DIGITAL DEBATE WEDNESDAYS: Star Trek Discovery’s Captain

Every Wednesday, the staff of The Ace of Geeks will get our keyboards ready for a good, old fashioned nerd argument, and you get to hang out with us! Feel free to email us any ideas you might have for future debates, or let us know in the comments! Until then, here’s this weeks topic:

We just learned that Jason Issacs is going to be portraying the captain on Star Trek Discovery. While the show has leaned towards diversity pretty hard, with black, asian, and gay characters already announced, and while Issacs’ character will not technically be the main character, a lot of folks are disappointed that the Captain of the Discovery will once again be a white man.

What do you think? Does it matter, given that he’s not the focus of the show? Or should CBS have tried to go even more diverse with their casting?

Patrick Lowry: My thoughts are twofold:
1) Yes, absolutely. There’s no reason not to make Michelle Yeoh the captain of the main ship. There’s no reason not to cast someone who isn’t a white dude as your captain. There’s tons of actors out there, and Discovery has mostly cast little known TV actors at this point, so there’s really no excuse.
2) HOWEVER, I have a feeling that Issacs will not last very long in this show. Now that he’s been cast, the idea of Sonequa Martin-Green’s character being the main character while first officer makes a lot more sense. I bet Issacs is going to bite it in an early episode, which gives her command of the ship in a dramatic way and allows for the character conflict of taking over a starship when you’re not really “ready” for it.
And in that case, I can see them deliberately not giving that part to a minority just to kill them off.

John Garcia: I kinda wanna reference Power Rangers: RPM where the leader the red ranger is black but the focus is on a non red ranger the black ranger Dillon, who was Caucasian, and idk

Teresa Loesch: It feels like a disappointingly safe choice. If they want to push the envelope (I hate that “having POC” and “having gay people” is pushing the envelope, but here we are) they should actually push it.
There are just so many ways it could go wrong. I really don’t want White Male Authority Figure Teaches Us About Diversity, etc. there’s always the tendency for the characters to swoop in and teach other groups how to live right. It’s a pitfall of any morality tale, which Star Trek has historically embraced.
It could also be right. It could also be, as people have speculated (Patrick), that he won’t be Captain for very long and it doesn’t really matter who he is, as Captain Placeholder being white doesn’t really matter.
It could also be that he’s a white male captain who doesn’t suck and is interesting, and I hope so. He could also be a bid for acceptability; in a diverse show, making him a concession to normative society could be a deliberate ploy to make the rest of the casting more acceptable. It all depends on how things play out.


Mark Foo: I choose to cross my fingers and hope he dies.
(The character, not the actor!)

MalKontent Blizzard: This is an odd one for me because I’m not likely going to be able to see it. But I think that even though this reportedly isn’t a senior staff show this goes into the painfully full “Star Trek Missed Opportunities” Folder.
Who can say off the top of their head when we saw the first female Captain in Starfleet? Not Janeway.
How about the first Captain of colour?
Not Sisko.
The answer to both is the Captain of the USS Saratoga in Star Trek IV.
Many of us seeing this happen without fanfare or special notice learned about the actual diversity in Starfleet right then. By reinforcing white male as the default we keep Starfleet culture close to our own and sacrifice the opportunity to subtly reinforce the idea that diversity is our eventual destination.

James Paul Lucky: Exactly one question matters.
Are they the right actor for the part (IE will deliver the best performance)?
If yes: Fine, no problem.
If no: Perhaps you should have cast someone else.
I understand that societal issues are what they are but I feel that the quality of the art itself should be the sole concern when making these choices.

