Star Trek Guide

Star Trek: Discovery: The cultural importance of Michael Burnham’s braids for Black viewers

Star Trek: Discovery season 3’s latest episode, Far From Home, reunited the fleet with their leader, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) – only to discover she’d been stranded without them for more than a year. 

The most notable change in her quick appearance on screen was her hairstyle, with Burnham’s cropped cut changed into long and intricately styled braids. 

While it may not mean much to some, to David Ajala, who plays Burnham’s new right-hand man Booker, it held a particular cultural importance, which he hopes translates to Black viewers. 

Speaking to, he explained: ‘I have to say I love, I just love how Michael Burnham has got her beautiful braids. It was one of the best looks and I wasn’t expecting it! Ah, I love it!

‘It suits her so well, it really does, and there’s something culturally very powerful about seeing a Black woman like that being able to have her braids, being at peace and being given the room to stretch and to be herself without having to explain herself. 

‘I think that’s very important, not just for Black women, but for people in general. Period.’ 

Typically, Black women are often seen wearing wigs and weaves on screen, with many actresses admitting they were encouraged to look more ‘eurocentric’. 

Others have stated they’ve run into trouble on set, as hair stylists aren’t used to dealing with afro hair. 

Among those who have spoken out are Lupita Nyong’o, who called out a magazine in 2017 for editing out her afro in photoshop to appear more eurocentric, and Community’s Yvette Nicole Brown, who revealed she often had to do her own hair before arriving for filming

Gabrielle Union also claimed that she was told her ‘hairstyles were too Black’ while working on America’s Got Talent. 

It’s not just actresses, with Watchmen star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II saying he’s seen stylists ‘just figuring it out’ without asking as he sat down in the chair. 

This happens away from the public eye too, with research from beauty brand Dove in December 2019 revealing Black women are a staggering 80% more likely to change their natural hair in order to be deemed more ‘socially acceptable’ in a workplace environment. 

As a result, wearing braids – a style that dates back thousands of years – can be seen as empowering for people of colour, as it allows themselves to embrace their heritage more freely. 

It’s something that David didn’t quite appreciate himself until he saw co-star Sonequa taking on the look. 

‘The thing is, me looking from the outside in, I think I kind of under underestimated, or overlooked, the importance and significance of what that means, especially for black women,’ he told us.

‘To be able to have their hair freely, and to not be policed by people’s insecurities or prejudice, I think that is such a powerful, powerful thing. 

‘This is one of the reasons why Star Trek is so special, because it’s always been at the forefront of normalizing diversity. 

‘It’s needed, and especially in a time like this, where we have so many things happening around the world. 

‘Star Trek for me just represents the light, not just the light at the end of the tunnel, but the light in all of us together, individually and collectively.’ 

As for what the hairstyle signifies for Burnham, David played coy about what the future holds, but promised something great from the character he now stands by the side of. 

‘Michael Burnham has really found a deeper essence of who she is, and not only has she found the essence of who she is, she’s happy with who she is, and who she’s becoming,’ he explained. 

‘And that’s gonna be really really special for the audience members to see.’ 

Star Trek: Discovery airs Thursdays on CBS All Access in the US, and Fridays on Netflix in the UK.

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