Tag Archives: sci-fi

“Star Trek: Discovery”: How Michael Burnham speaks to my perfectionist, highly sensitive struggles

As I’ve stated in my SlashFilm review, I’ve always been a Star Trek fan ever since I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation with my dad about 20 years ago. But while Jean-Luc Picard will always be my favorite Star Trek captain ever (who can say no to Patrick Stewart and the way he commanded with calm authority?), Picard has to battle Spock for the title of favorite Star Trek character ever.

The reason? Because as a half human, half Vulcan, Spock has had to battle his reason with his human emotions, emotions that had the potential to get (and, in the reboot films, has gotten) the best of him. The battle between raging emotions and cold reason is a battle I face constantly. Never did I think Star Trek would continue to crystallize this struggle in such a poignant way, but the franchise succeeded again with Star Trek: Discovery‘s Michael Burnham and her relationship to her father figure (and Spock’s future father) Sarek.

I’ve stated many times on this site and in other publications about how much of my love for Star Trek stems from its ability to showcase varying struggles that exist under the umbrella of “diversity.” Thankfully, the franchise also includes psychological diversity as well, as is the case with the Vulcan race. The Vulcans have stood for many things to many viewers. Some see the Vulcans and their occasional misunderstandings as a way to thoughtfully approach the autism spectrum. Others see the Vulcans as simply uppity living cardboard figures. Speaking personally, the Vulcans have always shown a light on two of my big personal struggles–perfectionism and the highly sensitive (or even empathic) mind.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham. Photo credit: CBS

The running joke my sister and I have is that I’m a Vulcan. In fact, when I said it as self-deprication a few years ago, my sister replied thoughtfully, “You know what? I agree with that.”

I’ve always been a deep thinker, and too many times, that thinking has either gotten me in some type of mental trouble or made me appear as unable to connect with the “normal” outside world. Sometimes, I feel like I can’t connect with the outside world, because I’m so wrapped up in how other people feel, how I feel, and how to best convey those feelings to people who might not have emotions that run as deeply as mine do. As psychiatrist and Emotional Freedom author Judith Orloff accurately described, “It’s like feeling something with 50 fingers as opposed to 10. You have more receptors to feel things.”

Believe it or not, it’s not easy being a feeler, and our Western society makes sure it’s tougher than it has to be. As a society,we value loudness over softness, action over reflection, and doing over being. The stereotypes of a highly sensitive person make us out to be gooey bundles of mush that can’t defend ourselves because we’re supposedly so much weaker than the “average” person. That’s not the case–we aren’t weak. We’re actually quite strong. But you wouldn’t know it from how much emphasis people put on having an extroverted outlook and put down those of us who are reserved within ourselves.

All this leads to is, aside from a smattering of depression, a bad case of perfectionism. I call myself a “recovering perfectionist” now, but for a long time, I’ve been investigating where my perfectionism came from. I’d have to say that there are a lot of reasons for it, but one of them is because I’ve used perfectionism as a bad coping mechanism for the harsh world who can’t handle tears. I grew up comparing myself to others who I thought were better than me simply because they could they naturally handled emotions in a different way than I did. I didn’t realize that the way I handled my emotions was simply my nature–it’s as much an integral part of me as my black skin is. After growing into adulthood I’ve realized that there’s no reason to try to change myself, since my emotions work just like how they’re supposed to work. They are part of the inner strength that help make me a better version of myself each day.

Arista Arhin in Star Trek: Discovery (Photo credit: CBS)

Michael Burnham seems tailor made for this type of exploration of inner strength. I see in her what I’ve seen in me all the time. I see her struggle to adapt to her Vulcan upbringing and tamp down her human (i.e. emotional) self. I see her struggle to fit in with her Vulcan peers, possibly feeling a lack of self-esteem at not being like the others. I see the shadow of perfectionism that showed itself as cockiness when she first enters the U.S.S. Shenzhou–you can tell she thinks she knows everything about everything because she’s been the first human to graduate from the Vulcan academies and excel amid intense pressure and a stacked deck. I also see her struggle to understand that her humanness–her emotions–is what makes her great.

Her struggle against emotions is also apparent in Sarek and other Vulcans. Big fans of Star Trek know that Vulcans do, in fact, feel. As Memory-Alpha states:

“Contrary to stereotype, Vulcans did possess emotions; indeed, Vulcan emotions were far more intense, violent, and passionate than those of many other species, including even Humans. It was this passionate, explosive emotionality that Vulcans blamed for the vicious cycle of wars which nearly devastated their planet. As such, they focused their mental energies on mastering them.”

