One of the first science fiction stories I liked was Planet of the Apes. Obviously, it was referencing the transatlantic slavery trade as a subtext. I was too young then to know that when I watched it.

Another series I liked was Star Trek (the original series). However, I don't recall it ever tackling slavery — which would be a strange omission — given that the show was thought up, produced, and directed in the United States!

Does the original Star Trek in fact do so? I'm asking about the original series rather than The Next Generation or any spin-offs that came afterwards.

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    It's an original series semi-pro fan film - Star Trek Continues "Lolani" does deal with an Orion Slave girl trying to escape slavery. Features Lou Ferrigno in green makeup who played the Hulk originally. youtu.be/4mOpmIFTxkE Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 3:00
  • I don't think it's particularly surprising that slavery wasn't tackled in a major way in the original series, considering that the US in general was much less politically progressive back then than it is now. Roddenberry himself admitted to holding some homophobic views at the time, which he later regretted. And there was some pretty blatant sexism on the original series. TOS was a product of it's time, very progressive by 1960s standards, but not so much by today's. Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 3:01
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    To be clear, I'm not suggesting that Roddenberry wasn't interested in tackling the subject of slavery, but he had to work within the parameters of what the audience would be receptive to, and what the studio would allow. Even in the early '70s, Warner Bros. saw fit to cast David Carradine rather than Bruce Lee as the lead character in the TV series, Kung Fu, primarily on the grounds of Lee's part-Chinese ethnicity by all accounts. Rightly or wrongly, they apparently didn't think the mainly white US public was ready to embrace a non-white lead. Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 4:35
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    If TNG counts, The Measure Of A Man definitely fits. Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 10:07
  • Free the emergency medical mining holograms! Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 14:04

4 Answers 4


My favorite original series Star Trek episode, "The Gamesters of Triskelion," deals with slavery. Three members of the crew become gladiatorial slaves on a mysterious planet. Although the gamesters use the word "thrall" (the native Anglo-Saxon-derived English synonym), many narrative tropes about slavery are involved: slave collars, slave auctions, and sexual domination.

From the Wikipedia plot summary:

The Federation starship Enterprise is on a routine inspection of an unmanned station at Gamma II. Captain Kirk, Communications Officer Lt. Uhura and navigator Ensign Chekov attempt to transport, but disappear before the system is activated. Observing no signs of life from the station, Commander Spock orders a system-wide search for their missing crew members. No trace of them is found, but Spock discovers a faint ion trail, and orders the ship to follow it despite the protests of Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy, and Chief Engineer Scott.

Meanwhile, Kirk, Uhura, and Chekov find themselves in a gladiator arena on a strange planet. They are attacked by four humanoids and defend themselves for a time but are finally subdued. A humanoid calling himself Galt, Master Thrall of Triskelion, informs the three they are to be trained to participate in games to entertain his masters, the Providers. Each is fitted with a "collar of obedience" that engages when they disobey the Master Thrall's orders. Uhura, Chekov, and Kirk are assigned individual "drill thralls": Lars, Tamoon, and Shahna, respectively; Uhura and Chekov do not get along comfortably with their instructors, but Kirk develops a rapport with Shahna. After a period of training, the Providers bid for the new thralls in their currency, "quatloos".

During a run among ancient ruins outside the arena complex, Kirk tries to gain information about the Providers from Shahna, but her collar is activated when she begins to speak too freely. Kirk protests that he should have been the one punished, and when they are returned to their cells, Shahna expresses her appreciation for this. When she moves to embrace him, Kirk knocks her unconscious, and uses her key to free himself, Uhura, and Chekov, but they are stopped by Galt.

  • Oh, good catch; I was just remembering "gladiators."
    – DavidW
    Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 2:37
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    "but Kirk develops a rapport with Shahna" Figures. Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 20:55
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    very clever of them to choose the word "thrall" -- more or less identical in meaning it both sounds more interesting/exotic than slave and also is less politically charged. seems like nowadays we are moving towards "enslaved person."
    – releseabe
    Commented Nov 27, 2020 at 10:17

One could argue that “The Cloud Minders” from Star Trek the original series deals with slavery -- the miners are an extremely oppressed underclass whose intelligence is diminished by the mineral they dig for. This diminution of intelligence is used as a justification to keep them working in the mines since this is all they are fit for. Sounds like slavery kind of to me.

This effect on intelligence turns out to be reversable -- don't you bet on that: if anyone offers you a chance to mine zenite (or lead or mercury) don’t take the job; you lose those IQ points, they don’t come back, at least not all of them.

Another one was “Plato’s Stepchildren” — written by Meyer Dolinsky — and a mineral is again involved. This mineral if you can metabolize it (which Michael Dunn’s character can’t due to the same hormone deficiency which affected his height) gives you psychokinetic powers and makes you think you are really something special (or maybe they think that because they are real jerks). So Dunn’s character is enslaved by them.

Also, Kirk is forced to kiss Uhura which meant if you lived in certain parts of the USA you did not watch it when it first came out.

NOTE: Just thinking at the height of the American Civil Rights movement, when Dr. King encouraged Nichols to stay with the show and interestingly how right King was -- I think Whoopi Goldberg was inspired by Lt. Uhura and perhaps other Black actors, that a show so controversial as Plato's Stepchildren was made. I can't imagine that Gene did not anticipate how big of a deal this show would be and I wonder if it had by itself some positive effect on Civil Rights. Star Trek really was an amazingly socially-aware show, even if watching some episodes which tackle social issues (like the "hippie" episode) feels very cringey now.


Other than the Orion slave girl in "The Cage", the closest I can think of are the expy-Roman slaves in "Bread and Circuses."

After the away team beams down they are met and captured by escaped slaves ("The Children of the Sun") and then later when Kirk is Claudius' "guest" we meet his slave Drusilla.

"For this evening I was told I am your slave."

I don't recall that this episode really dwelt on the issue of slavery, though, it was more set-dressing for a "Roman" civilization.

  • youtu.be/gLE6_F7bjcw&t=42s Drusilla Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 2:51
  • @DavidW I think it was established near the end that the ex-slaves belonged to "The Children of the Son"
    – jim
    Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 21:04

Could you perhaps be thinking about Let that be your last Battlefield (Season 3, Episode 15)?

It's not specifically about slavery, but is very definitely about racism.

The Enterprise gets caught up in a squabble between two aliens who seem to have no discernible differences. They are asymmetric, with one half of their body black and the other white. Kirk struggles to understand their quarrel until Spock remarks that their asymmetries are of different handedness (one is left-white, the other is left-black).

It ends with a Kirk basically saying, "Why can't we all just get along?"

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    This episode is about prejudice, but not actually about slavery.
    – Barmar
    Commented Nov 27, 2020 at 4:13
  • If I remember correctly, it's Frank Gorshin's character who explains that the handedness of the black and white sides is the basis of their conflict. I think Spock then points out that their common ancestry is obvious, to be dismissed by Gorshin's character - making it painfully obvious that his bigotry is unshakeable.
    – user888379
    Commented Nov 27, 2020 at 17:12
  • @Barmar You are not wrong about the thrust of the episode being about prejudice, but there is a scene where Bele and Lokai discuss the fact that Bele's people historically enslaved Lokai's people.
    – Ziggy
    Commented Apr 3 at 4:49
  • @Ziggy Thanks. It's been far too long since I've rewatched the TOS episodes, I didn't remember that detail.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 3 at 16:22

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