ljc (taraljc) wrote,

Warning: Unpopular Fannish Opinions Ahead. Shields to maximum. Set phasers to stun.

Okay, as I go through my flist, I'm seeing a lot of Star Trek glee, but also a lot of Star Trek headdesking about Uhura specifically and the roles of women in general in the film.

So here's the thing: I am very zen about Uhura in nuTrek.

I think a big part of Uhura's role is, like Sulu and Chekov, to be the model Academy grads and represent the side of Starfleet that Kirk isn't and doesn't want to be. You can't be maverick without foils to show how maverick you are being, and Uhura is that in the Kobayashi Maru scenario. Kirk's meet cute with Chris Pike and Uhura serves much the same purpose. The meet-cute makes Old Skool folks laugh from meta because this is a Jim Kirk who cannot get the girl. But in-story, it shows that Uhura is not there to be The Girl To be Got. Or even necessarily The Girl Who Got Away. We're given an Uhura who knows what she wants, and doesn't want a boy like Kirk. He keeps trying, she sticks to her guns. And she does it in a way that while injecting levity into the story, also tells us a lot about both her and Kirk as people. She's focussed, she doesn't muck about, and she's hella smart and awesome at her job. This to me is a good thing. But just because she has a love interest, this does not in my eyes reduce her to the role of nothing but a love interest.

At the same time, Kirk winning Uhura's acceptance is also about Chris Pine as Kirk winning the audience's acceptance. Her utter scorn when she called him "Captain" during the Kobayashi Maru test is there so that, when she calls him "Captain" on the bridge of the Enterprise after the fight's been won, we can see she means it. He's finally matured enough to deserve her respect. And by doing so, the audience buys that this reckless kid with a chip on his shoulder is Command material, and might be capable and responsible enough to lead a crew of 1000+ highly trained Starfleet personnel.

In terms of "the boys get to do cool stuff, and the girls don't" argument, that depends on your definition of "cool". What I love about the ensemble was that, aside from Kirk and Spock, every character had a moment to shine where they were awesome at their jobs, as well as a moment where they were feeling their way (like Sulu not being able to get the ship into warp). It's just that Sulu's awesome job moment was a kickass awesome sword fight, while Uhura's involved picking up on and translating a Klingon communication that set the entire plot in motion in her spare time, and then getting plucked from obscurity and assigned to the bridge because she speaks 3 dialects of Romulan when the Enterprise senior comm officer can't tell Romulan from Vulcan. In both Sulu and Uhura's cases, Pike picks them because they can do what he needs. He recognises they are excellent resources, and he will use any and all resources he has to hand. That's not sexism--that's gender parity. Because Uhura's expertise is in the realm of "brainy" and not "brawny", mebbe it's not as visually cool. But for me, as a fangirl, I actually chalk being a kickass xenolinguist up there with samurai sword fight. It's not as flashy, and it's not an action set piece, but it is still cool.

(Aside: if we only define cool in terms of physical stunts and "strong women" as action heroes like Ripley, Sarah Connor, and Buffy, then I think that's part of the problem--not the solution. To give an example, my biggest issue with Kaylee in Serenity as opposed to her role in Firefly was that she actually was reduced to little else besides love interest and comic relief. We never once got to see her truly be awesome at her job and be a part of the team. Uhura gets to do that. And it's a long way from the fan dance in Star Trek V.)

As for the mini skirts... This reboot is not a Battlestar Galactica-style reimagining. We are meant to believe that the timeline was identical to the Prime universe in almost every way, except for the changes wrought by the destruction of the USS Kelvin. That means, for good or ill, mini-skirts, the same way Brannon Braga's name on Star Trek: Enterprise meant poor Jolene Blalock was stuck in a catsuit for 4 years.

In terms of real life, Zoë Saldana has to wear Nichelle Nichols' costume because that is the iconic image everyone has of Uhura. In the next film, she can wear trousers if she likes, because she won't have to prove to audiences that she's Uhura. She is Uhura. And moreover, the reboot addresses not just Star Trek canon for the hardcore fans--it's about what people think Star Trek was. Nearly all of the changes were there to address the popular ideas of what Star Trek is, while updating them for a 21st century audience.

