Time for a captain who’s a black woman, Star Trek.

I saw this article suggesting, among other things, that it’s time for Star Trek to feature a non-human captain. It makes sense worldbuilding-wise; the Federation is supposed to be a multicultural and multi-species society. I’d love to see it eventually. Still… at its core, Star Trek has always been about us imagining ourselves amid a bigger universe, and understanding through contact with others what makes us human. An alien character could do that, with good-enough writing. But there’s one more step we should take before we go that route:

A black woman.

There hasn’t been one as a regular on the show since Uhura. FIFTY YEARS AGO. She was awesome — I like the Abrams ‘verse just for showcasing that instead of sidelining her — but it’s long past time for another. I’m getting really, really tired of SFF series being able (however grudgingly) to imagine black men present, but struggling to even remember that black women exist. (Or worse, ignoring black women because black men are present, and playing the There Can Be Only One game.) I have some hopes for this character to be more than peripheral in the forthcoming show The Expanse, but I guess we’ll have to see. Who was the last one before her, Zoe from Firefly? Almost 15 years ago. Martha from Doctor Who? Almost 10 years ago. What, one of us gets to exist in the future once a decade? Fuck that.

I’ve been in my feels a lot about how hard it seems to be for other people to find black women human — worthy of empathy, worthy of human rights, worthy of a moment’s spare attention. A lot of people are working really hard to change this; myself included, as I keep making black women important characters in all of my books. But so much more is needed, and yeah, something as “minor” as who’s running the Enterprise can help. Since black women have historically been at the bottom of the social hierarchy of the US, I think it would be a bigger challenge for the show to put her in the captain’s chair than an alien, but a challenge that’s more worthy of Roddenberry’s vision. SFF’s audience has always been willing to see the humanity of aliens, after all. SFFdom has a much harder time seeing the humanity in some of us actual humans.

So I want a black woman as captain. I want her fierce with attitude. I want her to have natural hair. I want her sexual — hell, pansexual. (Hey, Kirk got his. It can be done without stereotype, with the right writers.) I want her to have a robotic hand, just for shits and giggles. I want her to use capoeira when she has to fight hand-to-hand; she’ll be beautiful. Damn it, I want her fun.

And I want her to embody the quintessence of humanity, because that’s what Star Trek’s captains have always been at their core.

So let’s do this, ya’ll. I have no idea whether Janelle Monae can act, but I nominate her just because she’s already got the vision. Or Jada Pinkett Smith, who can act, but only if she agrees to wear her Niobe hairstyle at least once during the show. Alfre Woodard would be amazing, ’cause she was amazing in ST: First Contact. So many good choices, from among the established actresses — but somebody new would be cool, too. Suggestions?

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39 Responses »

  1. Had some of these same thoughts reading that article at Mary Sue. An alien captain would be just slightly missing the point, with so much farther to go in the way of human representation. Thanks for articulating some of the things I was feeling! I want so badly for this new series to be a worthy entry to the franchise, in the spirit of its original goals.

  2. Taraji P. Henson could totally do it.

  3. No suggestions for someone to be this awesome person, but I absolutely love your vision of the character!

  4. Robotic hands ftw! Sleek prosthetics/enhancements, sure, but also HELLA GNARLY METAL APPENDAGES, WHIRRING SERVOS, RAUGHAHAHAHA um. That is to say. Yes.

    …right.

    There was this Canadian SF show recently about space bounty hunters, I f– no, wait, I do remember, it was called Killjoys. Anyway, a mixed-race black actress plays the lead, who’s definitely a fierce and graceful fighter. She even has hella UST with another woman. (Not, sadly, a real rec for the show; the other two main characters are this pair of extremely annoying white dudes, and the thing is I don’t think the writers realize exactly how screamingly annoying those two are. Especially the older brother. And the show, I am informed, is arrowing straight for a romance with one of them, ladies’ UST be damned.)

  5. Not nearly new: Madge Sinclair. Except that she died twenty years ago. She appeared for maybe five minutes in The Voyage Home as the captain of the Saratoga and I loved her.

    Your captain would be awesome.

  6. Morgan,

    Yes, there have been several black female captains shown down the history of the franchise… all for maybe five minutes. I did specify a series regular for a reason.

  7. Egg,

    I’m not familiar with it, but thanks for the rec. :)

  8. Naomi, is a major character, kick-ass on several levels, in the Expanse books, and if she’s not the same on the TV show that would be a major change, and for the worse.