Vulcans, including human-born/Vulcan-raised members like Michael and Vulcan-human hybrids like Spock, always suffered with deep-running emotions. Here on planet Earth, there are tons of folks like me who always seem to be drowning in their own emotions, even as we attempt to tamp them down. The actual suffering doesn’t come from the emotions themselves, but from the attempt to control them. But if you unleash those emotions, then what? The fear of being out of control in any fashion is what, sadly, keeps the suffering going. It’s the Vulcans’ own fear of a lack of self-control that keeps them perpetuating what is essentially a culture of emotional abuse and intense perfectionism over and over. The aspiration to be the ultimate Vulcan, as it were, is what causes Vulcans to stay at war with themselves.

The Vulcan brain can also be a scary place to be due to their intense emotions. Again, to quote Memory-Alpha:

“The Vulcan brain was described as ‘a puzzle, wrapped inside an enigma, house inside a cranium.’ This had some basis in fact, as the Vulcan brain was composed of many layers…Unlike most humanoid species, traumatic memories were not only psychologically disturbing to Vulcans, but had physical consequences as well. The Vulcan brain, in reordering neural pathways, could literally lobotomize itself.”

The human brain can’t lobotomize itself (although it can block highly traumatic memories from ever reaching the surface), but his description of the Vulcan brain, especially the part about how much of a puzzle it is, fits the highly emotional mind as well. A mind that is constantly drenched in deep emotion is a mind that is mystery even to itself. The fact that there’s science spearheaded by the leading HSP expert, Dr. Elaine Aron, that show that the highly sensitive person has a hypersensitive wired nervous system and empathy-targeted brain is evidence that the highly sensitive mind is an overactive (and sometimes over-reactive) place. Also, like Vulcans, those who consider themselves highly sensitive or even empathic have extremely strong reactions to events as well as the mundane, due to the fact that–like Vulcans–we can usually sense the emotions of others.

James Frain and Sonequa Martin-Green as Sarek and Michael. (Photo credit: CBS)

However, with all of this going on, it’s fascinating that Sarek still saw the value in human emotions, so much so that he entrusted his ward to Capt. Georgiou in an attempt to give her the human experiences she never had. It’s also poignant to note that he only shows his true emotions to those closest to him, like when he does his best to hold back a proud smile as he introduces Michael to Georgiou for the first time. Or when he reveals to Michael through their mental connection his regret at not showing her the emotional support she needed throughout her life. His statements are made simply, but you can see the depth of feeling there. You can tell how much he loves Michael and does truly believe in her, like any good father would. Like any parent, he’s made mistakes in raising his child, and he’s emotionally intelligent enough to be able to admit that–and his emotional state surrounding this fact–to Michael. As we already know from Star Trek, Sarek sees a lot of admirable qualities in humans, so much so that he married one and had a child. Perhaps it was raising Michael that helped him open his eyes to the importance of having a balance between emotion and reason.

Showing Sarek reveal his emotional side to Michael, and Michael revealing her emotions to Georgiou, brings up another point about highly sensitive people, or at least, someone like me–it’s difficult showing your full self to the public. It’s much easier–and much more intimate–to show the full extent of your emotions to those closest to you, to those who understand you. Not everyone realizes that emotions aren’t there to be played with or used against the person; we highly sensitive people only feel safest revealing ourselves to those who mean the most to us in our lives. Those people have earned the right to know us as we are, and that is a coveted position to hold. In Star Trek terms, it is a coveted position to have a Vulcan as a friend, because they will probably be extremely loyal to you because of the position you hold in their life.

James Frain as Sarek. (Photo credit: CBS)

The scene between Sarek and Michael in the mind meld was extremely special for me. It hit home in a way I didn’t expect that scene to do. It made me feel like I finally have someone who understands my personal struggle on television, and she’s also a black woman. It showcases a different side to blackness that is rarely seen on television (so much so that tons of Star Trek fanbros are up in arms over Michael leading the series). She’s not loud or brash. She’s not sexually promiscuous. She’s not even funny, really. She’s a no-nonsense, yet naive woman who is still trying to find herself amid her place between two cultures. She’s ‘a puzzle, wrapped inside an enigma, house inside a cranium,’ and it’s good to see someone like her exist in our pop culture. She lets other black women like me, women with Vulcan brains, know that not only are they just fine, but they can–yes, I’m saying it–live long and prosper. 🖖🏾

Season 2 of “The Exorcist” will bring “Sleepy Hollow” vibes with John Cho’s return to FOX

Is it just me, or is this second season of The Exorcist trying to become the second coming of Sleepy Hollow?

