Thursday 3 September 2020

Discovery to introduce Star Trek's first major transgender and non-binary characters. Plus other Trek-TV updates

Discovery, a show that has already pushed Star Trek's representation forward by several lightyears with it's diverse cast of characters, is continuing it's efforts of showing how truly diverse and inclusive Star Trek can be, by introducing the franchise's first regular transgender and non-binary characters.

Continue below for details of these two new characters, plus other updates on the many Star Trek shows currently in production and development.

Ian Alexander, an Asian-American transgender actor know for his role in The OA, will play a Trill character called Gray. Here's how CBS describe him:
Gray is empathetic, warm and eager to fulfill his lifelong dream of being a Trill host, but he will have to adapt when his life takes an unexpected turn.
Blu del Barrio, who seems to be British, is taking on their first major role here, and will play the non-binary character Adira. And here's how CBS describe them:
Adira is highly intelligent with a confidence and self-assurance well beyond their years. They will find a new home on the U.S.S. Discovery and form an unexpected bond with Lt. Commander Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz). 
Del Barrio expanded on this somewhat in an interview with Glaad:
Adira is a wonderfully complex character. Mainly because of this duality they have within them: they're astonishingly intelligent and yet they're still a kid. They experience their emotions at a heightened level, like most teenagers. That's what makes them so fun to play. I like to describe them as cerebrally brilliant and emotionally a puppy. Adira is an introvert, but they keep a few people close to the chest, which I definitely resonate with. I don't want to say too much and get in trouble, but all in all, Adira is a uniquely strange and beautiful character. 
They also discussed how the character's non-binary identity will play in the show, which from the sound of it will allow Discovery to explore the subject gender identity in the process:
When we meet Adira, they're suffering from memory loss. They remember nothing from their past, and very little about themself. They know they're non-binary, of course, but coming onto Discovery they're cautious about sharing that information with anyone. They're a private person, so they aren't going to divulge a lot about themselves to a ship full of strangers. It's not until Adira has found a place of comfort with Stamets and Culber that they feel they can talk about who they are. When I got the call that I'd been cast as Adira, I hadn't yet told the majority of my friends and family that I was non-binary. I had only recently discovered the word and realized that it described how I'd felt for a long time. I knew I wanted to tell my friends and family, so when this happened, it felt like the universe saying "go ahead." So in a way, Adira's story ends up mirroring mine. Just after I told people in my life, so did Adira. Definitely not the most common coming out story, but it was scary, special, and life changing (as they usually are). 
If you'd like to know more about del Barrio and their experiences as a non-binary person, the Glaad interview is well worth a read.

Commenting on the casting, co-showrunner and executive producer Michelle Paradise, had this to say:
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. We take pride in working closely with Blu del Barrio, Ian Alexander, and Nick Adams at GLAAD to create the extraordinary characters of Adira and Gray, and bring their stories to life with empathy, understanding, empowerment and joy.

In other Disco news, CBS have recently announced the first season will get it's US broadcast debut on CBS from the end of September. This helps CBS plug gaps in their broadcast schedule due to the Covid crisis, and serves as a big promotion for Discovery as the third season approaches.

There's also a little news on the two Discovery spin-offs currently in the works, mostly thanks to executive producer Alex Kurtzman taking interviews all over the place to promote Short Treks for Emmy awards consideration. Speaking to Deadline, he outlined what Strange New Worlds is going to be like:
I think Strange New Worlds, under the guidance of Henry Myers and Akiva Goldsman, it's going to be a return in a way to TOS. We're going to do stand-alone episodes; there will be emotional serialisation; there will be two-parters; there will be larger plot arcs. But it really is back to the model of alien-of-the-week, planet-of-the-week, challenge-on-the-ship-of-the-week. With these characters pre-Kirk’s Enterprise.

And I think what people responded so much to in all three characters is this kind of relentless optimism that they have, and that they're at the young phase of their careers. And that Pike, who has experienced this extraordinary trauma, which he's famous for - Is how he knows how he is going to die. The idea is, how does a character who knows how he is going to die live optimistically from that point on and lead a ship? It’s a great question. I have never seen a show where a character knew that already. You have to have an inherent optimism in your world view in order to say, "I am going to get up every morning knowing how it is going to end for me". And still lead everybody to be the best versions of themselves.

Meanwhile talking to Variety at a streaming event, he also gave an update on the Section 31 spin-off, including hinting at a surprising setting - With Georgiou now in the 31st century with the USS Discovery really who knows when or where her spin-off could go. TrekMovie got this quote from the event:
Erika and Boey, who are two of our writers on Discovery, have been working with Craig Sweeny, who was a writer we worked for a long time and he ran Limitless for us. And they’ve been doing an amazing job building the show. So I’m really excited about where it’s going. And I can’t wait to see Michelle in that part. And I think people are going to be very surprised about the world that it occupies. We’ve seen stuff online where people have guessed certain things, but some they are nowhere even near guessing. So that’s that’s pretty fun.

In the same discussion Kurtzman also revealed composer Nami Melumad, who had previously created the music for the Short Treks episode Q and A, has now been recruited to compose music for one of the new series int he works, although he didn't say which.

There's also a little update from the children's animated series Prodigy. CBS and Nickelodeon have announced that Ben Hibon will "direct, co-executive produce and serve as the creative lead" of the new series. Hibon is know for several shots, and the Deathly Hallow sequence in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.

In another Deadline interview Kurtzman also talked a bit more broadly about what he wants to do with Star Trek as a whole, and how each series works into that:
There are quite a few, and I think the idea for us is that it isn’t just about expansion for the sake of expansion. It’s actually about exploring different corners of the universe, in the same way that the Short Treks explore different corners of the world of Star Trek, the idea being that each show should have its own unique identity, and you should not be thinking that you can get from one show, what you can get in another.

Everything has to feel different, unique, special and specific, and yet you want it all to be of a piece, and tie into the larger Trek universe. So, it’s been a very coordinated effort, on a lot of people’s parts, to make sure that the shows feel different, and are about different things, and are saying different things, and feel different, and look different, and sound different. So, that’s been really fun and really rewarding.
And related to finding all those unique places in Trek, amongst all the Short Treks talk in all these interviews, he did discuss with Gold Derby some new ideas for future shorts.
There are so many different forms that these shorts can take. I would love to do a musical for example. I would love to do one in black and white and figure out what that means. I don't know, I could probably think of fifty different ways we could tell stories and fifty different crevices of the Star Trek universe to explore, that may not be the right kinds of crevices for the larger shows, but we always think of the Short Treks as these are the scenes that are just as important as what's going on in the main shows, but you wouldn’t actually have time for. These are the moments you can drill down on.

The various Star Trek series can or will all be found on CBS All Access in the US, and so far on Bell Media services in Canada. In the rest of the world they are so far split between Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, with news on the newest series' distribution still to be revealed.

To keep track of all the latest Trek TV news, have a look back through my TV tag. And for updates from each of the series, have a look back through my DiscoveryPicard, Short TreksStrange New Worlds, and Prodigy tags, for previews, behind the scenes, tie-in fiction, and other merchandise updates.

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