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GUEST POST: For Black History Month, Subrina Wood Meditates On "Surviving the Center Seat - Black female Captains from Tryla Scott to Carol Freeman" by Subrina Wood

Captain Tryla Scott is a character from Star Trek: The Next Generation played by Ursaline Bryant. She had only two scenes in “Conspiracy,” (S1, E 25) but she made an impression on me. Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself described Captain Scott as the person who became captain the fastest in Starfleet history. That beats the 32-year-old Captain Kirk as well as Captains Archer, Pike, and April who all came before her. I can still remember my excitement watching that scene in an abandoned mine shaft on Dytallix B. Here was an amazing new character, a strong, confident, young Black woman, who was the best of the best. Captain Walker Keel, Picard’s best and oldest friend introduced her to Picard with a mentor’s pride. It’s no wonder that my ears burned for her when Picard shook her hand and asked, “Are you that good?” Welcome to the world of Commanding-While-Black-Female, where despite the four full pips, the superlative recommendations, and record-breaking performance somebody is free to get in your face and ask if you’re really that good.

Captain Tryla Scott could have been such a great recurring character, or even just a super one-time character like Captain Pike in the Original Series or Captain Shaw in Picard. But instead, Captain Scott starts a peculiar Trek trend that the SyFy Sistas call “she was dead when we met her.” It’s a trend where any Black women who first appears in Trek ‘fully pipped’ dies before the final credits roll. 

TNG’s “Interface”, (S7, E3) introduced another fully pipped Black female when the legendary Madge Sinclair played LeVar Burton’s (Geordi LaForge) mother as she did in the multi-Emmy winning miniseries Roots. This time, she was Captain Silva LaForge commanding the USS Hera. Trek completed this poignant Roots mini reunion with a cameo by Ben Vereen (Chicken George) as Captain LaForge’s husband. I was so happy that I didn’t care when Starfleet reported Captain La Forge missing at the top of the show. I just knew the emotional payoff of a last second rescue of a Starfleet mother by her Starfleet son was coming. Right? Wrong. Instead, we found out that a flaming alien manipulated Geordi’s VISOR and appeared as his mom. Captain La Forge and the USS Hera and its crew had simply disappeared without a trace. Captain La Forge was presumedly dead days before we met her.

Of course, Madge Sinclair also played the very first Black female Captain in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). It was disheartening to watch as she struggled to stay alive. Was she gone in the first fifteen minutes of the film? I prayed in a packed theater that Captain Kirk would get the whales and save that captain. One of my favorite scenes in The Voyage Home was when her ship’s life-support systems came back on. And between you and me, I’m certain that captain only survived because she was under the radar without a name.

The next Black female Captain showed up in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s “The Sound of Her Voice” (S6, E25). The exhausted crew of the Defiant responded to a distress call from the sole crash survivor of the USS Olympia, Capt. Lisa Cusak (voiced by Black actor Debra Wilson). For three days the crew of the Defiant strained to reach her before the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere killed her. To keep her spirits up Sisko, O’Brien and Bashir take shifts talking to the captain on the comm lines. Cusak bonds with each of them and actually solved their personal issues. What comes next can’t be a spoiler. Metreon radiation created a communication time lag. Capt. Lisa Cusak was dead three years before we met her! 

When Sonequa Martin Green debuted in Star Trek: Discovery as Commander Michael Burnham, I was ecstatically anxious…again. Would this Trek trend kill off yet another young, brilliant sister? I reasoned that she’d make it through the two-part pilot not because she was the star but because she was missing that fourth pip. But that Trek trend killed off Asian female Captain Phillipa Georgiou instead. What in the BIPOC world of Trek in 2015 was going on? As Discovery Season 4 had Captain Burnham commanding in the center seat, I knew it was only a matter of time before the writing or the ratings ended her.

When Discovery ends later in 2024, our lone surviving Black female Captain will be Lower Deck’s Carol Freeman. As Dawnn Lewis described her, “if Captain Kirk and Captain Sisko had a baby.” Captain Freeman has amazingly survived four seasons in the center seat. This is why the SyFy Sistas named Captain Freeman as one of the Top 10 Women of Trek. Given this decades-long history of the death of Black Female captains, I praise and give thanks for Dawnn Lewis’ portrayal of Captain Carol Freeman, a Black woman who came into a Star Trek franchise fully pipped, in the center seat, ably doing her job and surviving all that the Trekverse can throw at her. Godspeed, Captain Freeman.

Original post: Daily Star Trek News

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