Meanwhile, the tragic romance between Benny and his fiancée Cassie treads similar ground to James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk, which is fitting because, in that same 2013 interview, Brooks quoted The Price of One. James Baldwin’s ticket, acknowledging the ancestors who had paid “the ticket price” for his acting career. “The reason I’m sitting here in front of you isn’t because of me…it’s because of named and unnamed people who prayed for me, who sang for me, who fought for me,” he said. he continued.
For Barnes, who wrote the novelization of the episode, Far Beyond the Stars was an important piece of science fiction history and it resonated with his life as a black science fiction writer, who, along with Samuel ” Chip” Delany and Octavia E Butler, was an outlier in a white-dominated field. “Benny was something we had never seen on TV before,” he says. “Benny was representing Delany who was writing science fiction relatively early and couldn’t have his picture on his books, couldn’t really talk about himself. He made entertainment for the kids of people who didn’t see him as human and would spit on him. He left the field, because he did not support it and he went to academia.”
“Then Butler came into the field and they were putting green people on the cover of his books but not black people. I didn’t let that sour me because then my enemies would win.”
Far Beyond the Stars paved the way for the Star Trek franchise to embrace a more sophisticated portrayal, and its legacy can be seen in how Discovery delivers multiple stories about systemic racism, homosexuality, and non-binary issues. But it’s also arguably much bolder in its treatment of race and racism than anything that followed in the world of Star Trek.
“I find Discovery rather insufferable,” admits Hassler-Forest. “Because it sometimes feels more like a TED talk on social injustice. But Far Beyond the Stars is a rare episode that is so gripping because it speaks to historical legacy and the complexities of racial politics.”
The power of Far Beyond the Stars still resonates today. As a writer of color, like Benny’s character, I work in a white-dominated industry (92% of UK journalists are white) and everyone who orders my stories is white. International publications have told me that the stories of marginalized communities “are not something their readers are interested in” and that my ideas are “too specialized”. It sounds like the language used is less harsh compared to what the Bennys of this world would have encountered in 1953, but the result is the same that – like Benny, we all operate within a white chain of command.
More broadly, Far Beyond the Stars offered a blueprint for how science fiction can weave difficult contemporary issues, such as systemic racism, into a compelling storyline. It’s pretty amazing to think that the most disorienting world Star Trek has depicted was not somewhere in space but New York City in 1953, reminding viewers that any threat to humanity, and the people of color in particular, are faced by extraterrestrials could hardly be worse than the hatred that burns within our own society.
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