Tag Archives: Star Trek Beyond

How “Star Trek Beyond” Forgot About Black Men

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Star Trek Beyond is a good movie. Some might even say it’s a great movie. It’s certainly a sad movie, since it’s poor Anton Yelchin’s last film, not to mention that the film’s original intent was to honor the legacy of the late Leonard Nimoy. But for everything that’s great about it (“Night on the Yorktown”GET INTO IT, soundtrack lovers), there’s one part that is apt to tickle the brain in an unpleasant way, and you won’t realize it until after you’ve left the movie. You probably won’t even realize what it is that bothered you about certain scenes until weeks or months later.

Or until you read this post.

The thing that probably bothered you was the fact that Idris Elba wasn’t allowed to be Idris Elba. Another thing that probably bothered you was how Elba’s character was indicative of the overall treatment of black men in the Star Trek reboot films. All of this reflects how black men are treated in entertainment and society overall.

Want to figure out how all of this relates to each other? Let’s get into it.

Before you get any further, you should know that there are spoilers in this post, so beware.

Idris Elba vs. Krall

Paramount Pictures/YouTube screengrabs
Paramount Pictures/YouTube screengrabs

When we see a film starring Idris Elba, we’re typically going to see Idris Elba, not Idris Elba as some monster-alien. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Elba being an actor under prosthetics, but it’s really interesting that out of all of the characters and out of all of the non-existent black men we haven’t seen up until now, the one black guy we do see is covered up so we can’t see his moneymaker—his face. This isn’t even discussing the fact that even without the social commentary, the prosthetics just look cheesy. Sorry about it, but Krall, the villain Elba plays, looks like a Power Rangers character. So, so sorry, but it’s just not a breathable looking, moldable mask. Elba couldn’t act through it, so it just made the fact that he was wearing a full-face prosthetic even more apparent and unbearable.

As if the film knew that we as the audience would get tired of hearing Elba put all his acting in his voice to counteract the impossibility of acting through the mask, the film provided us and Elba a reprieve by allowing him to actually act to the camera as the human version of Krall, Balthazar Edison, a former United Earth Military Assault commander. After the U.E.M.A. was dissolved, Edison was grandfathered into the Starfleet program as a starship captain. We see him acting jovially with his crew in an old recording found on his old ship, the U.S.S. Franklin. But that’s the thing; it’s in a old recording. You never see Elba as a human in real time. You just see this in flashback. That’s a problem because it’s yet another way to remove Elba from the movie and Krall/Edison from his own humanity (and possible chance at redemption).

So what does this have to do with the treatment of black men in Star Trek? Well, looking solely at the reboot series, we have yet to see a prominent black male character. The only black speaking male character you have seen throughout this reboot series is doggone Tyler Perry, and that’s because he paid his way in. In Star Trek Beyond, we have one black redshirt and another black guy (another redshirt, but not security) walk onto the bridge. That’s it. In a universe as vast as the Star Trek one, the potential of the series to tell the story of inclusion and humanity in harmony is always limited by the storyteller(s)’ own biases, internal limitations or, maybe in some cases, fears. Even though the film thought it pertinent to show Sulu in a relationship, despite cutting out the actual scene of him kissing his husband, the series as a whole still hasn’t shown a black man in full capacity of himself.

Krall’s death vs. Khan’s redemption

Left to right: Chris Pine plays Kirk and Idris Elba plays Crowl in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment
Left to right: Chris Pine plays Kirk and Idris Elba plays Crowl in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

How come Krall has to die, but Khan gets to live? In Star Trek Into Darkness, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan (aka John Harrison aka a whitewashed character) gets to go back into cyro sleep, even though he’s literally a weapon. Meanwhile, Krall, who is actually a sympathetic character (As you’ll read later), accidentally kills himself with his own space-age weapon after a series of fights in which Kirk is trying to stop him, if not kill him. Why, though? Why is Khan still alive in this world when Krall is the one who should be shown some sort of olive branch?

