way it- … What’s that? I wrote an article just last week about two of the women from the Star Trek movies? About how at first glance they could be seen as only the ‘love interest’ but when you actually watch the movies and stop and think about it you realise that they’re actually both fantastic, complicated women who are integral to the plot?
To all of the people for whom these two movies were their first introduction into Star Trek, I only have one thing to say.
I’m sorry that these movies did such a terrible job of portraying women that you think the new Uhura and Carol Marcus are actually representative of what the original show was like.
I’m sorry that you’ve been led to believe that Uhura can only be defined by her relationship with Spock because otherwise she won’t have a role in the movies at all.
I’m sorry that you think the fact that Uhura talked to some Klingons, while amazingly brave and a sign of the strength of her spirit and abilities, makes up for the fact that the rest of the movie she was bitching at Spock and whining at Kirk and wasn’t really given much else to do.
I’m sorry that you think her beaming down to stop Spock from beating up Khan (while again, totally brave) means that she’s a strong character. As if that also makes up for the rest of the movie.
I’m sorry that fans of the original, like me, have to be sorry about these things. I’m sorry that we can’t all be celebrating how undeniably fantastic the female characters in the new Star Trek movies are. (I’m sorry that they’re not even a little bit fantastic, let alone undeniably.)
I’m sorry that we have so many examples from the shows and the movies, that we hold up to say ‘no, these new characters barely even come close to these old ones’.
And I am really, really sorry that the only female characters you’ve met so far are Uhura, a Carol Marcus who’s nothing like the original, and Gaila (who, while awesome, is still an Orion and clearly meant to appeal to all the men).
I’m sorry that you make memes about how Kirk and Uhura are ‘Space Girlfriends’, because she has no other female characters to be space girlfriends with!
I am so, so sorry that Janice Rand hasn’t been included so far.
I’m even more sorry that Christine Chapel is some girl Kirk slept with and forgot about.
And I’m not only sorry but bitterly disappointed that Captain Pike was included, but there was no sign of Number One or Yeoman Colt.
Because the truth of the matter is - and something that maybe some of you in the reboot fandom don’t realise, is that the anger we feel about the way women have been portrayed in the new movies is covering a deep, bitter disappointment and sadness.
We are so very disappointed that some of our favourite characters have been reduced to this - and that some of them weren’t even included!
Our anger is not with you, but with the people responsible for disappointing us, and upsetting us. They had an opportunity to not only revive our franchise but to make it better than it was. And in a lot of ways they have taken a step backwards. Unfortunately, their portrayal of female characters is one of those ways.
I’d like to finish this post off by including some excerpts from the comment section of this article, because they make some very valid and important points that I think round out this discussion perfectly.
"That said, the gender problems in the reboot do stem in large part from the source material - the TOS crew skews male."
That is garbage. Sorry, it just is.
JJ Abrams doesn’t have carte blanche over Trek but he has made changes to Trek canon including blowing up Vulcan and killing Spock’s mother. He has also gone on record saying he was never a fan of the show because it was too ‘philosophical’ for him. Moral and ethical dilemmas were a staple of Trek and one of the reasons Gene Roddenberry wanted to make the show in the first place. So JJ feels comfortable chucking out Vulcan, changing the timeline, making Kirk a captain well before his time, changing Khan’s race and focusing more on action and less on Star Trek’s core messages of ethics, exploration, unity and progress. But it would be too disrespectful of Roddenberry’s vision for him to write better roles for the women and hire more female extras? Seriously?
And it’s not as if the original show didn’t have recurring female characters of note- Nurse Chapel and Yeoman Rand for example. The treatment of the existing female characters in the movie was bad enough that I think the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the writing and production staff.
Though this series uses the TOS crew as a template I’m sick of people pretending like the last thirty or so years of Trek (TNG, DS9, Voyage, Enterprise) never happened and that the standards and developments made by the franchise have had no lingering effect on the expectations of Star Trek fans including female fans and POCs (like me) who have enjoyed having better written female and/or racial minority characters in our Trek.
"I wish they would give bigger & more roles to women in the reboot. But, in a movie there is limited time to intro new characters and do character development of an ensemble cast - really, they can only focus on a few characters in any one film."
They spent time showing Carol Marcus in her underthings- if they were really short on time they could’ve cut that out and written her scenes more efficiently and effectively. Other movies manage it even with large casts. It’s not that hard. It’s pretty damn suspicious that female and POC characters tend to be pushed aside in terms of screen time to make more room for white male characters.
Gene Roddenberry, in the original pilot for TOS, had a female first officer on the bridge but he was forced to remove her by studio execs and the focus groups. If a man in 1960s America can at least try to include better roles for women and POCs, can have two POC on the bridge and include the first inter-racial kiss on US TV then JJ and co have no excuse.
All in all I think it’s fairly safe to say that we all want the same thing. We want a Nyota Uhura who has important scenes that have nothing to do with Spock, or Kirk, who is an important and invaluable member of the crew.
We want more than two female characters to feature in the next movie! And whoever does we don’t want any more damsels in distress or women in their underwear!
Our franchise is one that lead the charge for equal representation and equality for everyone, and I refuse to believe that it cannot begin to do so once again.
Her portrayal might have been problematic in the two movies she’s appeared in so far, but I will continue to hold onto the belief that maybe in the next one we will finally be given female characters - Uhura included - who are once again role models for women everywhere. We deserve positive portrayal, and I for one am going to continue to hold out hope that we get it.
“Remus Dobby Potter, you were named after the two people who actually gave a shit about my well being. One of them was a house elf and I’d much rather see you become that than a fucking Slytherin. Don’t come back unless you’re wearing red and gold you little shit.”
#if the epilogue was accurate #esp the last bit #bc lbr harry wasnt really known for his acceptance and learning lessons