Meanwhile the tragic romance between Benny and his fiancée Cassie treads similar ground to James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk, which is fitting as, in that same 2013 interview, Brooks quoted James Baldwin’s The Price of a Ticket, in acknowledging the forebears who had paid “the price of the ticket” for his acting career. “The reason I sit here before you is not because of me… it’s because of people named and unnamed who have prayed for me, who have sung for me, who have struggled for me,” he continued.
For Barnes, who wrote the novelisation of the episode, Far Beyond the Stars was an important piece of sci-fi history and it resonated with his life as a black sci-fi writer, who, along with likes of Samuel “Chip” Delany and Octavia E Butler, has been an outlier in a white-dominated field. “Benny was something we had never seen before in television,” he says. “Benny represented Delany who was writing sci-fi relatively early and could not have his photo on his books, could not really talk about himself. He created entertainment for children of the people who didn’t consider him human and would spit on him. He left the field, as it was not supporting him and he went into academia.”
“Then Butler came into the field and they would put green people on the cover of her books but not black people. I didn’t let this embitter me because then my enemies win.”
Far Beyond the Stars paved the way for the Star Trek franchise to embrace more sophisticated representation, and its legacy can be seen in the way Discovery boasts multiple storylines about systemic racism, queerness and non-binary issues. But it’s also arguably far bolder in its treatment of race and racism than anything that has followed in the Star Trek world.
“I find Discovery kind of insufferable,” Hassler-Forest admits. “Because it sometimes feels more like a TED talk about social injustice. But Far Beyond the Stars is a rare episode that is so compelling because it’s about the historical legacy and the complexities of racial politics.”
The power of Far Beyond the Stars still resonates today. As a writer of colour, like the character Benny, I work in a white dominated industry (92% of UK journalists are white) and every single person who commissions my articles is white. I’ve been told by international publications that stories from marginalised communities “aren’t something their readers are interested in” and my ideas are “too niche”. It feels like the language used is less harsh compared to that which the Bennys of this world would have encountered in 1953, but the result is the same as – like Benny, we’re all operating within a white chain of command.
More widely, Far Beyond the Stars offered a blueprint for how sci-fi can weave tough contemporary issues, such as systemic racism, into a compelling storyline. It’s quite amazing to think that the most disorientating world Star Trek has portrayed was not somewhere in space but New York in 1953, reminding viewers that any threat humankind, and people of colour in particular, faced from aliens could hardly be worse than the hatred that burns within our own society.
Love film and TV? Join BBC Culture Film and TV Club on Facebook, a community for cinephiles all over the world.
If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.
And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called The Essential List. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.