How a Podcast Revisits Milestones of Asian American Representation in the ‘Star Trek’ Universe
With the third season of “Star Trek: Discovery” airing its finale on Thursday, Jan. 7, it is difficult to overstate what a significant milestone this season marked for representation across the franchise.
Case in point, the series introduced a romantic relationship between the first non-binary and transgender characters in the “Star Trek” universe, played respectively by a non-binary and a trans actor.
This recent spotlight is part of an extended conversation on representation across the franchise that fans like Phil Yu have been following over the years. To celebrate the steppingstones, Yu, who founded the “Angry Asian Man” blog centering on Asian American representation in Hollywood, launched a podcast in August, on which he hosts hour-long conversations with “All the Asians on ‘Star Trek.’”
While Yu half-jokingly titled his podcast, he tells Variety now that “the name points out that there are just enough [Asians] involved to make a podcast out of it but not so many that it isn’t impossible to actually interview every Asian person on ‘Star Trek.’”
“Because you could never make a podcast called all the white people on ‘Star Trek,’” he adds.
Since its debut, the podcast has featured actors Clyde Kusatsu, Michelle Krusiec and Grace Lynn Kung, as well as writers Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt, many of whom Yu has known from running his blog for two decades. Conversations with actors cover everything from booking a cameo role in one episode of a series, getting on set and transforming into that role with costumes and make-up; with writers he discusses building new roles that belong in that universe.
In an early episode, actor Tim Lounibos discusses how the writers reimagined his biracial identity in creating Lieutenant Danny Kwan, a biracial character with a recognizable Chinese American last name.
“Based on what I’ve seen, it doesn’t really seem like the writers thought much of it — they went as far to create a character who was Asian,” says Yu. “And I think a lot of times, based on my conversations, it’s really the actors who are embodying and breathing into life that aspects of their identities.”
“Star Trek” has indeed pushed the boundaries for diverse casting, ever since the original TV series cast a Black woman, Nichelle Nichols, and Asian American man, George Takei, in 1966. But in Yu’s podcast, guests unpack the flaw of a universe in which race doesn’t exist.
“There’s very little that touches on how anybody’s racial or cultural identity impacts what they’re bringing to their characters,” says Yu. “Getting to talk to these actors is a way of asking, ‘Being one of the few Asian Americans on set, being involved in this production, what part of the character, for you, was Asian American?’ Their approach to ‘Star Trek’ as Asian actors, it’s an interesting thought process that we don’t get to see on screen.”
In speaking to his interview with Keone Young, who portrayed Buck Bokai in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” Yu says, “Keone plays a baseball player, and it’s such a small moment in the entire series but his character is so memorable. As he says, he brought his character the history of baseball in the Japanese American community, which is very rich, very storied. It adds that extra wrinkle to the character.”
Yu has no immediate plans on speaking with Vietnamese American actor Ian Alexander but hopes to eventually invite him once their newly introduced character arc further unfolds.
He also wants to bring on actors who were series regulars of past “Star Trek” shows: “the people fans can name when they think of Asians on ‘Star Trek,’” says Yu. “But right now, I’m still having a blast talking to people who were on that one memorable episode, because it allows me to have more nuanced conversations on the audition, the make-up, the set. But there are series regulars I want to book like George Takei, John Cho. And if I got Michelle Yeoh, that would be the time to pack up the show.”