Star Trek: Strange New Worlds heads to the franchise’s past to tell adventure stories for a bright, optimistic future—but its very first episode has looked to our own recent history to provide a proxy that has some very unfortunate connotations.
Part of the first episode of the new series, titled “Strange New Worlds” itself, sees the Enterprise’s Captain Pike (Anson Mount), Lt. Spock (Ethan Peck), and Lt. Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) beam down to an alien world, Kiley 279, in an attempt to recover missing Starfleet officers in the wake of a First Contact meeting. The trio arrives to find the world a pre-warp civilization being torn apart by a conflict between the planetary government and a local uprising—one that threatens to boil over to disaster when Enterprise discovers the government has managed to reverse-engineer a matter-antimatter reactor thanks to recent Federation warp signatures near their world, and has developed it into a devastating weapon.
Shortly after the away team lands on Kiley 279, they come across a crowd of civilians watching a news broadcast on an outside monitor, discussing an overnight series of protests taking place across the Kiley civilization. However, the footage shown is from much closer to our home than the world of Star Trek: it’s footage taken during the late 2013-early 2014 civil unrest in Ukraine known as “Euromaidan,” or the Maidan Uprising.
The unrest began in the wake of then-President Viktor Yanukovych and the Azarov Government choosing to not sign the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement, a deal that would eventually be ratified in 2017. Despite support from the Ukrainian parliament for the deal—which committed Ukraine to following several standards and regulations goals in line with the rest of the European Union, in exchange for political, research, and economic aid—Yanukovych, seen as a close ally of Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin, chose instead to pursue a closer relationship with the Eurasian Economic Union after the Russian government put pressure on the Azarov Government to reject the deal.
Widespread protests across the nation—most notably at Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square, in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, earning the movement its name—eventually climaxed in February of 2014 with the “Revolution of Dignity,” which saw over 100 protestors killed in violent clashes with police forces, and the eventual dissolution of the Azarov Goverment and the ousting of Yanukovych as Ukraine’s president, followed shortly thereafter by Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. The conflict between Ukraine’s eastern regions and Russian-backed paramilitary forces persisted for eight years, itself culminating in the ongoing Russian invasion of the country.
Footage from the Maidan Uprising is not the only archival protest footage used in the episode—later on in the episode, Captain Pike shows the Kiley 279 government a selection of footage from Earth’s history as a precedent to World War III in Star Trek’s timeline, notably using footage from the January 6th 2021 riots at the U.S. Capitol as Pike draws a direct line between a “second Civil War, and then the Eugenics War, and then finally just World War III.” The context of the Maidan footage, however (which, just as the January 6th footage includes notable real-world imagery such as the U.S. Capitol and American flags, clearly features, albeit briefly, several Ukrainian flags being waved), is quite different.
“Star Trek has always been a show that deals with social issues and we really didn’t want to shy away from that. It was really important for us to make sure that piece, it’s an essential piece of the Roddenberry legacy,” co-showrunner Henry Alonso Myers recently told Cinemablend about the decision to incorporate footage from January 6th into the series. “As we’re looking at how to reinvent and reuse all those things for the 21st century we were trying to figure out how this story could speak to our time. Whenever you do sci-fi, it inevitably speaks to the present. The stories of the original series are really about the social issues of the 1960s. Just the act of doing a science fiction show that deals with social issues, whether we intend it to or not, always means that it’s going to deal with the present.”
Pike initially describes events the January 6th footage is used under as a conflict that “started with a fight for freedoms,” before it eventually transitions to original footage to depict Star Trek’s World War III, while the Maidan footage—which Myers did not address—used to depict riots on Kiley earlier in the episode is described by newscaster narration as an uprising by “seditious elements” opposing the Kiley government. There’s also the fact that using footage of the Ukrainian protests out of context right now, as the Russian invasion of the country continues into a second month of fighting, comes across as somewhat tasteless:
io9's reached out to Paramount for comment on the decision to use archival footage in this way, as well as to respond to concerns about the sensitivity of using such footage during the ongoing conflict. We’ll update this piece if we hear back.
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