This page is dedicated to Sonequa Martin-Green, the first woman of color to play the lead in a Star Trek Franchise. Each month I will explore things about the fascinating character they call Michael Burnham.
As all Star Trek fans, I was elated that the franchise was returning to the air. It’s been over a decade since the series has aired new episodes of the show we all know and love. The blockbuster movies only wet our appetites for more Trek.
Now on CBS All Access, by subscription, Star Trek fans can enjoy a fresh look at Gene Roddenberry’s foresight, in a new series reboot called Star Trek: Discovery, which continues to include people of color in his vision of the future.
I’ve decided to start with the reason this female character has a male name.
We have the show runner (at the time) Bryan Fuller, who has a signature move of giving his female protagonists masculine names. After tossing a few names around, the show writers came up with Michael. The name, fell in well with the shows message of open mindedness and diversity.
Sonequa Martin-Green expressed enthusiasm about the name, liking the symbolism and anticipating a more gender fluid and equal opportunity future. About the name, she stated “I appreciate the statement it makes on it’s own, to have this woman with this name, just speaking of the amelioration of how we see men and women in the future.”
We (the fans) know the name now. But what about the character herself? Michael’s back story is still being put together in my opinion, as facts about whether she was adopted or a foster child goes back and forth. But based on what I know now, I will put in my $0.02 cents worth and go with this back story:
The Burnhams were the guests of Sarek and Amanda Grayson on Vulcan. There may have been talks of hosting the Burnhams daughter, Michael at the Vulcan Academy. Amanda was a school teacher on Earth before she married the Vulcan Ambassador Sarek, so I see this educational connection being the reason for the Burnhams to visit Vulcan in the first place. A bright human woman of color would be the first to attend the Academy and would help in diversifying Vulcan.
However, Vulcan logic extremists, having the desire to keep the Vulcan culture pure, attacked the Vulcan/Human research outpost on Doctari Alpha. The attack killed Michael’s parents and left Michael physically dead for 3 minutes. Sarek was forced to initiate a mind meld to revive her. As a result, a portion of Sareks katra remained inside her mind. At this point, I think somebody was feeling very guilty over the events on Doctari Alpha. It could have been Sareks human wife Amanda, wanting to fix a wrong by accepting Michael as her Foster child. Possibly Sarek himself hid his guilt (as a Vulcan can do) and called in favors to get her in the Academy. I see this happening because Michael is very smart. She studied quantum physics and graduated four years later at the top of her class.
This is when I believe Sarek ran out of political favors and had to make a choice. Who will go to the Vulcan Expeditionary Group to continue their education? Pure bred Vulcan’s in power would not allow both Spock and Michael to continue learning Vulcan culture. Sarek had to decide. Choose his half bred son Spock, or his human ward Michael.
Unusual for a logical man, Sarek choose from the heart. (Maybe this is why he loves human women) He decided to allow his son Spock the opportunity to further his education on Vulcan. Michael was lead to believe that she did not qualify (not smart enough) to enter into the Vulcan Expeditionary Group. When the time came for Spock to further his Vulcan education, he unexpectedly choose to join Star-fleet. This made the sacrifice of Michael’s Vulcan career pointless. Sarek, by omission, allowed Michael to believe she could not measure up to Vulcan’s higher education. She felt she let Sarek down. This lie, or omission of truth by Sarek continued through the years. Michael eventually chose a Star-fleet career under the guidance of Captain Georgiou on the USS Shenzhou.
That’s my take on Michael’s back story. I’ll be looking for more bits of information as I enjoy the series and web surf. More about Burnham on my next post.