‘Star Trek Into Darkness’: Where Are the Women?

Star Trek Into Darkness movie poster
Written by Amanda Rodriguez
Spoiler Alert
JJ Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness came out this weekend, so with fingers crossed and fledgling hope, I went to review the film for Bitch Flicks. Though I love me some Benedict Cumberbatch as well as most TV permutations of the Star Trek franchise, the movie was overly long with a predictable plot and an over-reliance on the image of people being sucked into space like ants into a vacuum. Not only that, but the lack of female characters was stark, and their accompanying lack of depth and three-dimensionality was, frankly, depressing. This latest iteration of Star Trek didn’t even pass the Bechdel Test. In fact, I’m not even sure the two women with speaking roles were even in a single scene together.First, we’ve got Lieutenant Nyota Uhura portrayed by Zoe Saldana. In Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek series, Uhura is extremely intelligent, ambitious, capable, and sees Kirk’s misogynistic bullshit for what it really is. Though she is generally a strong female character, the film still exploits her femaleness by overemphasizing her sexuality. They do this by keeping her and all the other female Starfleet members in those ridiculously impractical short dresses and having a gratuitous scene of her in her underwear.

Uhura strips in her quarters not realizing that Kirk is lecherously looking on.

She is attracted to the intelligence of Spock, and the end of the film has the two falling in love. That, my friends, is the end of Uhura as an autonomous, interesting character. At the beginning of Star Trek Into Darkness, Uhura is dressing Spock for an away mission. How is that even remotely her job as a communications officer? She then proceeds to be childishly passive aggressive toward Spock because he’s displeased her and bickers with him during a dangerous away mission to Kronos, bringing her captain into the argument. Talk about unprofessional. Not only that, but her single valiant effort to placate a Klingon group that discovers them through the use of her knowledge of their language and culture fails miserably, nearly getting them all killed, thus proving diplomacy and non-violence are not valid tactical options for Starfleet.

Next, there’s Dr. Carol Marcus, played by Alice Eve, who is strong and spunky (stowing away aboard the Enterprise in order to investigate her father’s top secret weaponry), but, for some reason, it’s important to show her in her underwear as well.

Guess it was crucial to the plot to learn that science officers do, in fact, wear undergarments to match their blue uniforms.

Dr. Marcus is a female character who could’ve been so much more. She is given no history and her presence has little context other than to break up the sausage-fest with a bit of blonde eye candy. While she stands up to her father, who is the most powerful man in Starfleet, the original series character upon whom she is based is infinitely more compelling than this simple doctor of physics with a focus on weaponry. In fact, the original Dr. Marcus was a biologist who discovered how to create new worlds and new life. A weapons specialist is antithetical to that kind of focus on sustaining life and ecosystem balance, nevermind the powerful intellect and will that go into such a scientific endeavor. Though Abrams changes the timeline, it’s unrealistic to think that the doctor’s long path down the road of biology toward Project Genesis would’ve started after that timeline change. Due to the original character’s romantic history with Kirk replete with their son being born and Marcus choosing to pursue her work and raise the boy on her own, we know that Abrams is setting up Kirk and Marcus to fall in love in the third installment of his reboot. If we’ve learned anything from Uhura, we know that’s the kiss of death for any possibility of Marcus’ unfolding complexity and agency within the films.

I would’ve been happy, however, if Star Trek Into Darkness could have admitted to itself what its true genre is: Brokeback Mountain in space. This is actually a bromance about the love between Kirk and Spock that climaxes when Kirk sacrifices himself to save his ship. The two men are separated by glass as Kirk is irradiated in an inversion of the finale of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan when Spock dies. In both versions, the two men press their hands to the glass, but in Abrams’ reboot, Spock is overcome and weeping; the intensity of both men’s emotions is overwhelming as they say their impossible goodbyes.

Spock and Kirk say their tearful, love-filled goodbyes.

Spock then goes on an enraged rampage to destroy Khan and avenge Kirk’s death. Nothing about his demeanor throughout both films suggests that he would display this intensity of emotion in relation to Uhura. In fact, we have as an example his resigned acceptance of death earlier in the film, in which Spock is able to detach from his emotions towards Uhura and the impending reality of his own death. Not so with the death of Kirk.

Though the homoerotic subtext is strong in the finale of this film, JJ Abrams never really takes any risks with his reboot. The film hints at widespread corruption among Starfleet coupled with a clandestine militarization of the Federation, but Abrams chickens out from truly shaking up the Star Trek universe by having the corruption be limited to a single megalomaniac admiral. Abrams doesn’t depict women in power. How many women were around the table when the highest ranking members of Starfleet and their first officers assembled? I didn’t see any. Aboard the Enterprise, there are only the two women in this article (of dubious depth and agency) who have more than a single line of dialogue, and their outfits continue to model an outdated 70’s mode of sexism.

Our beloved Enterprise goes down, unable to fly under the weight of so much mediocrity.

Star Trek is the future for Christ’s sake. There’s no reason to continue to parrot the shortcomings of a series that always strove to show us a better, more egalitarian future but failed on many levels because it couldn’t see the ways in which it fell victim to the limiting ideology of its own era. This reboot may even have regressed from the days of Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, all shows that took the tenets of the original series and progressively attempted to push the boundaries on subjects of race, gender, sexuality, capitalism, imperialism, etc. In fact, Star Trek Into Darkness reveals that, as a culture, we are still falling victim to that same limiting ideology. Star Trek Into Darkness even has trouble imagining a future that is free from racial hierarchy and the gender binary. This film struggles and fails to see a world that has advanced beyond our limitations as a people and as a culture. Frankly, that is the poorest kind of science fiction because we look to sci-fi to either expose our contemporary hamartia or to teach us how to dream of a better, freer existence that is full of possibility and progress.