I say that because it’s been a while since I’ve seen a fantasy/sci-fi show on FOX that was this diverse. Usually, I shy away from watching shows about the devil (despite watching Sleepy Hollow, but it was less about the devil and more about ghosts and demonic imps and stuff), but with a cast that looks this good, I just might try to tamp down my fear of evil and watch this season.

There are some characters from last season that are coming back for this season, such as the three-pronged team of Catholic priests who work together to propel the devil back to Hell. Some familiar faces to Exorcist TV show fans include Alfonso Herrera as Father Tomas and Kurt Egyiawan as Father Bennett, both are seemingly led by veteran exorcist Father Marcus (Ben Daniels).

(L-R) Alfonso Herrera as Father Tomas and Kurt Egyiawan as Father Bennett, Ben Daniels as Father Marcus.

But the Sleepy Hollow angle comes intimately into play with John Cho. First of all, he’s back on FOX—the last time he was on the network, he was playing Andy Brooks on Sleepy Hollow, a character who got a raw deal in many ways. Secondly, he’s once again playing an Andy—this time around, he’s Andy Kim, a surrogate father to several kids in the foster system. Maybe this could be like an alternate universe in which Andy isn’t seduced by the dark side, wasn’t a cop, and wanted to do good in the world by taking care of kids and protecting them from the devil.

Other newcomers include Li Jun Li as Rose Cooper, a social worker who checks in on Andy and the kids. She also has a history (romantic, I’m assuming) with Andy, and knows something’s bothering him.

This leads us to the kids themselves. It’s a diverse set of kids, including Deadpool’s Brianna Hildebrand as Verity. Other teen/kid actors include Alex Barima as Shelby, Cyrus Arnold as David Johnson III, otherwise known as Truck, Amélie Eve as Grace, and Hunter Dillon as Caleb, a blind character. Ironically, both Dillon and Hildebrand are in Deadpool 2 together. But one thing of note about Caleb is that he’s a character played by a sighted actor. This could have been a good opportunity for a blind or otherwise visually-impaired actor to have.

(L-R) Alex Barima as Shelby, Hunter Dillon as Caleb

Still Star-Crossed’s Zuleikha Robinson also stars in this upcoming season as Mouse, who is described by creator/EP Jeremy Slater as a “loyal servant of the church” who is “starting to realize the corruption has spread further than anyone had realized” and is adamant about taking down the church’s patriarchal system.

You can learn more about the new characters and see more pictures at Entertainment Weekly. As for me, I’ll put on my big girl britches and check out at least a couple of episodes from this new season. If it’s too much for me to handle, I’ll have to bow out, but I’ll be cheering for its success on the sidelines.

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Janelle Monae goes to her sci-fi roots with “Electric Dreams”

If you’ve ever wanted to see a big screen adaptation of Janelle Monae’s Cindi Mayweather saga, the closest thing we might get to it is Monae in Amazon and Channel 4’s upcoming anthology series, Electric Dreams.

According to Shadow and Act, the anthology series, which could be Amazon’s version of Black Mirror, will be a 10-episode sci-fi anthology that, like Black Mirror, features stand-alone stories, each written and directed by different writers and directors. However, unlike Black Mirror, the series will be based on Philip K. Dick’s short stories.

Monae’s episode, “Autofac,” sounds like it could be a prototype for an ArchAndroid story:

“Despite society and the world as we know it have collapsed, a massive, automatic product-manufacturing factory continues to operate according to the principles of consumerism—humans consume products to be happy, and in order to consume continuously, they must be denied freedom of choice and free will. When a small band of rebels decide to shut down the factory, they discover they may actually be the perfect consumers after all.”

Dee Rees has been slated to direct one of the Electric Dreams episodes, and Terrence Howard, Jason Mitchell, Benedict Wong, Mel Rodriguez, Bryan Cranston, Steve Buscemi, Greg Kinnear, Timothy Spall, Richard Madden, Jack Reynor, Holliday Grainger, Mireille Enos, Geraldine Chaplin, Vera Farmiga, Sarah Brown, Glenn Morshower and Anna Paquin are among the actors tapped to star in the series. (Cranston will also serve as executive producer).

The trailer doesn’t contain any snippets from Monae’s episode, but it’ll be exciting to see Monae finally act in a genre she reinvented through her music. It would seem that Monae is partly inspired by Dick’s stories (particularly Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the novel that’s the basis for Blade Runner), as well as the classic sci-fi film Metropolis (something that more than likely also inspired Dick), so if this role could serve as the launch pad for an ArchAndroid series, that would be ultra cool.

