RVCBard has a very timely post for me at Ars Marginal called Representing Heroism. Although it mainly deals with Fantasy and Roleplaying, all of it applies to science fiction and fantasy.
Bard sums it up nicely here:
You would think that, in made-up worlds where people can shoot lightning out of wooden sticks or ride winged unicorns or create new species with some candles and mystic mumbling, that there would be a place in those worlds for heroes to rise who have different colors, different genders, different abilities, and so on. In fact, the support for such characters already exists in the framework of these worlds!
It is timely for me as a reminder because my review for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was linked to by a member of Trekweb.com. What followed in the comments section was the usual White Privilege defensive measures and refusal to acknowledge that my charges, regardless of presented evidence, actually had any merit. There were also arguments of Tone, as well as attempts to handwave the racism as mere ignorance of perpetuation of stereotypes of people of color, particularly black people.
I have posted the reviews for all of the Roddenberry and Berman-era Star Trek movies except for The Voyage Home and First Contact, but I have seen them all multiple times. What is sad for me is that I have to “imagine” Uhura’s competence and awesomeness because she’s been consistently and constantly sidelined by writers, producers, and directors. She gets less screen time and no individual scene (in six movies) on her own that demonstrates why she is a part of this legendary crew.
I do not have to imagine the competence and awesomeness of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, Sulu, or to a lesser extent, Scotty. In six (or seven for Kirk, Chekov, and Scotty) movies, I can point to individual or collective efforts to save the ship, the crew, or any number of people by their actions.
I cannot do that for Uhura. I have to imagine that she is awesome at her job, because I don’t get to see that on screen. I have to imagine that she is a trusted member of the Enterprise crew, because I don’t get to see that on screen. I have to imagine that Uhura is depended upon by Kirk when it is all on the line, because I don’t get to see that on screen. I have to imagine that Uhura has great xeno-linguistic skills, because I don’t get to see any of them on screen. I have to dream that Uhura would be willing to put everything on the line to save the Enterprise, because I never get to see this play out on screen.
I know absolutely nothing about Uhura’s family. Or what motivated her to join Starfleet. Or, how intelligent she really is (when Nomad from the Original Series episode “The Changeling” wiped Uhura’s memory, she goes from being a blank slate to returning to duty in a matter of days). Or what Uhura is supremely capable of achieving.
Because we see none of this.
And if you want a final indictment of both Star Trek and Hollywood in general, in more than 40 years that the original show has been on the air, there has not been a formal release that has used Uhura’s first name. Fanon has established that to be “Nyota” – and Nichelle has used it when she appeared on the game show “Win, Lose, or Draw,” but there has been nothing more.
Any mention of JJ Abrams’ “Star Trek” will be met with an airstrike.
I often call fandom’s defense of a show or showrunner “Temple Worship.” This is true especially when people acknowledge the problem but then give explanations as to why it should be ignored or dismissed. The price of entrance to these temples happens to be very steep, and absolute worship in all cases has proven to be a detriment to commercial franchise.
And for Star Trek, their ongoing failure of Uhura, despite the worshippers of the Temple of Roddenberry, is a stain upon which Trek itself is responsible for perpetuating. This is compounded by much of fandom’s denial and handwaving of the problem. But if the only action you have is to circle the wagons, close ranks, and attempt to ridicule or diminish the dissent, what hope is there for growth?
And that is why the defense of Star Trek’s race!fail diminishes the franchise.