By Guest Contributor Kendra James
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is like The West Wing. But in space. With a Black president. Kind of.
That’s normally how I find myself trying to describe the show to the uninitiated, as I firmly believe that it’s the Trek series you have to use when trying to get people into Trek canon, especially people of color. Deep Space Nine (DS9) causes a strange division in the world of Trekkies. I’ve always found (non-scientifically; I just spend a lot of time at cons) that people either love it or loathe it. Meanwhile, I can’t wait to show it to my kids.
DS9 has your aliens and spaceships, and characters do occasionally say things like “set phasers to stun,” but the Trek cheese-factor is more often than not outweighed by the political storyarcs covered over six out of the show’s seven seasons, its criticisms of 20th century history, race relations in America, and lead actor, Avery Brooks, who stars as Captain Benjamin Lafayette Sisko–the first and only African-American captain to lead a televised Star Trek franchise.
In both the original Star Trek series (TOS) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), the existence of the United Federation Of Planets provided a perfect excuse to ignore (human) race and racism completely. The Trek franchise has always featured black actors and actresses, well developed Black characters, and TOS even featured the first televised interracial kiss in the episode “Plato’s Kiss.” Both shows dismissed racism on Earth as being as outdated as using money, instead highlighting racial politics between alien species rather than humans.
This model may have continued through DS9 had they hired any other actor to portray Captain Sisko. However, Brooks–a Shakespearean-trained actor, graduate of Oberlin College, and the first African-American to earn an MFA in acting and directing from Rutgers University, where he has also worked as a professor–brought much of himself to the role, and that included an emphasis in the importance of the African-American experience. Even nearly three hundred years in the future. Whether Trek fans were ready for it or not, DS9 brought the topic of race closer to home.