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“Magic: The Gathering”: Saheeli Joins WOC Planeswalkers Kaya & Narset

Art: Jeremy Jarvis for Magic: The Gathering/Wizards of the Coast
Art: Jeremy Jarvis for Magic: The Gathering/Wizards of the Coast

Having become a newly-minted fan of Magic: The Gathering, it’s a great opportunity to dive into the types of representation the company is striving towards. In case you’re wondering, my new fandom of the company stems from the fact that I am the consultant on Magic: The Gathering’s first black female Planeswalker, Kaya, Ghost Assassin. Instead of rehashing the particulars of how Kaya positively affects Magic’s representation mission, check out these links explaining the character and the process I took when providing notes.

There are other people of color out there who might not have given a second thought to Magic: The Gathering, quite frankly, because in communities of color, games like Magic are often labeled as “white people stuff.” That idea comes from how fantasy at large is treated; it’s usually a free for all for white characters to exist in a world devoid of racial/ethnic diversity. But to its credit, Magic is doing their best to meet the challenge of diversity in fantasy head on. Not only is Kaya one of their newest Planeswalkers, but they also are aiming to represent the multitude of players out there with characters who reflect our world. One such character that I’m really excited about is Saheeli.

Here’s the official bio of Saheeli:

On her home plane of Kaladesh, Saheeli is a famous inventor renowned as the most brilliant metalsmith of her time. She’s best known for the bewitchingly lifelike artifact constructs she crafts out of gleaming iridescent metal. From the smallest insect to the largest elephant, Saheeli has an uncanny ability to replicate any creature she sees, capturing the essence of its life in her metal creation. Admirers, collectors, and investors flock to see her designs, spending hours gazing, enraptured by her artistry.

Her innate, effortless talent has made her the envy of many fellow inventors, especially lifecrafters who look to her both for inspiration and as a formidable rival. Saheeli doesn’t shy away from competition; when it comes to defending her hard-earned reputation, she is fiercely cutthroat. But when not in contest, she’s wholly supportive of the efforts of other inventors, happy to share advice, a kind word, or an encouraging smile. She thrills at the prospect of innovation, and basks in the creative spirit that surrounds her in Ghirapur. Her bright, optimistic personality draws others to her, and her genuine, thoughtful nature resonates with her fans, who hail from all corners of Kaladesh.

Saheeli’s talents extend beyond what the people of Kaladesh realize or understand. She’s a Planeswalker with a powerful magical command over metal. She can access seemingly endless threads of metal, which she can then weave into one of her creations. And once created, Saheeli’s magic allows her to compel her metal constructs to do her bidding. Thanks to her abilities, she’s never at a loss for an artifact companion.

So, what’s the excitement about Saheeli for? Well, for starters, she’s one of the few women of color in the cast line-up. At present count, there are two other women of color—Kaya and Narset. Another character worth noting in this group as an adjacent member is Tamiyo, who is a member of the moonfolk.  The moonfolk’s culture and the moonfolk’s plane, Kamigawa, are loosely based on Japanese culture. In fact, Magic admits this in their description of Kamigawa:

Reminiscent of sengoku-era Japan, this plane contains two symbiotic worlds: the utsushiyo, or material realm, and the kakuriyo, or kami spirit realm. Each kami was a divinity, and the way to happiness was to honor these gods and live by their ways. The inhabitants of Kamigawa were content with this life of devotion. Then the unimaginable happened. Their gods turned on them.

Naturally, the small amount of women of color (and people of color of all genders) is an issue, but Magic is well aware of this issue and are actively working to correct this as best they can. The increase in representation of women of color in the Planeswalker series is something that is encouraging and seeing how serious Magic is about representation, I’m quite certain there’s more coming down the pike towards this end. Saheeli is a welcome addition to the list of women Planeswalkers.

Secondly, she’s the first Planeswalker that is repping for South Asian culture (to my knowledge): From what I’ve seen and researched, there hasn’t been another Planeswalker that has focused on South Asian representation. Just like with Kaya, Saheeli touches on a section of the Magic audience that hasn’t seen them in Planeswalker form. Also like with Kaya, what Saheeli represents is empowering.

Thirdly, seeing Saheeli cosplayers warms my heart. This particular cosplay took place during PAX West, which featured Kaladesh, Saheeli’s plane, and the Kaladesh Inventors’ Fair.

It’s going to be great to see even more Saheeli cosplay (as well as Kaya cosplay!)

Welcome to the Planeswalker family, Saheeli!

