Five decades after the U.S.S. Enterprise’s maiden voyage on terrestrial television, the Star Trek franchise continues to boldly go where few science-fiction series have gone before.
The third season of Star Trek: Discovery will introduce the first non-binary and transgender characters into Trek canon. Blu del Barrio and Ian Alexander will board the U.S.S. Discovery as Adira and Gray, respectively, when the series returns to CBS All-Access on 15 October (and to Netflix UK at an as-yet-undisclosed date).
They’ll join a groundbreaking cast that already includes the franchise’s first Black female lead character, Michael Burnham (played by Sonequa Martin-Green), and its first same-sex couple, Paul Stamets and Hugh Culber (Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz).
In a press release provided to Yahoo Entertainment, Discovery co-showrunner and executive producer, Michelle Paradise, connected the historic casting announcement to a tradition of diversity that was always central to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s multi-decade mission.
“Star Trek has always made a mission of giving visibility to underrepresented communities because it believes in showing people that a future without division on the basis of race, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation is entirely within our reach,” Paradise remarked.
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“We take pride in working closely with Blu del Barrio, Ian Alexander and Nick Adams at GLAAD to create the extraordinary characters of Adira and Gray, and bring their stories to life with empathy, understanding, empowerment and joy.”
While details about Discovery’s third season — which will pick up directly after the wild Season 2 finale that sent the titular ship nearly 1000 years into the future — are being kept under wraps, CBS offered up brief portraits of the newest characters.
Del Barrio’s non-binary Adira is described as having “a confidence and self-assurance well beyond their years,” and they will form a strong relationship with Paul and Hugh once onboard Discovery. “Adira is a wonderfully complex character. Mainly because of this duality they have within them: They're astonishingly intelligent and yet they're still a kid,” del Barrio said in a new interview with Nick Adams, GLAAD’s Director of Transgender Representation. “They experience their emotions at a heightened level, like most teenagers. That's what makes them so fun to play.”
Since coming out as transgender in 2014 — the first Asian-American television actor to do so — Alexander has appeared on the Netflix series The OA, as well as in the blockbuster video game, The Last of Us Part II.
Their Discovery character, Gray, hails from the planet Trill, the native home of such fan favourite Trek personalities as Deep Space Nine’s Jadzia Dax. Like many Trills, Gray is anticipating the day when his body will host a symbiont, only to have his life take what’s described as “an unexpected turn.”
Discovery’s commitment to diversity shouldn’t be unexpected to longtime Star Trek fans. From the franchise’s earliest days, Roddenberry sought to present a utopian future where prejudice is a distant memory. Admittedly, Star Trek’s subsequent minders were slower to acknowledge some groups. Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment earlier this year, Central Park birder and comic book writer, Christian Cooper, recalled the difficulties of introducing the first gay Star Trek character, Yoshi Mishima, in the pages of the short-lived Starfleet Academy comic.
“The character who was originally supposed to be gay was Matthew Decker, the squad leader,” Cooper said. “But Paramount wouldn’t let me make the leader of the squadron gay; they thought that was a bridge too far. If someone was going to boldly go there, it would have to be the TV series or the movies, not the comics.” Leave it to Discovery to build that bridge to the non-binary and transgender communities at last.
Season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery is coming to Netflix UK soon.