“What do you say to the unfortunate people on the internet who think Star Trek is too progressive?” Scott Beckett asked the panel of “Star Trek” series cast members in earnest on Saturday during a panel at the Dragon Con sci-fi and fantasy convention in Atlanta.
The 39-year-old software engineer from Atlanta grew up watching “Star Trek” and it strongly shaped his beliefs, he said later. “It kind of built my values as a kid in a way because I didn’t have any other values, really.”
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The politics of “Star Trek” are familiar territory for cast members like Blu del Barrio, Wilson Cruz, Michelle Hurd and Anthony Rapp, who have played roles on “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Star Trek: Picard.” The four performers spoke in front of a thousand screaming fans in downtown Atlanta.
“’Star Trek’ is defined as infinite diversity in infinite combinations,” Cruz said. “If that’s true, and if that is our aim, progress towards that has to be modeled. That’s what science-fiction does for us, it helps us imagine what that’s going to look like … and that is inherently political.”
“Star Trek” is one of — if not the most — popular tracks for the fan-driven convention. Atlanta’s hotel halls fill with cosplay of Vulcans and Klingons and, this year, more than a few Lt. Uhura’s in homage to Nichelle Nichols, the trailblazing original “Star Trek” cast member who died July 30 at age 89.
The property’s popularity at the convention long predates Paramount+, even going beyond the inception internet. It has weathered lean times for the “Star Trek” universe. Now, fans and insiders alike expect to feast in the current abundance of new “Star Trek” content.
“What I want is new fans,” said Leo Visentin, assistant director for the “Star Trek” convention track. “I want the franchise to grow and continue and be inspiring to people, because it is important, and the things that it talks about are social commentaries and are important. Getting new fans is probably the most important part of the process. Because otherwise, you know, if you’re just appeasing old fans, they get cranky, and then it goes and dies.”
Conservative commentary on Fox News and other outlets has opened an attack on the “woke” politics of “Star Trek” after the launch of the new “Strange New Worlds” series in May, largely ignoring the original show’s groundbreaking displays of diversity and calls for racial justice.
Notably, Paramount Global announced in August that the Paramount+ streaming service added 4.9 million global subscribers in the most recent quarter. Paramount executives cited the popularity of “Strange New Worlds” as a driver of subscription growth.
“I don’t think they necessarily feel like we’re… feeling the weight of Paramount,” Hurd said. “Paramount was smart to create this and to back this and to support this because we are speaking the moral truth.”
Hurd described her political work on the Crown Act, a multistate initiative to protect people from being discriminated against at work for maintaining a natural hairstyle – a problem disproportionately affecting Black women. Georgia has no such law.
Dragon Con unfolds annually in an increasingly contested political battleground state. Star Trek’s cultural and political posture inexorably – and, at times, deliberately – exerts influence on Georgia. For one, gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams made a cameo appearance on “Star Trek: Discovery” in May. A mention of that elicited a cheer from the Dragon Con audience.
“She’s a big ‘Star Trek’ fan,” Rapp said. “Part of the reason I believe she loves ‘Star Trek is all the reasons we were talking about: what the world presents is the world that she wants to be a part of and see.”
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