There is a certain type of Star Trek fan that likes to wax lyrical about how Star Trek Discovery, the latest iteration of the science-fiction saga, is just an excuse for left-wing propaganda. This is because the main protagonist is a black woman, two of the scientists were in a homosexual relationship, & one of the top engineers (who is a woman) mentions her deceased wife. Look closely & you can also spot an extra in a wheelchair. These fans claim that all of these characters are purely to pander to liberals & their political correctness, & that Star Trek should return to its apparently conservative roots. To that I say, bollocks.
Star Trek was one of the first television shows to depict an inter-racial kiss, between Captain Kirk & Uhura, in 1968. As if that wasn’t ground-breaking enough, William Shatner went out of his way to ensure that the kiss made it on screen, by crossing his eyes on the take where Uhura was out of shot & rendering it unusable.
Since then there have been multiple characters of varying ethnicities taking up leading roles in the subsequent series & films, & many strong female characters accompanying them. Deep Space Nine contains excellent examples of these in Benjamin & Jake Sisko, & Major Kira Nerys. It is even arguable that beloved characters such as Spock & Data represent autism. Considering all of this it is perhaps not surprising that I have yet to find a better example of consistently positive representation for disabled characters.
In the pilot episode of Star Trek we meet Captain Pike, before Captain Kirk took the helm of the USS Enterprise. Captain Pike meets a group of telepathic aliens on Talos 4, & over the course of the episode it is revealed that a federation ship crashed on the planet leaving the lone survivor severely injured. The telepaths use their powers to make her look & feel as if she were a healthy woman once more.
Part way through the first series it is revealed that, due to a heroic sacrifice, Captain Pike is left severely disabled. He uses a wheelchair with a built-in life-support system, & can only communicate with “yes” & “no”. At first he will only allow Spock to accompany him, & soon it becomes clear why; Spock manages to ensure that Captain Pike returns to Talos 4, where the telepaths “heal” him.
During the journey there is a tribunal when Spock’s interference is uncovered, & at first the admiral seems reluctant to host the tribunal due to the lack of Federation leaders available. It is pointed out, quite rightly, that Captain Pike is still a captain & the tribunal is allowed to go ahead.
The story-line did not make Captain Pike look weak, nor did it turn him into “inspiration porn”. He had a duty to perform & he did it. The characters learnt to recognise that Captain Pike still existed behind the machinery, & the audience learns this with them. Nor was Captain Pike subject to a mercy-killing, but was able to go and live out the rest of his days peacefully (and in the company of a very attractive woman).
Captain Pike is now a main character on the prequel series Star Trek Discovery, a staggering 50 years after audiences first came to know the character. Without giving anything away, Pike has a vision of his future but continues down that path regardless, as the fate of all sentient life in the universe is at stake, naturally. He fears for his future but tells no one, facing the truth without making a scene, & it is his stoicism that is admirable, not the fact that he will become disabled.
Captain Pike isn’t even the only disabled character in Star Trek. There is Melora in Deep Space Nine, who must use a wheelchair as the gravity on her native planet is nowhere near as strong as Earth’s, & Geordi La Forge who is blind in The Next Generation.
So, if you are one of those toxic fans who thinks that left-wing politics doesn’t belong in Star Trek (although for the life of me I cannot fathom why you would be reading this blog in the first place), you couldn’t be more wrong, because I am completely unable to find such a consistently excellent representation of disability in pop-culture at all. Let it live long & prosper.