  • For the record (though this doesn’t take away from your point), there was ONE woman in the starfleet meeting… and only one alien in a room full of white men… am I to believe that in a system where military rank is measured by a series of tests there are NO asians in the leadership? 😛

  • There’s a difference between being peacefully resigned to your own impending death, and being grief-struck at the death of a person you love. If Uhura died, we may (or may not) have seen a similar emotional reaction from Spock. But comparing his own death to someone else’s is not a fair comparison. But yeah, Brokeback in space. I think Kirk’s lecherousness were the writer’s way of saying “no homo” to people who aren’t familiar with the old Trek. Can people really not accept platonic love between men without making them creepy womanizers?

  • THANK YOU. This is precisely what I have been trying to explain to my friends and family. My first problem with the film was that they chose a movie that was already amazing to reboot rather than taking a story that had potential and was implemented poorly (Star Trek V comes to mind). However, after actually seeing Into Darkness, I was beyond pissed at the problem you’ve so eloquently described. I truly hope that these criticisms are taken into account should another Trek film grace theaters. What is Trek without the biting social commentary?

  • The female characters have to be constantly seen in their underwear? Really? Is that a new Star Fleet regular? That is beyond ridiculous, utterly gratuitous and pretty disrespectful even if they were fully developed

    But to have them not having any significant role – even REDUCE the role their characters played in the original (now very old) film? That’s revolting.

    So the utopian wonderful future – and they still have only a token female presence, virtually no women in positions of power and the women on screen for any length of time need to strip off at some point?!

    Whose utopia is this? Straight white men it seems, because it sure isn’t for anyone else.

    “if Star Trek Into Darkness could have admitted to itself what its true genre is: Brokeback Mountain in space.”

    Whoa, no, this is hella offensive. Brokeback Mountain wasn’t “bromance” it was a gay relationship. And you’re comparing it to a film that had not one GBLT character – a franchise that has failed completely with GBLT characters entirely. You complain about representation and then make a joke that insulting ignores another major representation problem on the film? Not impressive. Especially if you decide that a man could only possibly be overcome with emotion at seeing another man die if there’s romance involved as “homoerotic subtext”.

  • That gratuitous underwear shot (pictured in the article) was when I realized the purpose of women in this movie and began to feel disappointed and alienated. I was thinking, is this going to be the strong female character I can identify with? Then: Oh… no… she’s here to be a sex object. The rest of the movie I noticed a plethora of short skirts, damsels in distress, and women generally being portrayed as weak, sexual objects. The two main female characters could have been so much more. Uhura didn’t even get much credit for her role in the final fight. If this is supposed to be a reboot, they need to update their views on women…

  • I use the term “bromance” to mean homosexual love between two men. Perhaps that term has become de-sexualized over time and with overuse. I also disagree that the Star Trek franchise has completely failed with regard to GBLT characters (certainly this film did as it fails to be progressive in any sense of the word). Star Trek’s willingness to address gay marriage and transgender issues via the Trill is worthy when compared to other mainstream entertainment sources (even though I don’t think they get it right). Check out my Bitch Flicks article on it if you get a chance: http://www.btchflcks.com/2013/02/trill-gender-and-sexuality-metaphors-in.html

  • This is the point – if you’re using “bromance” to mean a romantic relationship between men, it doesn’t apply to Star Trek – ANY Star Trek. If you’re using it to refer to friends, it doesn’t apply and to compare the two both brushes over the erasure of this film and is a pretty offensive dismissal of actual gay relationships

    And 5 different versions of Star Trek (not including the animated series), covering 28 seasons, several films and more – but the few Trill make it super inclusive and progressive for GBLT people?

    Wow, you have extremely different standards for inclusion based on who is being included, it seems.

    Add in the Trill being aliens (yay, GBLT parallels only with alien species because GBLT folk are so different) and requires an entirely alien being in your head who was preciously in the head of the opposite to justify being attracted to the same sex or being trans (and the two are conflated).

    This is something we’re supposed to hail? Nearly complete erasure over the vast series and then some, well, not GBLT people, but some alien parallels to stand in for us? (Something you actively reject for POC parallels but think is fine for us?) I think I’d have to have a lot less self-respect to be anything but insulted by these

    Star Trek is the future for gods’ sake. You would think that with 5 entirely different crew and innumerable characters, there’d be some GBLT people around – not some vague alien parallels (and how many of them in all these seasons?) both of which end in tragedy. It’s depressing that there are such low expectations for GBLT inclusion

  • Alice Eve looked pretty fine though eh?

  • in fairness an asian had just blown up their top secret weapons base, so they might have been a bit wary. Plus ca change…

  • Ugh. Way to miss the point.

  • also for the ACTUAL record, there were at least four (possibly five) women in the starfleet meeting (http://www.moviefleece.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Star-Trek-Into-Darkness-61.jpg) It’s still only five out of 15 or 16, but certainly more than one. Regardless, I do agree with much of the article, and most of the points presented here…

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