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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Documentary Producers Discuss the USS Emmett Till

An exclusive BlackSci-Fi.com released image of the USS Emmett Till.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) stands as a testament to some of the best sci-fi storytelling that has ever been produced. The series ran for 7 seasons and is considered by some Trek fans (including this very writer) as the best Star Trek series ever created. During its run, the show dealt with issues of religious faith, bigotry, racism, wartime PTSD, and a host of other topics. DS9 has gone on to live through such iterations as comic books, novels, and even an MMORPG.  Fortunately though, due to a successful Indiegogo campaign held in 2017, DS9 will be getting its very own documentary very, very soon titled What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

From the documentary’s website, What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, will take a detailed look at this historic series and consider the reasons Deep Space Nine went from a family outcast to a Star Trek mainstay. The film will also contain a “what if” segment in which the original writers brainstorm a theoretical 8th season of the show.

As a part of the “season 8”, it was announced that a new starship, titled the USS Emmett Till would enter the Star Trek canon. Designed by famed starship designer John Eaves, the ship would be captained by Captain Ezri Dax, a character introduced during the later seasons of DS9,  portrayed by Nicole de Boer. For those unfamiliar with the case of Emmett Till, Till was a 14-year-old African American teen from Chicago, IL who was murdered/ lynched when visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi in August of 1955. In a case that was strongly reflective of the Jim Crow South/ domestic terrorism riddled USA of the time, when Till was accused of “whistling” at a white woman (which she later stated was a lie years later in 2008), he was kidnapped, tortured, then murdered days afterward by the woman’s husband and his half-brother.

The murder of Till was an act that some say was one of the many catalysts for the Civil Rights Movement, but for this writer, it was a cautionary tale relayed by relatives in my hometown of Chicago, even as a young kid in the 1990’s. A lesson that taught us that “this is what they’ll do to you”, for the simple “offense” of being a breathing black person in America. So I was beyond surprised when I saw the announcement about the naming of a Federation starship after Till.

Star Trek has a long history of naming their ships after historical individuals of note, but for me this was an extremely noteworthy occurrence. So I reached out to the filmmakers of the documentary to expand more on why this was done, noting the significance of Till’s memory for individuals like myself.  Through an emailed interview, the documentary’s executive producer/ co-director Ira Steven Behr (who also served as executive producer of DS9) and producer Kai de Mello-Folsom expanded further on the naming of the ship.

BlackSci-Fi.com:  I’ll come right out and ask: why Emmett Till?

Ira Steven Behr: Hopefully if we ever do reach some approximation of the Gene Roddenberry paradisal 24th century that question would never have to be asked. It seems to me that in order to reach a complete and healthy society we need to do two things:

1. The historical record is broken and needs to be fixed. There’s lots of information floating around, but very little context. The past is no longer even prologue, it’s pretty much ignored.

2. We have to own our mistakes, our failures. Again, it seems to me that unless we recognize and remember our mistakes, embrace them, we are doomed to repeat them over and over and over again. Say hello to the 21st century.

So, if I’m living on Federation earth 300 years from now it would make me feel good to know that as Starfleet sails among the stars Emmett Till is sailing along with them. He is remembered. We own his story. He is part of our journey.

Emmett Till

BSF: Growing up as a black kid from Southside Chicago, even as a child of the ’80s, Till’ story was told to my brother and me as a cautionary tale about racism, and to put it bluntly, white privilege. I wanted to ask, how did you first learn about the Emmett Till case? What effect did his story, and others like his, have on you?

ISB: Well that goes back a way. I can’t say exactly say with absolute certainty when I first heard about Emmett Till. I do know this, when I was ten my sister turned me on to Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A Changing album. There were two songs on that album that awakened me in a visceral way to the civil rights movement; The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll and Only Pawn in Their Game (about the murder of Medgar Evers). I figure around then I probably first heard of Emmett Till. Oddly enough Dylan had recorded a song about Emmett Till but it never made it onto one of his albums until many years later so I doubt I heard it back then. Anyway, that’s the best I can do.

BSF: DS9 is one of the many examples of Gene Roddenberry’s goal to provide a more inclusive sci-fi experience for the world, while also reflecting the best to what humanity could aspire to (even with its foibles). How do you feel that has DS9 continued this ideal onward or carried the torch so to speak?

