Sonequa Martin-Green On The Importance Of Being Star Trek’s First Black Female Lead

We caught up with Martin-Green to get the scoop on season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery.

For some, actress Sonequa Martin-Green didn’t exist before she won our hearts as Sasha on AMC’s The Walking Dead. Some, like yours truly, are aware that Sonequa Martin-Green has been fighting the good Hollywood fight for over a decade.

A while ago, The Shadow League was in attendance at a press junket for the CBS All Access show Star Trek: Discovery, of which Martin-Green is not only the primary protagonist but she’s also the first black woman to lead a Star Trek series.

This series explores the bloody Federation-Klingon War from the viewpoint of the crew of the USS Discovery. Sonequa plays Michael Burnham, a science specialist aboard the ship. She is the first primary Star Trek protagonist not to be a starship captain or commander of some sort.

Michael Burnham, portrayed by Green, was the former First Officer of the USS Shenzhou is human, but was raised on Vulcan customs by Sarek, the father of Spock.

Due to her rash actions, the USS Shenzhou suffers catastrophic damage during a showdown with a Klingon bird of war.  She is court-martialed but later ends up on the Discovery for reasons that are eventually revealed to her.

After a solid first season, Sonequa was immediately taken aback at the noticeable changes in questioning when she entered the room following a panel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyNVHwg0gq4

“It’s such a different experience now, isn’t it?” she asked the gathered press as she approached the roundtables. ‘Last year we were talking about what it was going to be, this year we’re talking about what it is. People have seen it now and we can have conversations about Michael Burnham.

People have seen the story, they know who we are, what we’re trying to do and what we struggle with. It’s always nice when you can post conversations about something that’s already been shared.”

“That’s how it feels! And the support and the love is really powerful and humbling.” she continued.

The Shadow League: Will there be any crossover efforts along this timeline?

Sonequa Martin-Green:  “Where you pick us up is face-to-face with the U.S.S. Enterprise. So, there’s crossover there. I mean, there are crossovers already with Admiral Pike being on the ship now, and now we know Spock is definitely coming. So, there’s crossover there as well. That is going to be its own thing and they’re doing something very special with that. Other than that, nothing else has come along so far.”

TSL: Talk about the unusual practice of giving female Star Trek characters male names and its significance to you?

Sonequa Martin-Green: “From the very beginning, Bryan Fuller, who created the show with Alex Kurtzman, wanted to continue with a style of his. Which is giving his female leads male names. There was also mention of the archangel Michael in the writers’ room when they were developing the character.”

“When I came aboard, I had to create parts of the character myself, and I added that I was named after my father. It’s a subtle yet poignant socio-political statement to say that things are a little more open in the future and a girl can be named after her dad. I know that’s the case for some people today, which is amazing. It’s getting so that we’re not so black and white about labels and names and all that kind of stuff, which is amazing. So, I’m essentially Michael Burnham Jr.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEGYnirr01s

TSL: What does being a black woman lead of a Star Trek series mean to you?

Sonequa Martin-Green: “It really knocks you off your feet because you have an idea of what this kinda represents, and how powerful it is. Especially as a black woman, I know what it’s like growing up and not having it, having it only one way, or having it one-dimensionally.”

“To have a black woman like THIS, who is powerful, but who is vulnerable, who is effective, who is a genius, who is a servant, I can only imagine how that might affect a young girl, especially a young black girl or young black boy.

To see it actually happen is another thing altogether. To see somebody say that to you, and to see them write it, to have them send it to you in letter format, or to see it in an online message, is another thing altogether because then it knocks you back.”

TSL: Why do you think Star Trek remains such a popular brand after all these years?

Sonequa Martin-Green: “We all like to look at these pictures of utopias because it’s very calming, soothing and encouraging to look at. But what I love about Star Trek: Discovery is you see how hard it is to maintain it. That’s a message we need to know today, that it will take everything we have. It’s uncomfortable and it’s difficult, and it’s inconvenient, but it’s necessary. It’s daily and it’s moment to moment.”

“For my character, who’s like the ultimate weapon, you get in there and you run and you fight.”

Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery returns to CBS: All Access today and you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t binge on the first season. High-quality acting, high-quality production, and high-quality storytelling make for an entertaining series for both Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike.