Star Trek 2009 and Female Characters

I have to admit that I loved the Star Trek reboot movie last year.  (Warning: spoilers ahead).

I only saw it at Christmas after buying the DVD but I did then proceed to watch it twice in one week.  It’s a great sci-fi action/adventure which rollicks along at a great pace into space battles and fist-fights.  I thought the concept – of recreating Star Trek via an alternate timeline with the Star Trek universe reimagined because of a time travel event – was clever and well-executed – although OK, yes, the science was more fiction than factual in places.  Destroying Vulcan was brave and bold, and I loved it.  And while I may frown a little at Cadet Kirk getting an automatic field commission to Commander, and then to Captain (which is then confirmed on their return to Earth), most of the plot hangs together fairly well. 

I also loved the humour that was woven into the mix; the sly tounge-in-cheek joke of the red-suited space-jumper who inevitably dies.  I thought the cast did outstandingly well to recreate the characters that are so loved and be the character rather than an imitation of Shatner or Nimoy or Nichols or any of the much-adored cast from the old days. 

It’s a hard thing taking on something which is legendary and making it new again.  Possibly, I admit, that I may not have loved it as much if it had been the Star Trek version that I fell in love with reimagined (Picard with hair, for instance), and I feel sympathy for those who love The Original Series who feel like their favourite and much loved toy got put in the wash by their parents and came out shiny and clean but no longer smelling or feeling like their favourite toy. 

In fact there’s only one major element that I have issues with: the lack of women in the film and their usage.   And it would seem that I’m not alone.

There is a discussion and debate in fandom over whether the film actually meets or fails the Bechdel Test (sometimes referred to as the Bechdel/Wallace test) which was popularised in a comic strip illustrated by Alison Bechdel.  Essentially, one character in the comic says at one point to another that she’ll only watch a film if it is has two women in it who talk together in a scene about something other than a man.

Debate about Star Trek ’09 is mostly centred around the scene with Uhura and the Orion Gaila talking in their room while Kirk lies half-dressed hiding under Gaila’s bed watching Uhura strip.  Uhura is talking about picking up on a Klingon communication which is essential to Kirk connecting the dots later in the plot but Gaila is more interested in getting Uhura out of the room again so she can continue with Kirk – and the scene ends with Uhura realising Gaila has someone in the room and throwing Kirk out.  So, does the scene really pass the Bechdel test?

Some would argue yes; the scene is two women talking about something other than a man (Uhura’s work).  Some would argue no; the scene is two women talking but the subject quickly becomes all about a man.

I personally end up on the latter side of the debate and moreover, I think even if it passes the Bechdel test on semantics, it kind of fails the wider diversity test given the usage of female characters.  While Uhura as a character comes across in the reboot as a confident, sassy, highly intelligent woman who could kick Kirk’s butt if she wanted to,  most of her interaction with Kirk is about rejecting his advances and she’s also reimagined as having an affair with Spock.  Why did she have to be involved with either of them? If she needed more screen time or something else to do in the movie than surely something other than being Spock’s lover could have been imagined.

In fact, most of the women in the movie are there being an adjunct to a male character: Kirk’s mother as wife and mother; Amanda Grayson as wife and mother; Gaila as Kirk’s love interest; Uhura as Kirk’s unrequited object of lust and Spock’s love interest.  The only female character who seems to be there without a man attached is the female alien doctor with the oversize eyes at the beginning.

I am disappointed that given this was a reimagining that more wasn’t done to include more female characters in professional roles especially as this is a depiction of humanity in the future.  Fair enough, Uhura was the only female on the Enterprise bridge for many years but Number One from the original pilot could have been on board the Enterprise fairly easily – or McCoy’s nurse, Christine Chapel.  Given the reboot and the alternate time travel if Chekov could end up on the bridge of the Enterprise as a seventeen year old prodigy, another female character could have been included in the mix to if not balance the gender ratio at least provide one more on the side of the women.

I kind of feel the same way about Stargate Universe in truth. The reboot of the Stargate franchise is heavily weighted with male characters.  Most of the initial half of the first season centred on the male characters.  The female characters so far have come across as interesting but very under-explored in comparison with one ending up very much as Love Interest.  Time will tell if any of them emerges to become as strong an icon for young women as Samantha Carter did from SG1 or the original Uhura did from TOS. 

Anyways, to wrap up this ramble (or perhaps rant might be a better description) I did enjoy Star Trek 2009; just disappointed in respect of gender equality.


Being Geeky

It occurred to me today in the midst of updating a livejournal community with various character profiles, that there is a line between non-geek and geek, and I fear I crossed it a long time ago.

At school, I was definitely a nerd.  I was smart and serious, did my homework, got good grades and most importantly, I loved school.  But there is definitely a difference between being a nerd and being a geek.

Possibly my slide into geekdom started with Airwolf.  I loved Airwolf.  Adored Airwolf.  Tried to think up ways to get out of Saturday shopping so I could watch it in peace.  But I was young and it was aired too sporadically for me to know it off by heart.

Then came, Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I loved, loved that show. The adventures of Jean-Luc Picard and gang caught my attention; never really got into Deep Space 9 with the same fervour (although I do now have a much greater appreciation for it than I did at the time); loved Voyager; lost interest by Enterprise despite Scott Bakula taking lead (I have promised myself a rewatch one of these days along with an Original Series rewatch).

However, despite my love for TNG, I always maintained that I was a Trekker, not a Trekkie.  Yes, I read the books, probably knew far too much about the show for my own good but I’d never learned the planets off by heart and really had no interest in knowing everything about how the Enterprise might work.  Possibly I was hovering on the line of geekdom but wasn’t quite a geek.

Then came Stargate.  I love Stargate.  Everything about Stargate.   I watched avidly; read the magazines.  But until I hit the online fandom I don’t think I crossed the line.  However, I think the first time I posted fanfiction, that was probably the step across the line; the first time I posted in a forum about different types of time travel in different episodes that was probably when I acquired my Geek badge and lifelong club membership.  Definitely helping to run a ficathon, updating a community with character trivia and spending hours debating the finer points of whether the characters really died in Moebius or not qualifies me.  The thing is I love Stargate so much I don’t really mind being called a Geek. 

I wear my Geek badge with pride. 🙂