ISB: I grew up in the Bronx. I used to joke that Deep Space Nine was all about the Bronx. So I guess I helped bring the Bronx into Gene’s 24th Century, and that made the torch burn that much brighter.

BSF: We live in an age of toxic fan culture, and the “Make America Great Again” movement. Even recent updates to the Star Trek mythos (like the casting of the first lead woman of color in a Star Trek franchise or providing Trek with more LGBTQ representation) have met with backlash. What do you say in response to those people who might have similar issues with naming this ship after a Civil Rights icon like Till?

ISB: I have a lot of respect for Star Trek fans but when it comes to the work I can’t think about their reactions. We had a ship to name. It wasn’t a big discussion. I had three initial ideas, Medgar Evers, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, and Emmett Till. I also thought of Wounded Knee as a possible name but it seemed a bit less clear (are we talking 1890 or 1973 or both?). Anyway, Emmett Till seemed like a no-brainer to me. That kid deserves his place among the stars.

BSF: Now let’s get a little bit into the nuts and bolts for the Starfleet Engineering Corp geeks. 😊 Can you talk a little bit about the process of the creation of the USS Emmett Till, some of the ship’s specs, and how John Eaves came up with the design?

The USS Emmett Till

ISB: Here’s where I let you down, big time. I am not a shipster (is that even a word?). I named it, John [Eaves] designed it with minimal input from me.

BSF:  What part does the ship play in season 8 for the series? Are the ship’s crew cognizant of the significance of the meaning of the ship’s namesake, and how would you say they treat such meaning?

Kai de Mello-Folsom: The U.S.S. Emmett Till is introduced in our theoretical episode one of Deep Space Nine Season 8 as Captain Ezri Dax’s ship, twenty years on from the events of the show’s finale. Without giving away any spoilers, I can say that it is just a small – but important – part of the larger story bringing our characters back together.

Captain Ezri Dax of The USS Emmett Till

In the context of the documentary, we only have time for broad-strokes of the writers’ ideas for a new season, but Ira and our team have discussed a vibrant back-story for this diplomatic ship which we hope to release further with Eaglemoss’ upcoming collectible model and a potential longer Writers’ Room for Season 8.

BSF: Can you give our readers an update on What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and what they can look forward to? Is there an official release date?

KMF: We were thrilled to share an early preview of What We Left Behind with crowdfunding supporters and fans last month in Los Angeles, New York, and at the Destination Star Trek: Birmingham UK convention. We are currently putting the final touches on the film, including completing remastering of the original show footage for the first time in High Definition, completing color and sound design, and preparing the film for wider release.

While we are still currently in talks with distributors and are not yet ready to share full details for the release, we are hoping to finalize and announce this soon. In the meantime, pre-orders of our DVD/Blu-Ray combo packs are available through our website at www.ds9documentary.com. We encourage fans to follow us on our social media sites to find out more information on the release, coming very soon!

BSF: Lastly, will we get Avery Brooks in the documentary? I had to ask, considering he portrayed the greatest Starfleet Captain ever, and his significance for our readers.

KMF: We’re lucky to have had the friendship of Mr. Avery Brooks during the production of the film. When we asked him to appear in a new interview, he declined for personal reasons, suggesting that he feels he’s said all he needed to about the series previously in interviews and that he would prefer to let the work stand for itself. We’ve been grateful to have his input in many forms, including the original inspiration for our mythical Season 8, and have included him in archival interviews and appearances throughout the film. He continues to be a presence, an inspiration, and OUR captain.

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Robert Jeffrey II is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in such publications as UVC Magazine, JaDore Magazine, BlackSci-Fi.com, and The Atlanta Voice Newspaper.He was chosen as a participant in the DC Comics Class of 2017 Writers Workshop . He is a regular contributor for the Tessera Guild, and his comic book work includes client work for the Centers for Disease Control, and Nitto Tires. His comic book writing includes work on such award winning/ nominated series as his creator owned series Route 3Radio Free AmerikaTerminus Team-Up, and Soul of Suw. He’s yet to fulfill his dream of pop-locking to save a community center.

Head to his website here, and you can follow him on Twitter @SYNCHRKJ, Tumblr @robdawriter , and Instagram @robertk.jeffrey.

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