There were several characters in the Star Trek Universe that we avoided talking about in our previous episode, Characters of Color in Star Trek. In part, because this group of characters was either an actor of color portraying an alien where their ethnicity was a factor – as in the case of Whoopie Goldberg as Guinan – or a character where their ethnic identity was inconsequential to who they were and how they were written or they were a character who was marginalized in the series. But we thought they could be compiled in a post on the website. Here’s the list:
DR. RICHARD DAYSTROM
Richard Daystrom is the 24-year old “boy genius” wunderkind of Star Trek. As the inventor of the computronic and duotronic computer systems, he is the second most important scientist in Star Trek after Zephram Cochran. Played by African-American actor William Marshall in The Ultimate Computer, the Daystrom we are introduced to hasn’t had a breakthrough in a while is trying to recapture his former glory. The fact that he was a Black man who had achieved much at such an early age, but less as he grew older, was never explored.
ELAAN OF TROYIUS
French Vietnamese Actress France Nyugen created the egotistical and seductive Elaan, Dohlman of Elas in the episode Elaan of Troyius. She was betrothed to the leader of neighboring planet Troyius in order to establish a lasting peace between the two planets. In spite of Nyugen’s significant acting talents, the plot of the story merely asks her to play a variation on the exotic Asian temptress.
KHAN NOONIEN SINGH
Latin film star Ricardo Montalban made a tremendous impression on Star Trek fans in Space Seed. He is the only character actor from the original series who is not a series regular that was asked to reprise his role in the films. But even still, Mexican-born Montalban is a strange choice to play genetically-augmented EAST INDIAN despot Khan Noonien Singh. However, some might say he was better suited than British actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
With the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation one of the more obvious changes in the series’ status quo was the presence of a Klingon on the bridge of the Enterprise-D. Lieutenant Commander Worf was played by Michael Dorn. Yet, in spite of being an African-American actor, the show introduced several white actors playing his family members. Worf’s adopted Russian foster parents Sergei and Helena Rozhenko, foster brother Nikolai Rozhenko, his mate K’Ehleyr, their child, Alexander Rozhenko – both as a child and as an adult – and his wife Jadzia Dax were all performed by white actors. The only exception was his brother Kurn, played by Tony Todd, who later had his memories wiped, forgetting he was related to Worf entirely.
Whoopie Goldberg was an odd addition to Season Two of Star Trek: The Next Generation. A fan of the first season, she offered to appear periodically as her schedule and the writers deemed possible. The show was still developing and few people thought the most important thing needed was a lounge for crew members to buy a drink. But the enigmatic Guinan and Ten Forward were more than that. Mysterious in her own background, she was one part psychoanalyst and one part old-time neighborhood bartender, listening to the crew unburden themselves and offering insights to help them. Over the course of the show, Goldberg’s Guinan became an important advisor to Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard and was later revealed to be a member of an ancient alien race that had almost been wiped out.
Originally introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation, actress Rosalind Chao played Keiko Ishikawa, a Japanese botanist. Keiko met and eventually married Miles O’Brien, the Enterprise-D’s Transporter operator. The two had a child, named her Molly and joined the original cast of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Chao – who is ethnically Chinese – played the character with deep Japanese roots. Several episodes revealed Keiko’s strong bond with her grandmother and abiding by many cultural traditions including Japanese brush writing. In episodes on both shows that centered around Keiko or featured her, she 1) became friends with Data, 2) was de-aged to a preteen, 3) played the clarinet in a woodwinds quartet, 4) became a school teacher on Bajor, 5) became pregnant with a second child and 6) was possessed by the Pah-Wraith. However, by the end of DS9’s run, there was little distinctly Japanese about Keiko other than her name.
In 1987 actor Tim Russ auditioned for Geordi LaForge but didn’t join the Trek Universe until 1995 as the Vulcan Tuvok. Over the course of seven seasons, Tuvok was little more than a traditional Vulcan; stern and solidly devoted to logic. But his tenure does hold two unique facts: 1) Russ is the only Star Trek actors to have appeared on-screen with four Trek series captains (William Shatner and Patrick Stewart in the feature film Star Trek Generations, Kate Mulgrew on Star Trek: Voyager, and Avery Brooks on the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Through the Looking Glass” ) and 2) his appearance as a crewmember in Generations was explained as an adventure of a young Ensign Tuvok serving under Captain Sulu.
