Boldly going, together

Happy 50th birthday, Star Trek.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Happy 50th birthday, Star Trek.
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Growing up in the ‘80s, there weren’t a lot of Asians in Hollywood. But one day, I discovered Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) playing on TV. Its spaceship, the USS Enterprise, was on a peaceful mission “to boldy go where no man had gone before,” and it had a multiracial crew. There was a Japanese helmsman, Russian navigator, African communications officer, Scottish engineer, and even an alien first officer. 

It was a message of unity, equality and strength that I’d never seen before. I was hooked. 

Star Trek: TOS, made in the ‘60s, looks even more quaint today than it did in the ‘80s, but it was a deeply progressive show for its time. The movie Breakfast at Tiff any’s, released just five years before Star Trek: TOS, had a white actor play a Japanese man with fake buckteeth. Russians were considered the enemy during the Cold War. And women, not to mention black women, were often given token, not strong, roles. 

Star Trek’s portrayal of a multiracial future was so powerful that when Nichelle Nichols wanted to stop playing comms officer Uhura, civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King persuaded her to stay, telling her that it was important for the goal of racial equality. 

 Star Trek: TOS was canceled after three seasons, but despite its short run, it became a cult classic through syndication. In the years since, there have been five more Star Trek spin-off series and 13 movies. This year marks Star Trek’s 50th anniversary with the latest movie, Star Trek: Beyond. 

Despite its longevity, Star Trek’s survival has never been guaranteed. After the original series’ cancellation, it took 10 years before Star Trek was revived as a motion picture. When Star Trek: The Next Generation’s last movie,  Nemesis, did poorly at the box office, Star Trek faded from the public eye, until J.J. Abrams rebooted the series seven years later with the Star Trek (2009) movie. 

Star Trek has been roundly criticized for, among other things, being bland, socialist, communist, imperialist, unrealistic and hopelessly naive. I actually get it. But Star Trek, for me and that little kid who rushed home after school to watch it, is ultimately about hope. Hope that, despite the many problems facing the human race, there can be a better future out there for us, and that we can get there together, boldly going.