Meet the Lesbian Co-Showrunner Queering Star Trek: Discovery
Michelle Paradise is helming the franchise toward greater LGBTQ+ representation.
As evidenced by the profiles in Out's January/February issue, Star Trek: Discovery is one of television’s queerest shows. Out space heroes like Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz), Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio), and Gray (Ian Alexander) routinely perform feats of derring-do aboard the U.S.S. Discovery. Behind the scenes and the camera, there are LGBTQ+ folks and allies ushering in a universe of rainbow representation for the long-running sci-fi franchise.
Michelle Paradise, in the captain’s chair as Discovery’s co-showrunner, helps guide the writers’ room in crafting these groundbreaking storylines. Diversity is an imperative for her. “From the moment I’ve come on to help run the show, we’ve always talked about the need for and benefits of a diverse cast, and people being able to see themselves on-screen.”
“That’s very much in the tradition of the original series,” she adds, noting how the Star Trek: The Original Series creator, Gene Roddenberry, went where no man had gone before, beaming a racially diverse cast into America’s living rooms. But it wasn’t until the 2017 Discovery premiere that out central characters would become canon: first, gay couple Culber and Stamets, then Adira and Gray, who are nonbinary and trans.
LOUIS VUITTON Button Up, Pant, and Sneaker
Expanding Star Trek’s diversity is a common writers’ room topic. “‘What kind of characters do we have?’ ‘Who else do we need?’ ‘What more do we need in visibility?’ ‘Who is not represented?’ And those are…discussions that we have on a regular basis,” says Paradise.
The goal is great storytelling in an inclusive universe that resonates with real-life viewers. “If just one person gets to see themselves in a new way or gets to feel hope or optimism or support or possibility from seeing the show and seeing the stories that we tell, and the actors that we’ve cast…then I will have considered it all a success,” she says.
Paradise has brought LGBTQ+ representation to the screen before: her first developed show was Logo’s Exes and Ohs (2007), which centered on a filmmaker, played by herself, navigating the intricacies of lesbian dating. She later became a staff writer on CW’s The Originals, a spin-off of The Vampire Diaries, then joined the Discovery team in its second season. She was promoted to co-showrunner, alongside Discovery co-creator Alex Kurtzman, for the third season.
Discovery has had many out creatives: Bryan Fuller created the show with Kurtzman, and Aaron Harberts (Pushing Daisies) served as co-showrunner in season 1. Paradise credits ally Kurtzman with aiding in authentic LGBTQ+ casting: “Alex has championed all this from the beginning: queer characters being played by queer actors.”
“I’m so proud to get to be part of that and to continue pushing that forward with him,” she says. “It is pretty great because growing up, I didn’t see a lot of that on TV. What I saw was pretty stereotypical, and those kinds of things can be very harmful.”
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Paradise knows the importance of representation firsthand and the positive impact that visibility can have on viewers who, historically, may not have seen themselves represented in the culture. “Making sure that other people feel seen…I definitely feel a responsibility for that,” she asserts.
As for her own story, she attended Brigham Young University and came out shortly after graduating, when she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. There, it was “a bit easier to be a gay person,” she shares. But she credits an “amazing group of friends” she found at BYU as part of her journey. “I found my community, if you will.”
Paradise feels that kinship with the U.S.S. Discovery crew. “They are found family as well,” Paradise observes of the characters, folks from far-flung backgrounds and planets who discovered community and purpose while adrift through space and time.
Moreover, many women occupy positions of power in the Discovery universe. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) sits in the Discovery captain’s chair; the Starfleet president is Laira Rillak (Chelah Horsdal). Paradise also recognizes how important her own helming of TV’s most prestigious science-fiction show is — and how hard this career path can still be for women.
“It seems like such an impossible thing going into this business in the first place. There’s no one path to get here. There are 10 million people who want to do it. It’s just hard.”
“I try to do my best every day. I try to do a good job here on this show. And if someone out there looks and sees me as a model for something positive, then I’m very happy to be that,” Paradise says. She paraphrases Martin-Green, who made herstory as the first Black woman to lead a Star Trek series as a captain: “It tells little girls, ‘I can do that too.’”
New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery drop Thursdays on Paramount+.
LOUIS VUITTON Trench, Button Up, and Pant; Photographed at AKA WEST HOLLYWOOD
Michelle Paradise is featured in Out's January/February 2022 issue, a special LGBTQ+ Star Trek edition appearing on newsstands February 22. Support queer media and subscribe — or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.