(Cross-posted in part from The Mongoose Chronicles. Possible spoilers inside.)

Over at my place today, I'm discussing Star Trek the film, and to what extent it lives up to expectations, where they exist.

I focus on the character Uhura, played by Zoe Saldana, of whom I was glad to see the following: she was a top cadet; she was assertive and didn't feel cowed by her relationship with Spock into being shoved aside in the interest of propriety; we were told exactly what she did on the ship instead of her just seeming like a random ensign with a receptionist's headset (the original Uhura was a communications officer before being promoted to Lt. Comm. and then Commander, but somehow, in those early episodes, she seemed like an intergalactic receptionist to me. Her presence was, of course, nonetheless important for the visibility of black actors and reinforcement of black culture in the 1960s - reasons that extended beyond the confines of the story) and she got to use those skills in saving the galaxy and all that.

Here's what I wasn't so thrilled about: she was a role, not a character. Uhura, I felt, had one dimension. She was to be the woman in the film who was not maternal, and was to represent another part of womanness: the fearless, educated, unimpressed-by-random-flattery type of woman. And she did all that; that is, she stood, in one dimension, as that. But she did so without having her character well developed. She was really a paper tiger; and I didn't actually mind her stripping down scene and the fact that she wore miniskirts. I felt it was real. Women high-achiever types are also sexual and attractive: that's fine. In fact, that's great. But at the end of it all, she was really just Spock's girlfriend, wasn't she? And that worked well for Spock's character - it made him seem reachable and helped make us care about him. But Uhura as an individual fairly disappeared into yet another woman who, like Kirk's and Spock's mothers, was just rooting for a man to survive. And I get the impression that any individuality we saw was all about Zoe Saldana: about her great screen presence as an actor, and not so much about the dialogue, depth and direction given to the character that had been envisioned as Uhura.

Thank goodness for Roddenberry's initial creation that we even have this fairly strong character - even if she is more caricature that character - at all. The first significant woman character we see, Kirk's mother, is giving birth to the eventual saviour of humanity; indeed this seems the point of her rescue. And the other main woman character is Spock's mother, who carries the shame of having given birth to a half-breed, and appears in cloak and shadow, also later having to be rescued, and then perishing. The women in the Star Trek film, then, are, in the main, supporters of and overshadowed by heroic men. And one can only hope that in any movie sequels from this point, they become unstuck from this predictable and wholly unimpressive dynamic.

Afro-diosa joins us from The Mongoose Chronicles.

Creative Commons License