What do you love about Saheeli and Kaladesh? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

6 Questions You Might Have About Magic: The Gathering’s Kaya, Ghost Assassin Answered

Wednesday, Aug. 3., was a fantastic day; I was finally able to reveal a secret I’d been carrying since late last year. I was consulting with Magic: The Gathering to bring a new Planeswalker character to life! Kaya, Ghost Assassin is now a member of the Planeswalker cast of characters.

Kaya is the brainchild of Magic: The Gathering creative writer Kelly Digges, and I’d say that if it’s allowable to call Kelly Kaya’s proverbial father, I’m like Kaya’s proverbial mother. Together, we helped develop Kaya into the character she is today, and like parents, we couldn’t be more proud of her and the reception she received online.

Yesterday, during the release of the character, I was flooded with congratulations and questions. Some of which I’ve compiled in this article that folks can come back and reference.

1. Who am I?

In case you are a new Twitter follower or new to my site because of Kaya, I’m Monique Jones, an entertainment journalist who’s written for several outlets, most notably Entertainment Weekly’s Community blog. I’ve also written for culture/entertainment sites like Black Girl Nerds, Nerds of Color, Racialicious, and The Tempest (then known as Coming of Faith). Technically, my journalism beat is “entertainment,” specifically TV, but my main focus is covering how representation occurs in entertainment. My focus on representation is something that helped me a lot when conferring with Kelly about Kaya.

2. How was I chosen to contribute to Kaya’s characterization?

It’s all thanks to my relationship with Black Girl Nerds as a contributor and to Black Girl Nerds’ creator, Jamie, who helps us writers find opportunities when they arise. This was one of those moments.

3. Who is Kaya?

Kaya is awesome, first of all. She’s a ghost assassin, which is quite cool because people think ghosts can’t die because they’re already dead. I could go on, but I’ll quote Magic: The Gathering’s official bio for Kaya.

A confident, roguish duelist with a mysterious past, Kaya has the ability to become partially incorporeal—allowing her to slip through solid items and physically interact with ghosts and the spirit world.

Kaya is a firm believer that life is for the living. The living should make the most of their lives and pursue what they want while they’ve still got time, and find their own peace before death. If you die with unfinished business, well, that’s probably your fault. And if it’s not…perhaps she could help you…for a price.

In Paliano, she accepted a contract from Marchesa to assassinate the city’s previous sovereign, King Brago. Her actions catapulted Marchesa to power and caused the current chaos in the city—but also opened the way for others to make their claims to their throne and shake up the Paliano’s ancient political order.

4. I’ve already read the introduction story and I love it! Tell me everything there is to know about Kaya!

Sorry, I can’t. You’ll learn more about Kaya at Wizards of the Coast’s discretion.

5. What did you talk about when creating Kaya’s character?

We talked about a lot, much of which is confidential. What I can tell you though is that we discussed Kaya’s origin story, her home plane, her family, and possible future appearances. We also nailed down that swaggy, snarky personality she has. I can also say that we discussed how to make sure Kaya was a fully rounded character, not just a token character. There were lots of aspects of the black experience that went into creating Kaya, one of which—the process of hair styling— was alluded to in Kaya’s introduction story, “Laid to Rest”:

Kaya lit a candle, yawned, and splashed her face with water from a basin. She rolled out the building plans and studied them one last time, humming an old ballad and unwinding the knots she’d put her hair in to sleep.

6. How do you feel about Kaya?

I love Kaya. I knew she had the potential to be a knockout character, and according to the humongous reaction I received the other day, my hunch was right. Kaya is a character in her own right, first of all. But in the macro view, Kaya gives black women and girls who love Magic: The Gathering a character they can identify with and see themselves in. The Magic: The Gathering crew has been working hard to create an inclusive world, and Kaya’s part of that. Despite the current cast of Planeswalkers including humans and alien types of all sorts, including master monk Narset and time-altering sorcerer Teferi, there weren’t any representations of black women. With Kaya being the first, not only is she a very welcome addition to the cast of characters, but she’s history-making. For me to be a part of that is very humbling and I’m honored to have helped bring Kaya to life.

So now I turn it over to you. What do you like about Kaya? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens": Why Finn Matters In This Galaxy and A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is something I’m looking forward to intensely. The film looks amazing, particularly since it looks akin to the originals (we will not speak of the wayward turn the franchise took in between the originals and The Force Awakens). But it’s also a high-profile sci-fi film that not only features people of color in the film, but has an actor of color, John Boyega, as the main character, Finn. Some might wonder why this is important. I’ll tell you in a personal story.