  • Mary Anne Butler: That’s all well and good. But when a show was given the greenlight and support BECAUSE THEY SAID they wouldn’t have “another white male captain” and then they announce this casting…..
  • MalKontent Blizzard: I don’t think those are as easily separable as you appear to imply.
  • James Paul Lucky: Mary Anne, doing a quick search through some previous press release coverage, I cannot find where any such claims were made.
    I see the statement about the female lead being a Lt. Commander and “not a captain” but nothing about “why the show was greenlit”.
    Got a link I can paruse?
  • Mary Anne Butler: It has to do with really early Bryan Fuller press.
  • Mark Foo: “Quality of art” is really a dubious thing to rest upon, though. “Talent” is the go-to excuse for every white guy being hired by other white guys throughout history.
    So, yeah, the end product matters, but we can’t pretend it’s an unassailable shield.
  • James Paul Lucky: Sorry Mark, I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make there so I’ll try to dissect it a bit.
    In the top paragraph you’re basically implying that there is room for abuse if “talent” is the deciding factor of what actors get hired and thus should be decided on another factor. May I ask what factor would that be in your opinion?
    In your bottom paragraph you concede that the final product matters but imply that it’s not all that matters.
    May I ask what other factor is important if not the success of the show and entertainment/engagement of it’s audience?
  • Teresa Loesch: I don’t want to speak for Mark, so I won’t. But I think that talent is impossible to define or pin down. It’s inherently subjective and, as such, ripe for improper use. Subjectivity allows for personal bias to come to the fore.
    I’m not disputing that he’s a talented actor, but to claim he’s the most talented actor is not specific enough. Was he the most talented actor… in the world? Or the most talented actor in the selection pool, which was built to be a white guy of approximately “X” age? Or was he the most talented actor who also agreed to take the role? Talent is tricky to define and can easily be influenced by who you invite to audition and who got better offers.
    I also don’t agree with your definition of important to the show. I’m not here to say that making money/lasering in on your audience is selling out, but I am saying that if that’s THE most important thing, don’t call it art.
    Ideological factors have always been hugely important to Star Trek. My main beef with the reboot movies is how lacking their philosophy has been. There are other factors to a show that I rank as equally or more important than whether it’s profitable or engages its audience. If Star Trek: Discovery decided to market itself to the Alt-Right (not saying that’s happening now, using it as an example) I would have a problem with that and I would consider it vastly more important than whether or not the Alt-Right was really engaged.
  • Mark Foo: “Talent” and “quality” are super-subjective and ill-defined and favour white people. I reject the notion that we are unable to maintain quality while also considering minorities for roles.
    Put it this way: Are we to really believe that the most talented actors almost always are white?
  • James Paul Lucky: I was not making the point that minority actors are less talented (in point of fact Avery Brooks as Ben Sisko is widely regarded as one of the best ST “captains” in show history).
    What I asked is “What else do you base casting on?”
    Neither of you have answered that.
    Teresa, to your latter points, I suppose if you define “successful” in a purely financial way I see your point, but it begs the follow up question “can one not then be in the business of making art?”
    If finance must be a byproduct of art and not a goal (as your statement implies) then you would say there are no professional artists?
  • Teresa Loesch: I did not say that money has to be the byproduct of art, though. I said if it’s THE most important thing. As in, nothing else matters as much as defining that target audience and making your marketing goals. If your program is literally a stepping stone to money, no, I don’t think it’s art. If you want to obtain funding for your show that [blank] (critiques something, or showcases your worldview, or is a statement on X, or whatever your goals are with this, what makes this story worth telling to you), that can totally be art.
    Okay, casting could be based on representation. If a character is Asian, maybe hire an Asian person. If a character doesn’t have to be a certain race or gender, are you auditioning people of all races/genders for it? Or if race isn’t important, are you defaulting to white? It could be based on who is available to shoot the script on schedule. It could be based on whose salary fits your budget. Films and TV shows cast people on tons of other, practical factors literally all the time. Talent is nice, but talent alone doesn’t get things done.
  • James Paul Lucky: Assume a “Perfect World” scenario then, that none of the practical factors apply.
    The part is unisex and racially flexible (Think Commander Shepard from Mass Effect), the budget is unlimited, and literally everyone who wants to be considered can be and is.
    On what criteria do we choose our Shepard?
  • Teresa Loesch: I honestly feel like you’re reaching so hard here. Sure, we can cherry-pick any scenario until we get the answer you want. If you eliminate every other factor, of course talent would be most important. Why are you so committed to it, though? That you would want to rewrite a lot of things about our society so this white guy can play this role without anyone questioning it?
  • MalKontent Blizzard: Taking your scenario back to Star Trek I’d go for the greatest diversity possible. That’s why I brought up the Captain of the Saratoga in Star Trek IV in my response
  • Korbl Klimecki: A bit late perhaps, but lets go ahead and take up that extreme case from James.
    In reality? when a part is genderless and racially flexible? It’ll be a white guy. We all know it, and if you want confirmation, just look at the parade of white guys playing the Doctor, even though we have confirmation all over the place that Time Lords are not tied to one sex/gender or race. People have been clamouring for a woman to play The Doctor at least since the new series started, and there is literally no reason that a black actor couldn’t be cast, and yet we have an unbroken line of white men playing him. Hell, there hasn’t even been a red-headed actor cast as the Doctor.
    But what should happen? Hold an open audition, with no BS racist/sexist “only XYZ should audition” notes, and choose the actor or actress who best captures the essence of the character.
    Or cast Laverne Cox as Captain Shepard, because why the hell not?