    And if Alfre Woodard were the captain on the new TREK show, I might have to consider signing up for the CBS streaming service after all, despite not wanting to put the money out. She could be the descendant of Lily in FIRST CONTACT!

  9. I would definitely watch Alfre Woodard or Janelle Monae as Captain of the Enterprise!! It’s definitely time for a black female captain!!

  10. I think she would be a different captain than you’re envisioning, but I want to see CCH Pounder running a ship. Basically I just want to see more of her in everything.

  11. Not only is this the right thing to do, but you definitely point in the direction of making it a really fun thing, too!

    If they do have a black woman captain, I really hope they don’t make her alien. Haven’t like half of the black actors on the Star Trek series been in prosthetics of some sort?

  12. Oh wow, CCH Pounder would be an awesome captain.

  13. A few years ago Bryan Fuller tried to rally support for a new Trek series and publicly stated he wanted Angela Bassett in the captain’s chair. Supposedly he even got Brian Singer involved. It went nowhere, sadly.

  14. Angela Bassett. Yes, yes, yes.

  15. Angela basset has played a captain befire, she can definetely do it again!

  16. To folks upthread, reoccurring DS9 character Kasidy Yates was a black woman who captained a civilian freighter. But that’s not the same thing as being a main character. Especially since most of her role seemed to be Sisko’s girlfriend.

  17. Nora, I would have liked Madge Sinclair as a series regular.

    Maybe CCH Pounder as an admiral, as regularly as you can get an admiral, with Alfre Woodard as the captain (as opposed to a five-minute captain).

  18. I want ALL of these women on the show at once. Alfre Woodard as captain, Taraji P. Henson as Commander, Janelle Monae as a cyborg Lt. Commander, Jada Pinkett as Lieutenant. With a recurring role for CCH Pounder as an Admiral. If the crew were all white men, no one would blink so why can’t we have this?

  19. I would love to see Gina Torres at the helm of the Enterprise. I imagine her as a captain with a quicksilver mind who loves to solve puzzles (which would prevent her from being a clone of her Zoe character).

  20. I guess the actress that played B’Elanna Torres was white.

  21. F that, Bajoran transman or bust

  22. All the suggested actresses are so wonderful, I’m kind of hyperventilating at the thought of any one of them in the Captain’s Chair.

  23. Trekker, Dinkers, (combining my answer because this isn’t really worth multiple comments)

    Really? This is the level of discussion you’re contributing? Reading comprehension, guys. B’Elanna wasn’t a) human, b) black, or c) a captain, which is what I’m calling for; I’ve stated my reasons. A Bajoran trans man certainly could be black, and I’d love to see one on the new show, but that character would also not be a) human, b) a woman, or c) the black female captain I’m asking for. And suggesting that any form of diversity, real or imagined, might as well be the same as black women, is both insulting and a logical fallacy so glaring that I’m wondering if you’re both children. (If so, this is an adults-only blog; scram.)

    Putting you both back in the mod queue, ’til you prove you can talk with grown-ups.

  24. I’m down with a black woman captain. I’m not sure you want it for THIS series, though, because people are already balking at CBS’ “put it behind a pay-wall” business model, which might cause it to fail. If it *does* fail because of that, studios will say, “See? No one wants to watch a black woman in charge of a starship.” Because they tend to get the wrong message half the time.

    I will also recommend Killjoys. Hannah John-Kamen is not just the captain of the ship, she’s the center of the show. She might not be “black enough” for some people, since she is of Nigerian and Norwegian descent, but that’s always struck me as a bizarre distinction.

    Killjoys is a lot of fun and they really make the most of their low budget.

  25. They’ll say that anyway, Trike. If the show is successful, but not with the demographic they want (18-25 yo males; they always seem to want that one), they’d blame that on her. If the show is a blockbuster success with everyone, they’ll say it could’ve been bigger if not for her. And if it’s so successful that they start trying to imitate it, they’ll get wrong all the things that would make it work — a good actress, good writing, treating her like a complete person, making her fun — and think that all they need to do is stick a random black woman into whatever mediocre stuff they’re doing. Which I wouldn’t mind; God knows there’s enough mediocre stuff out there featuring white actors. We deserve the chance to be mediocre too! But my point is that their bigotry will be the problem no matter what.

    So fine, let her be on the “paywall Star Trek”. TV execs’ bigotry should not trump Roddenberry’s vision any more than it already has.

  26. A couple years ago the tie-in novels gave Voyager a black woman as captain after Janeway sacrificed herself to stop a Borg invasion. The character, Captain Eden, was a big hit and even fans who didn’t like Voyager started picking up the books, but there was a vocal contingent of people upset at Janeway’s death, so Pocket Books eventually resurrected her and wrote Eden out of the series.

