See It, Be It
Sonequa Martin-Green is bringing a new image to the Star Trek universe.
Marie H. Rainville/CBS
Sonequa Martin-Green has boldly gone where no woman of color has gone before: into the lead role on a Star Trek series.
"When I knew I was definitely coming on board, pun intended, I flipped out," she says of being cast as xenoanthropologist Michael Burnham on CBS All Access's Star Trek: Discovery. "There were tears and a few freak-out sessions. I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all, because Star Trek is such an institution in modern society. I allowed those feelings to pass, and then I said, 'Okay, I'm ready to rock.'"
Growing up in Alabama, Martin-Green was far from a Trekkie. "I hadn't seen anything from the canon," she admits. "I remember the episodes being on the TV and going, 'Oh, that's Star Trek.' But I never sat down and watched them."
That changed after she landed the role on Discovery. "I said, 'I've got to see everything there is to see,'" recalls Martin-Green, who's a veteran of another massively popular franchise, AMC's The Walking Dead. "I tried and got as far as I could until I had to stop and pay attention to the story at hand. But I'm still working on it."
Her Star Trek binge gave her a greater appreciation of the franchise. "There are these moments where you zoom out and say, 'What am I becoming a part of?'" she says. In this prequel to the original series, her character was born human but raised as a Vulcan by the parents of her foster brother, Spock. "The first time I did the Vulcan salute and approached my station on the bridge, I was filled to the brim with honor."
For the record, a xenoanthropologist would study alien cultures, much as an anthropologist studies human cultures. And it's worth noting that the Star Trek franchise's history of inclusiveness begins with the original series, which featured Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura back in 1969.
Even so, Martin-Green knows how much it means to fans to see someone who looks like her attain such a lofty position in the Trek universe. "As a woman of color — raised in the South, no less — I know intimately the dearth of those images," she says. "And I know how visualization leads to actualization. Having a black woman at the helm becomes a bridge that connects what was to what is now, to what can be."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 6, 2018