Katrina Smith: I think I’m reserving judgment until I see it. I’m not against him just for being a white male role– it’ll depend on how it plays out in story.

Scott Woodbury: I am with James Paul Lucky’s opinion. I couldn’t have worded it better myself.

Mary Anne Butler: But like Patrick has said, it’s super hard to base an opinion on something we haven’t seen yet. Don’t use the casting as an early way to drum up excitement if it’s not the case though. That’s my main complaint here.

  • Mary Anne Butler: Ways for a production to piss me off in three moves or less-
    use all the pre release talk to drum up support for something they KNOW fans want, and then take it away in one casting move.

Joe Hadsall: I’m on the wait-and-see bandwagon, myself. While I’m generally on the side of diversity when it comes to adaptations of stories (such as hating ScarJo’s casting in “Ghost of the Shell”), I want to see a few episodes before questioning casting decisions. Here’s hoping Patrick’s theory pans out, because that would be an awesome storyline.

  • Mary Anne Butler: I understand the ScarJo thing, but I still disagree with the overall “shouldn’t be not Asian” because the character is a fucking robot, right?
  • Joe Hadsall: I’m talking more about the principle. I’m not a “Ghost in the Shell” fan to know if that specific argument was legit.  Maybe a better example: Why cast a dude for a transgender role when Jamie Clayton is right there and awesome? That kind of thing.

Joe Hadsall: Out of curiosity: Did they beef up Sean Bean’s casting for “Game of Thrones?”

  • Mary Anne Butler: Beef up?
  • Joe Hadsall: The way you were talking about using the casting as an early way to drum up excitement.

Tyler Dent Hayes: I’m firmly against another white male captain. There is zero reason for it at this point except for some very hidebound and stale ideas about how you make a show successful. If Patrick is right and they kill or even full-on fridge Isaacs, I’m here for it, but otherwise I am joining the all-caps shouting up above.

Joe Hadsall: I don’t care about rank as much as main-character status. Isaacs can be Captain, Admiral, Supreme Leader, Lord Business, whatever. If Isaacs is the main character instead of Yeoh, then I guess I’m not mad. Just disappointed.

Rowan Hanson: Honestly this feels like a push from a producer who isn’t confident about how the show will be recieved. One who is more than slightly out of touch with what Trek is all about.

Megan Fox: The question you should be asking is was a diverse group of actors considered? The defult tends to be white and male… throw 1/3 non white men & women into the room and I say fair. We have no idea what happened in that casting room. Hiring a woman would make a statement, hiring someone non-white would make a statement. But what makes the biggest statement of all in a Star Trek series imo is how the Federation deals with others who are not like themselves – will this be any different?

Korbl Klimecki
Korbl Klimecki, professional warlock, is also a writer, baker, slacking artist and inveterate games tinker who occasionally actually plays the games they tinker with. When not lurking in gaming forums or throwing together their latest ill-advised D&D class, they may be found rampaging through the streets of Steelport, or the wilderness of Skyrim. Or possibly pursuing yet another major as if they were trading cards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *