Now, race and gender have been pretty huge talking points in the wake of STXI, mostly in regard to the Spock/Uhura relationship, Spock in his perennial role as the Other, and the disappearing and mistreatment of female characters in the film. I've discussed these things on multiple occasions myself, have linked to and engaged in many other discussions besides, and still spend a lot of time gazing lovingly at where_no_woman.
One of the first things I ever did in the course of this dialogue was to reject the knee-jerk judgment of the Spock/Uhura relationship as a sexist reduction of Uhura to The Girlfriend role, some sort of sad step backwards from her empowered position in TOS as a professional woman with no need for a romance.
Now, in general, I don't like the idea that because a female character has a love interest that is all she is and/or that she is automatically reduced by it. It's not that I don't want female characters to have as wide a range of roles in the story as male ones because I absolutely do. It's that, inkeeping with that, I don't feel the need to restrict or limit female characters any more than they already are. Saying that a female character can't be a strong character if she's in a romance is just as shitty as various alternatives. In my aforementioned posts, I expressed this. I also made sidebar references to the idea that race was another issue particular to this situation that should be considered, but didn't expand on it. Perhaps because I just wasn't in the mood to explain or perhaps because I felt it should be self-evident or perhaps because I was just in a hurry.
However, the Just A Girlfriend nugget and the assertion that she is made less by her romantic involvement with Spock continues unabated, so I figured I'd give full voice to what I hadn't before.
Simply put: Nyota Uhura is not a white girl.
While women of color are not necessarily embroiled in an entirely different feminist struggle than white women, they sure as fuck are not in the same place.
I have been a nerd my entire life. I have always loved sci-fi and fantasy and comic books and video games and pretty much every geeky genre thing you can think of. In the vast, vast majority of media relevant to my interests, as much as a I rail against these things happening and wish that they would stop, it's not actually me that's being marginalized and constricted to the role of hot love interest or prize to be won or someone's mom or miscellaneous fridged loved one. On the contrary: I'm a black girl. I just don't exist.
Further, if I branch out from my genre roots and into the mainstream I still barely exist. If I do, I am overwhelmingly a sassy best friend (absent a love interest; afterthought with an alsoran if not), someone's wise (sassy!) mama figure, Will Smith or Denzel Washington's wife, or starring in one of black Tyler Perry's exploitative
This near total invisibility is perhaps the very first thing that I think needs to be understood in any feminist discourse about Uhura, but it seems to be the last thing most people talk about. As a result, they start off from a deeply flawed premise.
Uhura being single in TOS was not empowering.
She was single because the male leads were all white and as a black woman she was less of a person than them, she was less of a person than a white woman, and the fact that this serendipitously ended up meaning that she didn't have to spend all of her time mooning pathetically after dismissive men does not make that any more acceptable.
She got to sit in the back and rarely do anything and have her sexuality ignored not because they respected her so much as a colleague and a person, but because she was not a full, real human being and when you're not a full, real human being the idea that actual people would ever desire you or romance you or love you is ridiculous. The idea that you might have any kind of sexuality at all, regardless of what it is, is irrelevant. You are invisible.
I could go further with this and elaborate on what Nichelle Nichols was put through by the network, the infamous plea from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for her to stay on the show despite mistreatment, or even her recent acknowledgment that they actually wanted to do Spock/Uhura in TOS but it was made impossible by the times. But that's too much for this post and really the central point is the same as pretty much all discussions about race.
Namely, please consider the point of view from which you are approaching your analysis because experiences vary wildly and one size does not fit all.
Nyota Uhura is a black girl and there is no angle from which her actually being allowed to have consensual sexuality, being desired, and being loved (in addition to having her job and intellect, no less) is a fundamental downgrade from what she had before.
In TOS, her being there at all was a massive step forward. Her mere presence in STXI puts her on par with that, and that standard, as indicated earlier, is not one that is often met even now.
I've always found it really, really difficult to describe or articulate how this invisibility feels, how it affects you and the way that you view and experience media. I remember someone posted a one page article or somesuch wherein all of the actors in STXI had just one little soundbyte type quotation about their character and their feelings about the original version. John Cho's was him noting that his reaction to Sulu was essentially: "OMG AN ASIAN GUY IS ON TV."
The comments on that post were filled with people loling about how hilarious John Cho is, as if he were telling a fucking joke.
I don't know John Cho and am more than a decade younger than him, but I do very well know the immediate, gut reaction of OMG [A BLACK GIRL] IS ON TV because I have spent my entire life having that reaction. It's not an exaggeration or humorous aside, neither is it calculated or intentional or even entirely conscious. It is genuinely nothing but the authentic surprise and delight that comes on the occasion when I actually see someone like me in my entertainment media.
Yes, even in 2009 with a black president, it grabs my attention and sticks in my mind and I remember because it is made memorable by the overwhelming dearth that still exists.
OMG A BLACK GIRL! Gabrielle Union is guest starring on Life. OMG A BLACK GIRL! Dana Davis is playing the evil popular girl on 10 Things I Hate About You. OMG A BLACK GIRL! Rutina Wesley is doing what she can on the world's weirdest and skankiest vampire show. OMG A BLACK GIRL! No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency exists.
OMG A BLACK GIRL! Zoe Saldana is a major character in a summer action sci-fi blockbuster. OMG A BLACK GIRL! She is ambitious and intelligent and clever without being a caricature. OMG A BLACK GIRL! She is not inexplicably denied any exploration of her sexuality by the narrative. OMG A BLACK GIRL! She is one half of the principle romance. OMG A BLACK GIRL! She is in love with and desired, romanced, and loved by one of the most iconic figures, not just in all of nerdom, but in all of popular culture.
A black girl is fucking Spock.
Nyota Uhura is not a white girl. Her just being there is still worthy of a fuckton of notice. This, right here, is one of the biggest coups in media representation that I've seen in my entire lifetime.
Goggle adjustments may be in order. Just saying.
ETA: Okay, I didn't want to have to do this because I am truly just so overwhelmed by and appreciative of how this appears to have resonated with people, but I have to give up the ghost on replying to every comment! We are at nearly 400 comments at this point and still rolling along, so don't think that I do not cherish and love and eyeheart at your comment if I do not directly reply to it. BELIEVE ME I DO.
And to answer the two most common questions:
Yes, you can link this to your heart's content whereever you want.
Yes, you can friend me. You never have to ask! I welcome all new friends. <3