I think that the size and significance of Uhura's part was on a par with Bones, in that Kirk's most significant relationship in the film leading up to the crisis was with Bones--while Spock's most significant was with Nyota. While she was a huge part of Spock's arc, he was for her as well. I loved that she basically demanded he assign her to Enterprise because she knows she's that calibre of a comm officer and she won't settle for less. And she makes damn sure that he knows she knows it, and he totally caves because she's right. That, more than anything, made me totally buy their relationship when we got to the scene in the 'lift.

So... the snogging.

She's worked closely with Spock, potentially for years (I don't actually know how long he was an instructor and how long she was his TA). She can see when no-one else can how affected he is by his mother's death and his realisation that he is now more alone than he has ever been. She acts on that out of respect, admiration, compassion, affection, and desire. As much as the concept of Spock/Uhura threw me in the abstract, in application, it didn't feel like left field in the turbolift. It felt like it evolved organically from the story. And when I first went omg wtf? in the transporter room with Spock kissing her in front of Kirk and Scott, I recognised that that was Spock's turn to make a choice and act on that choice. That moment is what sets this Spock on a different path for me than Spock Prime.

Spock Prime chose to be more-Vulcan-than-Vulcan in order to prove to his father, Starfleet, and Vulcan that his human heritage was not a "weakness". This Spock chooses to explore his human heritage in a way Spock Prime didn't and possibly couldn't. And he has the strength to do so in part because of his relationships with Amanda and Uhura. While his primarily relationships in TOS were always with Kirk and McCoy, and he was defined through those relationships, I completely buy this nuTrek Spock who is defined through different relationships.

I do not see Uhura as nothing but a catalyst for change for Spock any more than I see Bones' relationship with Jim as nothing but a catalyst for change for Kirk. I'm sorry. I know I am failing at Internet Feminism 101 here, but not every death of a female character is fridging, and not every love interest is "reduced" to being "nothing but" a love interest.

Amanda's death has the same significance for Spock as George Kirk's does for Jim. To kill both fathers would not have worked, story-wise. To give Spock's origin the same life-changing effect that George's death (and Sam Kirk's total disappearance from canon) did for Kirk, it had to be Amanda who died instead of Sarek because his relationship with Amanda is more significant--particularly to the audience. It's what makes this reboot a reboot. The crew we know evolved almost exactly in parallel. The heart of the changes are specific to Spock and Kirk.

I'm not saying fridging doesn't exist, or isn't a huge problem (Do not get me started on Doctor Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog which is the worst recent example I can think of that). But I just don't see it with Amanda. Absolutely there are hideous things done to female characters who exist solely to be catalysts for changes in male characters. But there's a lot of knee-jerk reactions these days that I don't think are supported by this particular text.

As much as I hated losing both Amanda and Vulcan, it was integral to Spock's story and the reboot itself. It fundamentally changes the characters and the universe they live in, and let's you know that going forward, all bets are off. Anything can change. I wish we could have seen more of Amanda and Sarek's interactions, but this is not a story about parents. It's a story about their sons. Amanda Grayson and George Kirk's place in this story was through their absence, and specifically how that loss changes their sons' futures. And I don't have the same problem with that that I think a lot of others do. But while Amanda's death is just as significant as George Kirk's, because she didn't go out in a blaze of glory, it's treated differently by some parts of fandom. Whereas I think the shape of the story makes her death more significant. George's death made Kirk the person he was (i.e. a bit of an asshole) but can now overcome. Amanda's death makes Spock the person he will now become (i.e. someone who does not reject one half of who he is, but embraces his whole self). It makes sense as drama, and for the reboot, to me.

Look, I know that as women, we look for strong female characters. And we are upset when we don't get them. But I also think there is a lot of gender bias towards rejecting storylines we see as "stereotypically" female stories such as anything involving romantic love, and dismissing emotion-driven stories as not strong. And I think that's throwing the baby out with the bath water. I just don't see the ability to express love and compassion as any less strong as the ability to take or throw a punch. YMMV.

Does this mean I didn't totally almost cry when, due to Kirk taking Pike's place ahead of schedule, there was no Number One? Or wish we could have seen Nurse Chapel instead of just hear McCoy call her name offscreen? Does this mean I don't crave more of Uhura being awesome? Hell no. But I was satisfied by the Uhura we did get, and I have hope and a certain amount of faith that if when get more story, there will be more balance. Because now that Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman and this cast have proved they can give us the Star Trek we all loved since the 1960s, they can give us the Star Trek we need in the 21st Century.

ETA: I did some editing/expanding 5/11, to clarify and expand on some stuff from discussions in comments.
Tags: meta, star trek

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