For this review of the new Star Trek film, please welcome BonnieBelle of A Working Title. She called her review "Star Trek: Deconstructed" when she sent it in, and I have to say it's a darn thorough deconstruction! Thanks for making BonnieBelle feel welcome, I know we're all looking forward to some good discussion. -Skye
First of all, let me say that I am a Trekkie. I love the original Star Trek, and TNG and all the other ensuing seasons and spin-offs. Star Trek: TOS was a pioneer show in its time, portraying not only non-stereotypical characters of color, but women in strong roles. I'm going to spoil the heck out of the new movie, so read on at your own discretion.
Director JJ Abrams did a fantastic job of reimagining the style and visual impact of the series, the story he told was original and very much in line with the Star Trek legacy. The actors he chose, many of them unknowns or B-list stars, were perfect for their roles and very similar visually to the previous stars. It is a true restart for the series, and I hope to see more Star Trek movies in the future from this cast and director.
And yet... And yet...
I didn't take notes during the movie, because I wasn't expecting to write about this. But after thinking about what I saw, I really feel like I have something to say. The thing is, it was very much in line with the original incarnation. Too in line, in my opinion. If you're going to update a classic story for modern audiences, why not stretch their imaginations beyond what has gone before? Isn't the premise of the show, to boldly go where no one has else has?
I'll start with the women. Or should I say, woman. Specifically, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura. (There are five women with speaking parts in the entire movie. Lt. Uhura, Spock's mom, Kirk's mom, a female doctor, and Uhura's roommate. :( This is my frowny face. And they all fail the Bechdel test.) Uhura is of African decent, originaly played by Nichelle Nichols and reprised here by Zoe Saldana. She's super intelligent, strong-willed, and doesn't put up with anyone's bullshit, as evidenced by her repeated brush-offs of the womanizing Kirk. In the original incarnation, she remains unmarried and unattached throughout the series.
I'm wondering why the hell JJ Abrams and crew decided to romantically involve her with Spock. WTF? That's actually a step in the opposite direction! Not only is Spock her teacher, he's her commanding officer. There are all sorts of negative connotations there. Dominance, power plays, submissive and smart black girl, blah blah blah. And if you come to me, saying this is an alternate reality so they can do whatever they want with the characters, go fuck yourself. They took a cracker-jack character who took no man's shit, and made her the Pining Damsel. "I'll be monitoring your signal." reads as, "I'll be waiting for you and saving myself for you, you big strong man, you." Gag, barf, hurl. She becomes the prize for Spock!! Argh!!
And if they're going to give Sulu a chance to kick ass, which I'll talk about shortly, why the hell didn't they give Uhura that option? When Pike asks for officers trained in combat, I don't recall him specifically requiring men. And if he did, shame on JJ Abrams. Someone mentioned to me that her position on the ship was too important for her to leave and go fight, and also that she was the only one who spoke Romulan. These are so obviously constructs and excuses. If Kirk can ignore regulations and go off ship as the Captain, then Uhura definitely can. If Sulu can consider himself combat trained, then there's no reason she couldn't have been. And she never actually translates anything from Romulan in the movie, so that's shot down as well. I'm frowning big time now.
I'm not even sure I want to talk about the uniforms. Okay, I do. I know they're giving the nod to the old series. I get it. I'm a fan! But really, you can't tell me that in 200 years, women officers will be wearing pencil skirts and go-go boots in the military. If you try to pass that one off on me, I'm gonna call you on that shit. They don't even require that in today's military! It's an option, but not a requirement. But in Star Trek, we never saw a single woman officer in pants, for crying out loud.
What's the reasoning behind only one main character who also happens to be female? They took away her independence by making her "Spock's Girlfriend." If you're going to create an alternate universe, go all out! Battlestar Galactica changed the sex of one of their main characters, and pulled it off! Why couldn't Star Trek make a leap like that?
I'd say this is a big FAIL on the feminist front.
Now on to the race issue. First of all, they kept the two standard characters of color, Uhura and Sulu (played by John Cho), and actually cast them with very attractive actors. Thumbs up there. But Star Fleet was totally white-washed. The cadets of color stood out because there were so few of them. Again, 200 years from now, whether people like it or not, the population is going to be just a little bit more mixed than that. I mean, geez, hello, our first African-American POTUS was sworn in just four months ago!
And statistically, the ranks of the military, mainly the enlisted, have much higher percentages of people of color than other employment areas (51% of enlisted women and 36% of men). Of course, the percentage of officers of color is still much lower, (18% for combined genders) but you can't tell me that in 200 years, those percentages won't even out. (Here's a source for information on the military's composition.)
Now, Sulu really held his own in this movie. Originally played by George Takei, he's done justice here by John Cho. He was funny, without being the sole comic relief, and he had action scenes and was good at it. He even managed to save one of the main characters! And his combat training is not "Martial Arts," it's fencing, which according to Wikipedia's entry on Sulu is in line with the original Sulu. They could have easily made it something like Kendo and didn't. I think the two characters of color in the show were dealt with well, they weren't portrayed stereotypically for their race, and they had major roles. But there were two, period. Look at that picture up there and tell me that's equal representation. Major frowny face.
I'd say this is a race FAIL, too.
No characters from the LGBTQ community, no characters with disabilities, and actually, very few "Alien" characters. Most of the Federation is apparently human. Boooring, but really, not surprising.
Star Trek was a pioneer show in 1966 and I'm glad they did it such a fine homage in this new reincarnation. But it's 2009. You're telling me, in 43 years, we couldn't come up with something new? The movie was great. It was beautiful and gripping and action-packed, while still full of the relationships and (male) friendships that made it such a hit all those years ago. Imagine how much better it would have been if it were all-inclusive. That would really have been something to see.
It's worth seeing, especially for fans of the original, but don't expect anything new. It's the same old stuff in a shiny new package.
- Star Trek doesn't update the gender roles by Ariel Wetzel at Feminist SF - The Blog!
- Live Long and Prosper at In Other Words.
- To Boldly Go...Backwards by Jennifer Weiner at The Huffington Post
- Star Trek's Reboot Seeks Out New Life, New Civilizations, New Audiences by Liza Paitz Spindler on Caution: Writers at Play. See particularly the section on Danger Gals.
- Star Trek's Gender Problem at Women in Hollywood.