Welcome to Black History Month at Women At Warp! This is an installment of our month-long celebration of Starfleet officers and the adjacent personnel who are members of the Cosmic African Diaspora. These officers are curated in chronological order in an attempt to illustrate how their contributions have influenced humanity’s presence in the galaxy.
The beauty of Star Trek remains in its ability to explore variations of the human experience through the lens of other species. In The Original Series we rarely, if ever, saw members of marginalized communities portraying alien characters. We saw a whole lot of brownface on white actors, but very few marginalized folks outside of Starfleet, suggesting the notion that POC and the problems they endure are strictly a human problem. With the exception of a few background actors, it wasn’t until the introduction of Worf (Michael Dorn) in The Next Generation pilot episode “Encounter at Farpoint” that we saw Blackness exist in another species.
In addition to the Starfleet officers mentioned within our Star Trek: Into Blackness panel, I’ve assembled a small list of notable, non-human characters who were/are portrayed by actors of African descent. These are presented in no particular order, and feature a group of artists who have each had versatile and impactful careers.
Captain Dathon (Paul Winfield) – In the iconic episode Darmok, Capt. Dathon sacrificed his life for the sake of establishing communication with Picard and the Federation.
Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) – An ageless El-Aurian with sage advice and a particular sensitivity to temporal anomalies.
Kurn (Tony Todd) – Youngest son of Mogh, brother to Worf, this former member of the Klingon High Council captained several successful missions during the Klingon Civil War and the Dominion War.
Commander Sirol (Michael Mack) – With saccharin elegance, Cmmdr. Sirol led the Warbird Terix in a mission to complicate a top-secret Federation starship retrieval in TNG episode The Pegasus.
Legate Broca (Mel Johnson, Jr) – A high-ranking Cardassian official brought in to replace Damar during a critical point of the Dominion War.
Talak’talan (Cress Williams) – The first on-screen appearance of a Jem’Hadar, laying the foundation for what sort of behavior to expect from members of the species.
Omet’iklan (Clarence Williams, Jr) – Commander of a squad of Jem’Hadar sent to destroy a band of renegades, rebelling from the Dominion.
N’Garen (Gabrielle Union) – served as a weapons officer under General Martok on the IKS Rotarran in the Dominion War.
T’Kuvma (Chris Obi) – Head of House T’Kuvma, instrumental in the unification of several factioned houses, who’s death began the Federation/Klingon War.
Leader Pav (Karen Robinson) – Leader of the Trill homeworld, was focused on preserving what was left of Trill heritage while considering re-joining the Federation in the 32nd century.
V’Kir (Emmanuel Kabongo) – A Vulcan purist, V’kir sat on the Quorum in T’Kal-in-ket invoked by Michael Burnham in an appeal to release crucial information related to The Burn.
This is merely a small collection of members of the Cosmic African Diaspora, as Star Trek has gotten progressively more representative of marginalized groups as time has gone on. A diaspora can be described as ‘the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland.’ Examples can include the colonies of Jewish peoples that settled outside ancient Palestine, as well as the descendants of African peoples displaced by centuries of human trafficking.
In the years following TOS, we’ve thankfully seen a great deal more alien characters portrayed by members of marginalized communities. While there’s no real way to tell if Black Romulans took to the stars to flee oppression of other Romulans, this visibility implies that the development of melanin isn’t unique to humans on Earth, and provides examples of what a species can achieve if they’re not absorbed in superficial things like complexion.
As always, representation matters! These performances not only show Black communities that versions of themselves can exist across the cosmos, but they also show that Black actors can portray myriad roles and secure spaces of their own within an industry that has, and continues to be, exclusionary.