Star Trek Discovery, Mental Health, Diversity & Inclusion.

Warning: This could be a fairly long piece but its important to me and many others. All thoughts and mistakes are my own.

I have always been a fan of Star Trek: The Original Series. I love ALL Trek, but TOS has always been MY series, much like TNG has been my brothers. I imagine it’s because I was brought up on TOS. It will always have a special place in my heart but its no longer my top series for a number of reasons.

The Original Series was ground-breaking in its time. It was the first show to have a diverse cast where characters who are not white actually held positions of power. We had an African communications officer, an Asian helmsman, a Russian navigator and so on. All this took place during the cold war and during a time when racial tensions in the US was at its peak.

Looking back, with today’s morals and societal changes it paints a slightly different picture. TOS is still a ground-breaking show but its full of misogyny and sexism-it is a product of its time. That, coupled with the fact that some of the lead actors have some very distasteful views on topics such as autism has changed my thoughts on them and the show.

The world and TV have moved on and more is now required from those storytellers who write for our favourite shows. When I was growing up in the 70s it seemed that nearly every heroic character was white and usually male. There are a few exceptions to the male part. For example ‘The Bionic Woman’ featured Jaime Sommers as the heroine and of course ‘Charlie’s Angels”. I wasn’t bothered by that fact at the time because I did not understand or know any better.

Thankfully, times have moved on and the majority of us have evolved to a point where we understand the need for diversity. Back then I could relate to TV heroes being that I’m white and male but my black friends couldn’t. In fact I recall one incident in the school playground where we were playing ‘Star Wars’ and one of my black friends wanted to be Han Solo- this caused trouble as another classmate told him that he couldn’t be Han as he is black- he would need to be either Darth Vader or Chewie.

Now we have heroes that represent most ethnicities and gender-types. We aren’t quite perfect yet, especially when it comes to gender, sexuality and disability/ability but its a huge leap in the right direction. I can’t complain as there are plenty of white, male role models on TV though if I was to get picky I’d say that I want to be completely represented and want to see a white, asexual male who is fat and NOT the butt of jokes, a bad guy or depicted as stupid. But I can’t complain as I’m already quite well represented for at least two of those things.

Growing up we were taught that boys don’t cry. We repressed our emotions and told to keep our chin up. This has lead to lots of mental health issues amongst men of my age (very late 40s) who have battled depression and other issues over the years, learned to mask it and are now paying the price for doing so. I’m not ashamed to say I have mental health issues- it needs to be normalised. As normal as saying that you have the flu. There should be no stigma attached whatsoever as many of us are dealing with issues from childhood or low self-esteem imposter syndrome and more.

This is why Star Trek Discovery has become my number one show. Like all of us it’s not perfect- no TV show is. One thing it does well is it gives us a much wider representation when it comes to inclusion, diversity and mental health.

I want to look at a few characters to highlight what I mean.

First it must be noted that all of the crew are hurting in some way. They all chose to jump to the future, leaving behind all of their friends and loved ones. That will take some adjusting to for anyone!

Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is a black, female science officer. She is strong, intelligent and independent. For me her character arc has focussed on her handling of emotions- as a child she had to deal with the death of her parents and then when you could argue that she needed emotional support, she is placed with a Vulcan family where she learns to repress her emotions.

When we first meet her she is ‘more Vulcan than Vulcans’. Over the course of the first two series her emotions change (and her hairstyles represent those changes). She learns to let her repressed emotions show and to take over which doesn’t help her situation as she has trouble managing them. By the end of Season 2 she has found (and then lost) her mother, and finally realised she HAS a family in her shipmates.

Season 3 finds her alone and lost- she must learn to survive in this harsh future which I’m sure she wasn’t expecting. Michael spends a year learning to be independent and where necessary, a rule breaker though her track record in that department hasn’t been great. Midway through Season 3 she learns a hard lesson. Although she believed her actions were in the best interests of the Federation, they also impacted on her friends and family which eventually lead to her demotion. On top of that Book and her mother choose a good time to show up and tell her a few home truths. She needs to work on her messiah complex and stop taking responsibility for other peoples problems and that she has to solve EVERYTHING. I’m hoping that this is a turning point for her and that she begins to open up and trust more of her friends and start doing things by the book instead of going rogue.

Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) has had to learn lots and fast. Starting off as a cadet she had to go through the events of season one, deal with being a psychopathic mirror version of herself and more. Season 2 found now Ensign Tilly on the CTP program, aiming to be a captain. She begins pushing herself and has to go through all the emotional trauma associated with being in the mycelial network, having hallucinations of her dead schoolfriend and deal with the events of season 2. Although not yet mentioned on screen, Mary Wiseman confirmed that Tilly is supposed to be on the Autistic Spectrum- something many of us guessed early on.

Season 3 sees Saru offer Tilly the position of First Officer. Whilst the jump from Ensign to XO is a big one, it’s not unheard of. In the Kelvin timeline Kirk went from Cadet to Captain. One could argue that Tilly has gained more experience than most Ensigns in her position. Plus Tilly is seen as the heart and soul of the crew and I believe Saru wants her to help them heal.

Saru (Doug Jones) has had one of the biggest changes of all. After finding out that his fear-instinct and possible early death were all a manipulation on the part of the Ba’ul to keep the Kelpians under control he is a new person. Confident, brave and loyal. The right person for the job of Captain.

Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts) is going through a rough patch in Season 3. Is it to do with her augmentation after her accident or is she experiencing PTSD? Time will tell.

Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) has been dealing with the fact that she was responsible for killing Airiam and feels a need to somehow honour her memory. She is also dealing with the fact that her family were disappointed when she chose to leave Barzan II to join Starfleet. Nhan chose to remain on the Seed Vault Ship to finish the Barzan watch before heading home. I’m hoping that on her home planet she has become something of an icon as the first Barzan to join Starfleet.

Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) have had an amazing journey so far. Their love for one another was apparent from the start. The interaction between them was beautiful. Then came tragedy and Stamets had to deal with his grief over losing Hugh whilst Hugh had to deal with being killed and then coming back to life and learning to rebuild his relationship with Paul.

These are all emotions that people battle with on a daily basis and Discovery doesn’t shy away from them, it normalises them. The crew are strong enough to let their emotions show in front of each other and to be honest about their feelings. This is how things need to be in real life.

A few of the groups who are represented in Discovery include strong, independent women, people from a wide range of ethnicities, LGBTQ (no A yet? 😉 ) characters and actors, possible neurodivergent people and more. I’m not saying its enough, I’m saying its a start and I believe things will only get better and show a future world where everyone is accepted and treated equally- that is what Trek is about.

A bonus for me is that most of the cast are active in one way or another in promoting mental health, diversity and inclusivity outside of the show by using their various social media platforms to highlight the problems and showing that the barriers of racism, sexism, homophobia and more can be broken if we work together.

Special praise goes out to Wilson Cruz, Anthony Rapp, Rachael Ancheril, Samora Smallwood, Doug Jones, Sonequa Martin-Green, Anson Mount and Sara Mitich for not only being active in promoting a cause that is personal to them, but also for being so friendly and accessible to us mere fans as it makes us feel valued and we thank you for it!

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