Communicator #116

"Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations"

For Tuvok, the character I play on Star Trek: Voyager, the quintessential Vulcan philosophy printed above is a simple matter of logic. After all, infinite diversity is necessary for the survival of any species – without diversity in the gene pool, disease and mortality rates rise. And if the ship’s bridge is inaccessible to qualified crew members of diverse races, genders, nationalities, or even alien species, the Federation would only be cheating itself.

But for me, the issue transcends logic on a very personal level. I worked as an actor for 12 years before landing my role on Star Trek: Voyager, and there were many parts I read for that were extraordinarily stereotypical and demeaning. I did not accept those parts for that reason. Too often, actors are pigeon-holed into playing only certain types of characters for no other reason than the color of their skin.

Star Trek has been the exception to this rule from its very beginning. We were in the middle of the cold War when the original Star Trek aired three decades ago, but there was Chekov, a Russian, right there at the helm of the Starship Enterprise. The Civil Rights and Women’s rights movements had only just begun, but Star Trek forecast a future where Uhura, an African-American woman, was a valued and crucial member of the team. Placing Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu (an Asian-American) in the positions of officers, with courage and dignity, was groundbreaking.

As the years unfolded, Gene Roddenberry’s tradition has continued, most obviously with Avery Brooks portraying the Commander of Deep Space Nine and Kate Mulgrew as the Captain of the Starship Voyager – vivid reminders that there are African-Americans and women who are captains of ships in the U.S. Navy right now.

But Roddenberry’s vision of a universe of universal acceptance has been extended in even more subtle ways. The once-feared Klingons – Star Trek’s ultimate example of “the other” – eventually chose to reject their hatred and join forces with their former enemies. And putting myself, an African-American, in the role of the noble and trusted Tuvok was in itself a very creative casting concept and a positive moment. He is a character I am proud to play.

True, some of the strides have not gone as far as we’d like. Television’s first interracial kiss, for example, was between Uhura and Kirk in the episode “Plate’s Stepchildren”, but the kiss could only be made acceptable to network executives in the context of science fiction and a story that found the two under the influence of an alien force.

Yet this historic first step shows that Star Trek has always been reaching, striving to move contemporary society forward by illustrating what the future could be like. More than three decades after its inception, Star trek continues to lead the way in advancing this television evolution.

A key component in this process has been the series’ wealth of fans. Star trek audiences accept and expect infinite diversity in infinite combinations. In many ways, it is the theme of all the shows and movies, and a concept that has helped Star Trek continue to prosper throughout its long life. People who watch Star Trek tend to be very intelligent, optimistic, and idealistic. We’re all on the same team, we all see the beauty of this future, and we all strive to “make it so” in our own ways.

This issue of the Star Trek Communicator is dedicated to this vision, and to the infinite diversity of the Star Trek universe. We have dedicated this issue of the magazine to African-Americans of Star Trek, and we are thrilled at the number of Star Trek icons who sat down for all-new interviews just for this issue.

In the following pages, you’ll find new interviews with Nichelle Nichols, Avery Brooks, LeVar Burton, and other performers who have captivated and engaged all of us with their performances in Star trek films and TV series over the years. We were also proud and lucky to speak with African-American astronaut – and Star Trek fan – Mae C. Jemison.

In truth, we’re just scratching the surface with this issue of the Communicator, since the contributions of African-Americans to Star Trek – both in front of and behind the camera – are vast, and with Star Trek showing no signs of slowing down, there are sure to be many more. So consider this as a snapshot of where we are now, and join us on this exploration and celebration of some of the most stellar stars of Star Trek. I trust you’ll find it most fascinating.

I also trust that, like Tuvok, you will agree that the decision to devote this issue of the Communicator to infinite diversity is, like the philosophy itself, perfectly logical!

Tim Russ

Guest Editor