Yes, Krall was trying to kill everyone in Yorktown and potentially, everyone in the Federation. But so was Khan. To be honest, the whole “big bad trying to kill everyone” tactic is becoming reductive and, once again, limited thinking as to what the scope of Star Trek can actually encompass. But if a big bad has to die each film, then let that be consistent. Don’t give one villain a reprieve from death and kill Elba and Eric Bana’s villains in the other two movies.

What’s the most annoying part of Krall’s demise is that there was probably somewhere still inside Krall who still wanted to return to the man he was. His main problem was that the Federation left him and his crew out to die. He did what he had to do to survive, and that included him reducing himself down to the lowest of levels to live. Krall as Edison also had another issue that Kirk primarily dealt with; the existentialism of life. Both Kirk and Krall wondered what more there was to their lives, and why they were even doing what they were doing. Both of them had dealt with existentialism even before they sat in the captain’s chair; Kirk was aimless for much of his life before Starfleet, and Edison was a commander in the world’s space army, a post he enjoyed, and then his definition of himself was taken away when Starfleet came. One area Simon Pegg and Doug Jung could have expounded on this shared issue is have Kirk actually try to talk him down during their fight. Kirk could have tried some version of “I’ve felt lost, too”  to appeal to Krall’s humanity (which is still there, since you see him begin to change back into a brown humanoid-type being). Instead, Kirk fails to use this knowledge and is instead focused primarily on stopping Krall by any means necessary.

Krall as the Black Lesson Giver

Chris Pine plays Kirk in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment
Chris Pine plays Kirk in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

Ultimately, Krall is just another form of the black form used as a lesson giver for a white lead. Krall’s own humanity is never discussed; his humanity is treated in past tense even though you learn his motivations and reasoning behind his anger. Krall’s purpose isn’t to fulfill his own destiny; it’s to help Kirk complete his. Through Krall’s downfall, Kirk comes to the conclusion that his place is with the Enterprise after all. However, there was possibly another way Kirk could have learned this without Krall basically sacrificing himself for Kirk’s story to continue.

Krall’s entire story is something that could have been given 10 times more weight than it was. Krall being a black man who has had his sense of purpose stolen, his mental health denied (because Edison’s existentialism has given way to extreme depression), and his humanity stripped, forcing him to survive by any means necessary, only to be then denied a second chance to course-correct his life, is the black American man’s story in a nutshell. Krall wasn’t just “a monster.” He was a man who had everything taken from him and then was expected to be all right with it. He faced unimaginable things for over 100 years; what did anyone expect for him to become, a saint? After all of your crew dies and you can’t help them, you would also believe Starfleet doesn’t care about you. Starfleet brushing over their role in Krall’s creation sounds just like how America as a whole fails to understand how the country’s original sin still affects black America today. To appropriate a popular phrase, Krall’s life mattered.

What did you think of Star Trek Beyond? I invite you to give me your views on Krall and the film as a whole.

3 Points Sulu’s Sexuality Raises for “Star Trek” & Mainstream LGBT Representation

Star Trek Beyond is in theaters now, so the fervor of the movie might have made some people forget this bit of news that came out just before the film came out, but even though writer Simon Pegg (who also plays Scotty in the Star Trek reboot series) and director Justin Lin decided to make Sulu gay, married, and a father in this newest film, the original Sulu—George Takei—is against it.

Takei told The Hollywood Reporter that he felt making Sulu gay went against what Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, wanted for Sulu. “I’m delighted that there’s a gay character…Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.” As Takei states, Roddenberry had always imagined Sulu as straight. When Takei was told of Sulu’s homosexuality by John Cho (who plays Sulu in the films), Takei said he hoped the cast and crew would create an entirely new character instead of meddle with the original characters.

“I told him, ‘Be imaginative and create a character who has a history of being gay, rather than Sulu, who had been straight all this time, suddenly being revealed as closeted,” he said.

However, Takei did tell The Hollywood Reporter that he had a conversation with Roddenberry during the show’s run, stating that he asked if gay equality could become a part of the show’s storyline. But Roddenberry felt like he was skirting the line as it was. “He was a strong supporter of LGBT equality…But he said he has been pushing the envelope and walking a very tight rope–and if he pushed too hard, the show would not be on the air,” Takei said. What Takei didn’t ask for, though, was for his character to be the one the show focus on in case the show did tackle gay equality.

