Last night I re-watched one of my favorite sci-fi movies from my childhood, Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country. Aside from the one or two lines that didn’t age well, I think I might have actually like the film even more as an adult than I did as a child.
It was Star Trek, so it should surprise no one that the film was racially and sexually diverse. Yet, having consumed mostly modern sci-fi recently, I found myself surprised anyway. But why did Star Trek get this simple, basic part of good sci-fi storytelling right 25 years ago, when movies have to stretch and reach do the same thing today? Why are calls for more diversity and better representation in movies, games, comics, etc, meet respectively with either adulations or disdain, depending on the crow yelling? We’ve proved we could do this years ago, so why are we fighting over it now?
Because in 1991 there was nothing wrong with making stories that had an agenda. Star Trek tried, it actually challenged itself and did that reaching, to have a diverse and well represented cast because they had and agenda. And that was a good thing.
The people who made it didn’t just care about making a good action film (though they cared about that too, and succeeded in that) they had goals, ideals, a mission.
Kirk says to Spock “Everyone is human,” and that is not just a message that the Federation should extend rights and respect to Klingons, that is to the audience; we knew it then, and we liked it. We liked being told to be our better selves. We liked growing, being challenged, being confronted with our own biases. We respected Kirk when he put personal vengeance and ego aside, told his crew to surrender the Enterprise, allowed himself to be put on trial. We loved him for that because we weren’t afraid of stories that wanted to tell us more than a story.
Movies should have agendas. Games should have agendas. Books should have agendas. People should decide what they think is a better world, and use whatever medium they have to spread that message. And if you don’t personally like one agenda or another, then find your own. Write your own story, give voice to the writers and developers who propagate your message. But don’t ever, ever think that stories should be devoid of agendas. Without them, they are just distraction.