Wednesday, May 20, 2009
How do you solve a probelm like Uhura? Maybe by reexamining the question.
The latest big screen version of Star Trek was bound to cause some controversy,especially amongst the fans,but one point in particular has been sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb to me and caused me to recheck some of my childhood TV memories.
It seems that some folks think the depiction of Lt. Uhura(played by Zoe Saldana in the new film)is an unflattering throwback to the original character from the first TV series(portrayed by Nichelle Nichols). To better show you what I mean,here's a couple of qoutes from an online review(keeping this as spoiler free as possible but slightly plot revealing-you have been warned) by Ed Champion to start with:
"She’s a character composite of Nurse Chapel and the Nichelle Nichols incarnation. This is not a character who is permitted to think or offer solutions. Sure, she intercepts and translates a vital radio transmission. But it is Kirk who seizes this information and uses this to advance up the ranks of command without crediting Uhura. Again, if Kirk embodies the ugly capitalist who keeps utopia’s engine running, there’s some promise in the suggestion. But the writers simply don’t have the chops to think along these lines and make this interesting. Indeed, with Uhura so exploited, it’s evident that the writers barely grasp feminism’s second wave."
And this is from author Jennifer Weiner's take on the film at the Huffington Post:
"Finally, there's Uhura...and what Abrams and company do with the Enterprise's communications officer will not be warming the cockles of any feminist hearts.
We first meet her at a bar, all ponytail, miniskirt, and long legs. Kirk hits on her. She brushes him off. He persists, prompting Uhura's fellow cadets to mop the floor with him (couldn't she have kicked his ass herself? Probably. So why didn't the movie let her?)
We are told, rather than shown, that Uhura is an extraordinarily capable linguist. We are told, rather than shown, that she's intercepted an important transmission, the plot device that jump-starts the film's action...as soon as Kirk tells Captain Pike about it. But Uhura's primary function isn't professional. Her job, in this brave new universe, is to look cute in a red dress, and to humanize (and by "humanize" I mean "mack on") her coolly logical, eminently reasonable mate. "
Both reviews complain about the depiction of women throughout the movie,with Weiner's impression being " that every single lady on screen was either a mother, a ho, or an intergalactic hood ornament. "
Granted,I have not yet seen the new movie(I plan to do so later this month)and can not call myself a Trekkie/Trekker,yet something about this insistence on a politically correct version of Uhura doesn't sit right with me.
I grew up watching the old school Trek with my family-my brother and I even had Kirk and Spock dolls at one point-and from what I remember about the character and the few clips available from the current ST film,she appears to be the same cool as a cucumber communications officer to me.
Since video speaks louder than words,let's take a gander at Uhura and Kirk's first meeting from the film:
SETTLING THE TAB(the sound's a bit low on this one,sorry!)
To compare and contrast,here are some scenes from the original Trek with Uhura front and center. The first one is a conversation between her and Spock during a time when Kirk is off the ship:
And this is from an episode where several members of the Enterprise crew were trapped in an evil alternate universe and she plays a key role in saving the day:
Since the new movie is intended to showcase the original set of characters during their younger years,it only seems fitting that respecting the template in which they were first created would be the right artistic choice. From the handful of scenes I've shown here,Uhura is the type of person who uses her brains(and occasionally some feminine wiles)rather than brawn to handle tricky situations and she's still doing that now.
There is more than one way to be a strong woman,both in fictional and the real world,and I don't see anything wrong with showing that. While you can make an argument for presenting a more socially advanced version of a character,it should be done in order to enhance the story and the character,not just a way to get some P.C. kudos. Uhura has always been a solid supporting player in the Star Trek boy's club and should be recognized as such:
While Star Trek was a ground breaking series,it was also chock full of typical sci-fi cliches of the time period. Even the notion of having a black female character in such a setting was innovative enough to encourage young women to embrace the genre and give them hope for the future.
That doesn't mean that depictions of women or any other group of not ready for prime time folk can't be more in touch with the current state of affairs,but it's not right from a storytelling point of view to ignore the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the character as first written. Making Uhura into a Xena/Ellen Ripley type of gal is as wrong as having Scotty speak with a Greek accent or Mr. Spock being a Klingon.
I may have a different opinion about this after seeing the movie,but it does urk me when people want to rewrite a character according to their own agenda( this has happened to poor Fanny Price one time too many)instead of appreciating her for her own merits. However,something tells me that Zoe Saldana has done Uhura justice here and will do so in any future follow-ups. May she live long and prosper,onscreen and off:
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