Star Trek Creator Gene Roddenberry Laid The Foundation For Asian Representation in Pop Culture

Roddenberry was ahead of his time, according to Star Trek fan and writer, Karen Ni, “Back in the 1960s, he already intuited that there needed to be a representation of minorities in Star Trek. They would be seen as real people.”

George Takei played Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek TV series. He is a Japanese-American cast to represent all of Asia. The character’s name came from the Sulu Sea, touching several Asian countries.

In an interview, Takei recalled his first table read for the pilot of the sci-fi TV series where the show’s creator Gene Roddenberry explained the core of the show, saying “the Starship Enterprise was a metaphor for Starship Earth, and the strength of this starship lay in its diversity coming together.”

Sulu was not shown as an Asian stereotypical character at any point in the series rather, he was presented as a regular person with a sense of humor and a loyal buddy who sticks by his crew. He was a normal person, yet he had quirks, friends, and hobbies that were unrelated to his Asian origin. 

“His presence and personality helped to positively shape Western views of Asian Americans. Other Asian actors have since followed in his footsteps,” says Karen.

Star Trek continues to include Asian Americans beyond The Original Series. Miles O’Brien and his wife Keiko are an interracial couple on ‘Deep Space Nine’. In ‘Discovery’ and ‘Picard’, female Asian main characters including Emperor and Captain Philippa Georgiou, and the synth Soji Asha, were regular folks who appear to look Asian. Harry Kim on ‘Voyager’, is good-looking, educated, well-rounded, but an awkward dater.

“This new way of casting characters feels like progress.” Karen adds, “It reflects the increased integration of Asians into mainstream culture.”