WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS
There is something different about the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery, which debuted on Thursday. It was not the incredible special effects, or the new characters, or the hilarious “high” scene that Sonequa Martin-Green laughed her way through. It was so well done that most of us may have missed it.
For the very first time in Star Trek history — including all 739 television shows, films, and animations — all of the lead actors for the episode were people of color.
The main characters of this first episode, “That Hope Is You, Part I,” were Starfleet’s own Michael Burnham (played by Martin-Green), the swashbuckling yet secretive Cleveland “Book” Booker (played by Trek newcomer David Ajala), and Aditya Sahil. He is sort of a caretaker of the Federation, which is in disrepair (played by the famous Indian actor, Adil Hussain).
This was confirmed by Trek boss Alex Kurtzman during the special, invite-only debut of the “That Hope Is You, Part I,” held the evening of October 14.
After the episode streamed, fans were able to chat with many stars of the franchise, including Martin-Green, the great Doug Jones, Anson Mount, and others. During this chat, longtime Trek mega-fan Danny Epperson posted in the chat stream that this was the first episode of its kind.
“If I’m not mistaken,” Epperson wrote, “was this the first Star Trek episode ever that was all ethnic?”
“Danny, you’re the first to notice,” said Kurtzman. “Well done.”
Popular Trek writer Larry Nemecek agreed.
“Nice catch, Danny Epperson!” said Nemecek. “At least for the humans.”
This is true, as many of the alien characters were portrayed by white actors, including Ithor the Orion (played by Jake Michaels).
Epperson is a media industry veteran and a longtime fan of Trek. On both radio and television, Epperson has interviewed Marina Sirtis, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, and William Shatner.
“Star Trek has always made a mission of giving visibility to underrepresented communities because it believes in showing people that a future without division on the basis of race, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation is entirely within our reach,” said Michelle Paradise, co-showrunner and executive producer in an interview on StarTrek.com.
This history is well known, and from the very start, Star Trek was different. Creator Gene Roddenberry made a statement by casting an African-American woman (Nichols) and Asian-American (Takei) to be part of the original Enterprise crew in The Original Series. This was when minorities of at all strata were relegated to background roles if they were on television and movies at all.
Star Trek: Discovery featured the relationship between Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Science Officer Paul Stamets, which set the bar high again for inclusive storylines.
Later in this season, Star Trek will again break new ground by featuring the first non-binary and transgender characters in the franchise’s history. Actor Blu del Barrio will bring “Adira” to the screen as Trek’s first non-binary character. Ian Alexander will appear as the character “Gray.” Alexander is transgender, as is Gray, which will mark the first transgender character on Trek.
Star Trek: Discovery’s Season 3 is currently streaming on CBS All Access.