Pegg and Lin’s decision to make Sulu gay was supposed to be in honor of Takei, who has been a staunch LGBT activist. Pegg released a statement to The Guardian defending his decision to reveal (or change) Sulu’s sexuality, stating:

“I have huge love and respect for George Takei, his heart, courage and humour are an inspiration…However with regards to his thoughts on our Sulu, I must respectfully disagree with him. …He’s right, it is unfortunate, it’s unfortunate that the screen version of the most inclusive, tolerant universe in science fiction hasn’t featured an LGBT character until now. We could have introduced a new gay character, but he or she would have been primarily defined by their sexuality, seen as the ‘gay character,’ rather than simply for who they are, and isn’t that tokenism?

…Justin Lin, Doug Jung [Star Trek Beyond co-screenwriter who also plays Sulu’s husband in the film] and I loved the idea of it being someone we already knew because the audience have a pre-existing opinion of that character as a human being, unaffected by any prejudice. Their sexual orientation is just one of many personal aspects, not the defining characteristic. Also, the audience would infer that there has been an LGBT presence in the Trek Universe from the beginning (at least in the Kelvin timeline), that a gay hero isn’t something new or strange. It’s also important to note that at no point do we suggest that our Sulu was ever closeted, why would he need to be? It’s just hasn’t come up before.”

The last part of that statement is a direct response to Takei’s feeling that revealing Sulu as gay would mean that Sulu was closeted the whole time. As Takei told The Hollywood Reporter, someone living in the 23rd century would have never had to be in the closet.

Cho also had reservations about the idea of Sulu’s homosexuality, but for different reasons than Takei. As he told Vulture, Cho was worried that Sulu’s homosexuality would assert that sexuality was something that could be controlled or changed, specifically since the current Star Trek series is in an alternate timeline from the original.

“…[W]we’re in an alternate universe but I’m assuming that Sulu is the same genetic Sulu in both timelines, and I thought we might be implying that sexual orientation was a choice,” he said. He also worried about how Takei would feel about their Sulu borrowing from his life. “My primary concern was that I was wondering how George [Takei] would feel, because he’s a gay actor that played a straight part ad crafted a straight character. I didn’t want him to feel that we had reduced him to his sexuality by sort of borrowing this bit, if you will, from his life.”

Ultimately, Cho came around to the idea of Sulu being gay and felt that the decision humanized Sulu beyond just being a bridge crew member. Cho even fought to have his on-screen husband be of Asian heritage (hence Jung’s role in the film), as a nod to some of his childhood friends who were gay. “…I always felt the Asian gay men that I knew had much heavier cultural-shame issues…I felt like those guys didn’t date Asian men because of that cultural shame,” he said. “So I wanted it to seem really normal in the future…that there was zero shame in the future.”

But what makes the whole “Sulu’s sexuality” issue the most convoluted for me is that, despite the insistence on creating an inclusive world in Star Trek Beyond, the film still has an important, defining scene on the cutting room floor; a kissing scene between Sulu and his husband.

“It wasn’t like a make-out session,” Cho told Vulture. “We’re at the airport with our daughter. It was a welcome-home kiss,” he said.

The decision to cut the scene is a strange and antithetical to the desire to make Sulu gay in the first place. In fact, this decision raises several issues at the same time:

1. Having a gay character in Star Trek makes sense. I think everyone involved agrees that a Star Trek that doesn’t acknowledge LGBT characters is a Star Trek that isn’t complete. With the franchise’s promise of inclusivity, it makes sense as to why the screenwriters felt this would be a prime moment to right a wrong.

2. Sulu as gay actually breaks sci-fi ground; Sulu is, at least for me, the first gay character in a mainstream blockbuster movie franchise. Whether all involved like it or not, Sulu and Paramount have set a precedent for other studios to live up to. There has now been a gay character in a blockbuster film and the world didn’t end and international movie markets didn’t collapse; it’s now time for other studios to step their game up and represent an unrepresented part of their demographic.

