Monday, September 23, 2013

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Alright, I fully admit that by doing a marathon on all of the Star Trek movies, I am stepping completely outside of our stated genre, but as a life long Trekkie, this simply had to happen. Given the success of this franchise, I'm betting that at least a few of our readers are also Star Trek fans. Of course, I will stick to the usual social justice perspective, as we work our way through the series.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, is the last movie which includes all of the original Star Trek cast.  In someways, it's bittersweet because clearly the actors at that point were ready for retirement but at the same time, without them, there would have been no Star Trek.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country begins with the crew being called in three months before their retirement, after the Klingon moon Praxis has exploded.  This is a disaster for the Klingons and will mean their absolute destruction, unless they forge a peace agreement with the Federation.  Spock arranges for the Enterprise to escort  Klingon Chancellor Gorkon to earth for peace talks.  Kirk feels that Spock has overstepped and makes it clear that he does not trust Klingons.  Kirk brings up David and calls Klingons animals outright.

On the voyage to rendez-vous with the Klingon bird-of-prey, we meet Valeris, Spock's protégé and replacement for Sulu. Spock says that this will be his last voyage on the Enterprise as a member of its crew and that he intends for her to take over for him.

Upon meeting up with Chancellor Gorkon's ship, the Klingon's beam over to share dinner with the crew of the Enterprise and it does not go well.  The humans are appalled at the Klingons lack of human table manners.  Chang speaks of his admiration of Kirk as a fellow warrior but it is clear that there is more to this than just his supposed respect for Kirk.

As soon as the Klingons return to their ship, the Enterprise picks up a strong energy surge.  The crew watches in horror, as the bird-of-prey is fired upon several times.  On the bird-of-prey, two humans in Enterprise space uniforms board and proceed to wound and kill several Klingons, including Chancellor Gorkon. When Kirk finally gets in touch with the Klingon ship, he says that he is surrendering, rather than escalate the situation and then beams aboard the bird-of-prey.  Kirk and Bones are promptly taken prisoner after Gorkon's death and put on trial. They are sentenced to life without parole.

In typical Kirk fashion, he gets into several fights and just manages to escape with the help of Spock.  They discover that the saboteur is actually Valeris and make it to the new peace conference in time to stop the death of more Klingon officials and the president of the Federation. Kirk gives one final speech and heads back to the Enterprise, where he decides to go on a space jaunt, rather than showing up to be decommissioned.

I was thrilled to see Sulu get a promotion to captain but less pleased to see how quickly he fell into a secondary role with Kirk.  They now share the same rank and yet Sulu was more than willing to thwart Starfleet's orders to aid Kirk and divulge privileged information. Sulu didn't hesitate for one moment on this decision and though Kirk inevitably was in the right, considering what he was risking, it would at least have been nice to see Sulu pause.

In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country there were three female characters of note: Uhura, Valeris, and Azetbur. Uhura was certainly more visible in this movie than in the previous five but was once again highly removed from all of the action.  She did however come up with the idea of pretending to have technical difficulties to avoid responding to Starfleet's commands that the Enterprise return to earth. Though it was quick thinking on her part, knowing that this is the last appearance of Uhura saddened me because her character was never really developed in the series and all she will really be remembered for is the infamous kiss between her and Kirk during the television series. Given that Star Trek has always been touted as progressive, Uhura reveals just how limited the series really is.

Valeris ended up betraying Spock and the Federation because of her fear of change.  I wasn't disturbed by this but I was however bothered by the mind meld, in which Spock extracted information from Valeris' brain.  The fact that she screamed, indicated that it was painful and Spock used his superior strength to hold her in place.  This was absolutely an assault and the members of the crew just looked on as though it was nothing. Just because Valeris was now the villain, was not an excuse for Spock to violate her in this fashion, furthermore; we cannot ignore the gender dynamic at play.  That scene literally constituted a man forcing himself on a woman and it is excused by his intent.

Finally, we come to Azetbur.  For the most part I thought her character was strong and independent.  I cannot say how deeply I am against her calling Kirk's comment about human rights racist in reference to Klingons.  Yes, Kirk made this comment to an alien but to those of us still fighting for human rights, Azetbur's response was offensive and the context of the conversation does not change that.  To be clear, the only time Star Trek refers to race is in terms of aliens, yet they have a crew which includes real marginalized people of colour.  Supposedly, humans in the future no longer hold racist tendencies and or ideas.  Viewers of colour cannot afford that happy little assumption and coupled by the fact that the Klingons are raced through their identity as aliens and their brown skin, it is highly problematic.  The fact that they had Scotty say, "guess who's coming dinner," leaves no doubt about how Klingons are meant to be understood. It's important to note that many of the actors playing Klingons aren't even of colour - they are in fact White.  This is a form of Blackface, even though they are taking on the role of aliens. And yes, I know that Dorn was in the movie and is a Black man. 

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country ended with Kirk giving a speech about the nature of peace and progress.  So, once again, we have the White captain saving the day and taking all of the credit for what happened. For Star Trek,  tolerance, progress and peace, is always defined by a White male hero and though it is typical of science fiction, it again stands as evidence of the ways in which Star Trek normalizes, rather than subverts oppressive ideas. To then have Azetbur claim that Kirk validated her father is further disturbing.  A White guy says that peace is a good idea and suddenly she has no more doubts?  Really?  I could have done without that.

As aforementioned, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is the last movie involving all of the original cast. None of the movies or the original series itself had a LGBT character, though George Takei, who is a gay man, played Sulu.  The characters of colour never rose beyond a secondary role and remained under the headship of Kirk.  We didn't learn anything about their personal lives, or ambitions. They essentially were little more than their positions as navigation officer, communication officer etc,.  For all of its multitude of problems, Star Trek continues to flourish and has fans that span a multitude of identities.  This does not mean that we should simply accept it without criticism but push that we should push the series to reflect its wide fan base.  Equality is truly where no one has gone before and it would be great if we could get there before the 23rd century.