Now to the most conflicted character in Star Trek history, Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres. Roxann Dawson was hired to play the half Human/half Klingon chief engineer on Star Trek: Voyager. Acceptance of one’s ethnic identity was the spine of most of the storylines developed for her character. The conflict primarily centered on her Klingon heritage. We learn that B’Elanna’s parents broke up because her Klingon mother insisted raising traditionally, something her father refused to allow. This sets up a conflict of identity for B’Elanna. She blames herself for her parent’s divorce and, in turn, rejects her Klingon nature. From the beginning, her quick-tempered, aggressive personality is seen as a burden. In the Season One episode “Faces,” B’Elanna’s DNA is split into two separate beings which she has to willingly recombine in order to live. In Season Four’s Day of Honor B’Elanna had difficulty controlling her anger as she begins to realize her true feelings for Tom Paris. Later that same season, in Random Thoughts, she becomes a pawn in an illegal trade of violent thoughts to the citizens of the planet Mari. Imprisoned for a crime she didn’t commit, Tuvok must prove her innocence.
In the final season, B’Elanna goes through several battles with her identity. In Barge of the Dead, B’Elanna is injured in an accident and suffers a coma, drifting dangerously close to death. As her life appears to be slipping away she is transported to Gre’thor, the Klingon Hell. There she is confronted by her mother who tells her they both have been denied entry into Sto’Vo’Kor, the afterlife for the honored Klingon warriors. Because B’Elanna has rejected a Klingon way of life her mother’s spirit cannot rest. To solve this B’Elanna doesn’t die but she attempts to give her mother the final rest she deserves. She saves her not by performing Klingon rituals, but rather by Torres living a good life and being true to herself. An odd solution to a Klingon religious construct.
As the show came to a close B’Elanna became pregnant, causing her to confront the Klingon side, yet again! She begins to fear that her marriage to Tom will end in divorce just as her parents’ did. But it’s in Prophecy that the newborn gains even importance as Voyager encounters a Klingon generational ship in the Delta Quadrant. The crew was sent on a quest to find “kuvah’magh,” the Klingon savior. The captain believes her child to be the kuvah’magh. After a failed attempt to take control of Voyager the Klingons are cured of a near fatal virus using the vaccine developed from the baby’s immune system. Afterwards, they are deposited on a Class-M planet believing their lives were saved by their Savior. The episode ends with B’Elanna and Tom making light of the Klingon’s belief in their child.
Throughout Star Trek: Voyager, B’Elanna is repeatedly asked to choose between accepting her mixed heritage only to be encouraged to abandon her Klingon culture in order to live comfortably with humans, Vulcans, and other species. This struggle mirrors the conflict many biracial characters have confronted in fiction for centuries. From Imitation of Life to Pinky to Showboat to Queen the choice is always the same. Either assimilate or be doomed to a conflicted life. The message is pretty clear: the more you assimilate, the happier you will be.
HARRY KIM, HOSHI SATO & TRAVIS MAYWEATHER
I’m sure someone is going to get mad that I put these three together but it’s more expedient this way.
Let’s say that Garrett Wang, Linda Park, and Anthony Montgomery are fine people. However, for all three of their characters – Harry Kim, Hoshi Sato, and Travis Mayweather – suffer the same fate. They are the most marginalized ethnic characters in all of Star Trek. After seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager and four seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise we know little more about them than what was introduced in the first few episodes of Season One for both shows. Little or no character development leaves them undefinable and uninteresting. Outside any family members, none of them appears to have a friend or a love interest that shares their ethnic heritage. This is NOT a requirement, but it is odd and unrealistic when compared to the lives people of color actually live. Also, it’s different in contrast to how the white characters in these shows build relationships. White fictional characters may have a single friend of color but the majority of their acquaintances, old friends, and love interests are white as well. This is obvious when looking at any episode of any Star Trek show regardless of time period.
Anyway, that’s the list. #LLAP