    Personally I think it’s high time Star Trek feature a gay captain. A black lesbian captain … well that’d be fun just for the reactions in certain quarters.

  27. If Janelle Monae has an interest in acting, I’m thinking she would love the chance to play a well-written cyborg or android in space — *if* given the kind of latitude that Nimoy was for the role of Spock. I don’t see her in the captain’s seat because (IMHO) an older, career officer should be in that position. I would prefer an older black woman as captain, and Monae is the science officer or anthropology specialist. I think you could have really good chemistry there.

    Of course, the “white heterosexual cis men are the default” crowd would foam at the mouth of two prominent black women characters. They even pitch a fit if there are too many conventionally attractive white women cast in roles of power. Well screw ’em. IDIC.

  28. Why not a gay male first? There hasn’t been a gay male character ever.

  29. CMack,

    True, in the TV series. But as I explained, because of the confluence of racism and sexism, black women have always been treated as lower on the social hierachy regardless of intersecting factors. That is, historically, wealthy white gay men have mostly been able to attain a degree of acceptance and opportunity in society that black women haven’t — especially if they hid their homosexuality. But while black women can also hide their sexuality if they’re not straight, they can’t hide their blackness, and sometimes can’t hide their gender. Even wealthy black queer women have been systematically deprived of rights and opportunities to do things that wealthy white queer men have always been able to do (e.g. vote). The stigma of that history lingers even today.

  30. Viola Davis would own, as would Danai Gurira. I think Uzu Aduba could be interesting. And why not Gina Torres? Oh and Lorraine Toussaint.

  31. Late to the party, but I love the idea of a black woman as captain, especially one with a vaguely Kirk-ish personality. I’ve been saying for a while that if you have a woman captain, she should be every bit as decisive, dynamic and (heck yes) sex-positive as the men. If all you’re going to do is make her a stereotype, why bother?

    As to a gay man, yes. That too. It’s a Trek series. They’re always ensembles. Gay first officer? Gay navigator? Why not both? Why not two, even three black women on the bridge crew? (Apart, y’know, from the fact that Hollywood casting executives would say, “Whoa, whoa, that’s getting a little…urban, isn’t it? We’re appealing to a different demographic here,” and other weasel-words for “I’m racist and still want the show to be predominantly white and male.”)

    Angela Bassett sounds like a great choice, except you’d think she’d be an Admiral by now. Maybe she took a demotion, like Kirk did in ‘Wrath of Khan’, because she wanted to be out in the stars again…

    …I’m going to start turning this into fanfic in a few more sentences, so I’ll stop there. :)

  32. I totally agree. My pick would be Regina King. I think she could pull off being able to bring humour and vulnerability while keeping a strong, commanding presence. She’s doing amazing work on HBO’s “The Leftovers” (a fantastic show, by the way).

  33. I’m dying for Rutina Wesley to be a lead in *anything.* I feel like I’ve barely seen her since True Blood ended.

    (And WHYYY couldn’t Tara and Pam live happily ever after?? Or at least, you know, live. And be together. Still SO mad about that!)

    I do tend to agree that an older actress would make more sense as captain, though.

  34. Ah, apparently Monae does have an interest in acting!! They just started filming this last month in Miami.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moonlight_(2016_film)

  35. I LOVE the idea of a black female Star Trek captain! Here are my Top 3 picks with the respective 1st Officers (ALSO FEMALE, PLEASE!):

    1. Sanaa Lathan (Captain), Michelle Rodriguez (1st Officer)
    Her role in Alien vs Predator comes to mind, when I think of Lathan as a starship captain. And for Michelle I’m inspired by her role in S.W.A.T.

    2. Gina Torres (Captain), Archie Panjabi (1st Officer)
    Torres: Jessica Pearson from the show Suits. Nuff said!
    Panjabi: Kalinda Sharma from the show The Good Wife.

    3. Halle Berry (Captain), Jasika Nicole (1st Officer)
    Berry: Inspired by Storm from The X-Men and by Ginger Knowles from the movie Swordfish.
    Jasika: You’ve all probably watched Fringe and watched her play Astrid (or Astro, as Walter miscalls her name sometimes). She would make an outstanding First Officer on Halle Berry’s starship!

  36. Ooh, I have a name to throw into the ring! Wunmi Mosaku – she’s Nigerian-born British, and is absolutely killing it on Capital on BBC at the moment. Let’s have a black queer lady captain with an African accent.