“Star Trek: Discovery” continues to show just how much it’s on the cutting edge of the culture. Not only do they have the most diverse crew of any sci-fi show ever, not only is the lead actor a Black woman, not only is one of the main female characters solidly built; they’ve now added a nonbinary and a trans actor to the regular cast.
But I was made happy by something that I haven’t seen made note of by any of the many articles I’ve read about the show. In Episode 4 of the new season, “Forget Me Not,” there is a long scene that consists entirely of a conversation between two people: Commander Burnham, the lead of the show, and Doctor Culber. Both are played by Black actors. Their color is irrelevant to the conversation; it is two officers discussing who should take responsibility for a mission.
It’s not that Star Trek hasn’t shown a conversation between, say, Worf and Geordi, or B’elanna and Tuvok, before. But the sheer amount of screen time given to the scene is revolutionary. This was a long scene, not a quick exchange. Apart from shows that feature primarily Black actors, this is not something we often get to see.
I was hugely disappointed when “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” killed off the character of Trip. Before he was done away with, there was one scene where Trip and Mack, both played by Black actors, were alone and talked to each other. The quality of the conversation was subtly different, and it made me sit up and think “yes, this is how two Black men would probably talk to each other when no one else is around.” It enriched my sense of the different dynamics at work among the team and brought both characters to life in a new way. And I couldn’t help but think, “this must have been so rewarding for both the actors.”
The Bechdel test measures whether or not two women in a show are allowed to have a real conversation with each other that doesn’t focus on any of the male characters. There should be an equivalent test for when a show allows two people of color to have an real conversation, a conversation that doesn’t involve other people. “Star Trek: Discovery” has already given us meaningful conversations between two women of color (Burnham and Georgiou), but I have to give the writers an A-plus for setting up this long and important conversation between Burnham and Doctor Culber.