We all know that the representation of people of different genders and races is imbalanced in popular media, but sometimes putting it into visual form can help make the imbalance clear. This is the first of a series breaking down, in basic terms, who’s represented and who isn’t.
Here’s Star Trek. I’ve included the credited main cast from all the live-action television series.
Star Trek: Kirk, Spock, Scotty, McCoy, Checkov, Uhura, Sulu
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Picard, Riker, Data, Wesley, Troi, Yar, Crusher, Pulaski, Worf, La Forge
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: O’Brien, Bashir, Odo, Quark, Kira, Dax, Sisko, Jake
Star Trek: Voyager: Paris, Doctor, Neelix, Janeway, Torres, Kes, Seven, Tuvok, Kim, Chakotay
Star Trek: Enterprise: Archer, Reed, Tucker, Phlox, T’Pol, Mayweather, Sato
Star Trek: Discovery: Saru, Tyler, Stamets, Lorca, Tilly, Burnham
Corrections and suggestions welcome.
In the interests of clarity, here’s the rules I’m following for who to include and where to place them:
I only count characters portrayed by an actor who appears in person on screen in more or less recognizable form (i.e. performances that are entirely CG, prosthetic, puppet, or voice do not count).
For human characters that can be reasonably clearly identified, I use the race and gender of the character.
For non-human characters or characters whose identity cannot be clearly determined, I use the race and gender of the actor.
I use four simplified categories for race and two for gender. Because human variety is much more complicated and diverse than this, there will inevitably be examples that don’t fit. I put such cases where they seem least inappropriate, or, if no existing option is adequate, give them their own separate categories.
“White” and “Black” are as conventionally defined in modern Western society. “Asian” means East or South Asian. “Indigenous” encompasses Native Americans, Polynesians, Indigenous Australians, and other indigenous peoples from around the world.
There are many ethnic and gender categories that are relevant to questions of representation that are not covered here. There are also other kinds of diversity, including sexuality, language, disability, etc. that are equally important for representation that are not covered here. A schematic view like this can never be perfect, but it is a place to start.
While there were solid choices on the list, what struck me was that out of 15 named creators only 2 were women. That’s 13%. Since women make up half of the world’s population, an eighth is an unacceptably low proportion in my eyes, so I made a list of my own.
Notes on my list: 1) it’s novels only (no anthologies), 2) in a random order, 3) with no double entries (otherwise I’d include also Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy), 4) and I include not only a variety of flavors within the fantasy genre but also historical fiction. Moreover, 5) I’ve included old and newer favorites as well as new-to-me authors whose works sound intriguing. Finally, 6) the common denominator is (like in the Game of Thrones) the presence of power struggles of various sorts, negotiation of identities, and survival.
1. Ursula K. Le Guin. The Earthsea cycle (A Wizard of Earthsea; The Tombs of Atuan; The Farthest Shore; Tehanu; Tales from Earthsea; The Other Wind)
Aspects of identity examined in an island-based early medievalesque world with magic and lots of sailing.
2. Kai Ashante Wilson. Sorcerer of the Wildeeps
Sword and sorcery, gods and mortals, with a band of mercenaries working as caravan guard in focus. (Linguist’s note: Fascinating mix of vernacular and more formal language.)
3. N.K. Jemisin: The Dreamblood duology (The Killing Moon; The Shadowed Sun)
Ancient-Egyptian-flavored fantasy on a moon orbiting a Jupiter-like gas giant.
4. Samuel R. Delany. Nevèrÿon series (Tales of Nevèrÿon; Neveryóna; Flight from Nevèrÿon;The Return to Nevèrÿon)
Sword and sorcery in a world before the dawn of history, with strong elements of power, economic development and breaking barriers.
A blend of a coming-of-age story with high-stakes intrigue and danger on an island with water-based tech.
Enjoy! I know I will get back to this list after finishing my current reading project.
Image: Monteleone chariot with Thetis and Achilles, detail of image by Peter Roan on Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0 (Etruscan, currently Greek and Roman galleries, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; 2nd quarter of the 6th century BCE; bronze inlaid with ivory)