Burton Talks Drama, Diversity, Respect & 'Reading Rainbow'

By Michelle
February 7, 2006 - 7:30 PM

LeVar Burton (LaForge) brought his VISOR to visit G4's Sarah Lane, joking that he was afraid she wouldn't recognise him without it.

"I brought a little show and tell," Burton joked in a video interview at G4's web site, pulling the VISOR out of a box when the host said that it was good to be able to look him in the eyes. After she observed that it looked a lot like a girl's banana clip hairpiece, he admitted, "It was actually modeled after a woman's hair retention device."

A lifelong fan of the Star Trek franchise, Burton said that he "watched Star Trek all the time" in his childhood as well as reading a lot of sci-fi. But the books were frustrating for him because there were rarely people of color represented in speculative fiction. "For me, Star Trek was really important because it was one of the few representations of the future where I saw people who looked like me," he observed. "Seeing Nichelle Nichols on the bridge of the Enterprise was really important." He added that he had had conversations with Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan) and astronaut Mae Jemison, who felt the same way.

Lane inquired why Star Trek actors and the series itself seem to exude social consciousness, asking Burton what he thought the deeper meaning of the series was. "I think Star Trek can be enjoyed on a lot of different levels," replied Burton, citing its action and storytelling. But to him, Star Trek is about respect for all life forms, or, to borrow Gene Roddenberry's phrase, infinite diversity in infinite combinations:

One of the things Star Trek says is that when the future comes, we will have successfully dealt with all of those issues of race and sex and class, and we will have evolved to a point as human beings where we've got some of our stuff together. And we can take that consciousness out and explore...this is something to shoot for, I think."

Though Burton directed episodes of the later Star Trek series, Lane asked whether the show on which he starred remained his favourite, and Burton confessed that it did. "I think The Next Generation has a specific and very special feeling...I think the fans really embraced it, and I think that's because they got the sense that the actors on the show really cared about each other," he said. "Star Trek has always been about storytelling and the relationships among the crew, and because we really did all get along, I think those relationships really showed up on the screen."

As for the other series with which Burton is closely associated, Reading Rainbow, he explained that they would shoot five new episodes this year, marking the series' 24th season on the air. PBS is "really strapped for cash", noted Burton, but "We're hanging in there."

The full audio interview is here.

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