3. The editing room’s decision to cut Sulu’s kissing scene flies in the face of the progress Sulu represents. By cutting Sulu’s kiss, it once again gives shadows of other portrayals of gay men as being asexual. Even though Sulu has a family, by not allowing audiences to see Sulu as a sexual creature, the same way we see Spock and Uhura, true humanization is being robbed from the character. It leaves audiences, particularly those starved to see positive images of themselves on the big screen, between a rock and a hard place; there’s representation of a gay man of color, but the full scope of his relationship is still closeted to the world. In that aspect, Takei’s fears of a closeted gay man in the 23rd century have come true after all.

What do you feel about Sulu in Star Trek Beyond? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

“Star Trek Beyond”: 4 Things to Know about Rihanna’s “Sledgehammer”

Rihanna has slayed the song/movie tie-in game with her new single “Sledgehammer.” I rarely use the term “slayed,” so trust me that I don’t mean this lightly. Frankly, it’s the best I’ve seen of Rihanna since “BBHMM.”

Here’s what you need to know about the song:

1. The song has the Sia stamp: We’ve all rocked out to Sia’s “Chandelier” and her other powerful ballads, and the same unmistakable Sia mark is on “Sledgehammer.” Sia wrote the song, and Sia’s dramatic scope fits the space operatic tones of the Star Trek movie universe.

2. Rihanna’s voice has never sounded stronger: Is it just me, or has Rihanna’s voice never sounded better? I’ve become a small-time Rihanna fan as of late, and I have to say that I’m proud of her growth. But even still, it seems like her vocal ability has become even deeper and broader than I realized, and I’m really excited by it. Hearing Rihanna’s voice soar through this song was so good that when I heard it blind on one of the Star Trek Beyond commercials, I actually thought it was Sia, no joke. Great job on this, Rihanna!

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

3. It’s the first music video to debut in IMAX, and it makes full use of the technology:

Floria Sigismondi, the director of the music video, wanted to make sure the viewers really felt like they were in space. “Because the beginning of the video takes place in space, you really get the sense of floating through and also the sound,” said Sigismondi to Billboard. IMAX remixed the music, so that when it plays in the theatre it really has such a three-dimensional quality. That low-end is really pushed so it really feels booming.”

4. The music video’s director wanted to tell a story about humanity

Sigismondi told Billboard that the story told in the music video is something she’s always wanted to tell. “…I’ve always wanted to do a person breaking apart into the universe. I just think that’s so beautiful in terms of what you can say about humanity,” she said. “I’ve created this mystical being in this otherworldy planet being that harnesses the power to manipulate the elements and the elements around her being the sand, the rocks and the earth, and that she actually has a power as well to conjure up the energy and create light and stars. So she transforms into the universe itself.”

Check out the video and Rihanna discussing how much of a Star Trek fan she is. Star Trek Beyond will be in theaters July 22.

“Star Trek Beyond,” the highly anticipated next installment in the globally popular Star Trek franchise, created by Gene Roddenberry and reintroduced by J.J. Abrams in 2009, returns with director Justin Lin (“The Fast and the Furious” franchise) at the helm of this epic voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise and her intrepid crew.  In “Beyond,” the Enterprise crew explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a mysterious new enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.

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New Posters + Stills, Latest Trailer from “Star Trek Beyond” Released

Star Trek Beyond is almost here! The film comes out July 22, and the latest news has been about the film’s new posters, particularly in light of #StarringJohnCho; it’s nice to finally see John Cho on a poster of a huge film. I’ve got the posters all in one place, as well as tons of stills, behind-the-scenes pictures, and the latest trailer! Check it out below.
Star Trek Beyond, directed by Justin Lin, stars Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Deep Roy, Idris Elba, and of course, our buddy John Cho.
Star Trek Beyond,” the highly anticipated next installment in the globally popular Star Trek franchise, created by Gene Roddenberry and reintroduced by J.J. Abrams in 2009, returns with director Justin Lin (“The Fast and the Furious” franchise) at the helm of this epic voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise and her intrepid crew.  In “Beyond,” the Enterprise crew explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a mysterious new enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.