During the Star Trek: Discovery panel at New York Comic Con, a fan in the audience asked about the look of the Klingons, which they described as being the most “African” they’ve ever looked. They went on to suggest that making them the villains could feel alienating to some fans.
Executive producer Alex Kurtzman replied by saying he had wanted to address the Klingons for a long time. “At the heart of Star Trek is the idea that what we think of the other as a mirror to ourselves,” he started. The core of Kirtzman’s argument was that the Klingons will be shown in a multidimensional way, and would not simply be othered or villains. It was important, he said, that “we represented both sides of the war in a way that is understandable and relatable.”
“We needed to know what it was like for them to go through this too,” he continued. “We wanted to shift everyone’s perspective of what the Klingons are, because they’ve often been relegated to just being the bad guys.” He added that the show would feature lots of Klingons, that “were all created around the central premise of what Klingons are.” But the goal was to, “for lack of a better word, humanise them.” To explain what they want and why they want it. If they didn’t explore this, Kurtzman said, “This wouldn’t be Star Trek.”
Of course, the fallacy in Kurtzman’s argument is that the Klingons have already been developed a lot over the course of the 50 years they’ve existed. By the end of Deep Space Nine, they’d become Starfleet's allies, with a culture that fans knew a great deal about. Worf and B’Elanna Torres on Voyager both did a lot of work as characters to illuminate different things about their culture.
And the problem Discovery faces is that, a) it’s a prequel, so all this stuff they’re adding to the Klingon's culture has to be explained in the context of the work the other shows have already done, b) the look of these Klingons is othering, it does play into stereotypes of savages that specifically plays as a contrast to white and western aesthetics, and c) even though the show takes place before the original series, it’s airing after, and it feels like we’ve took a step backwards with the Klingons.
Look, charitably, Discovery could be adding depth to re-watches of Star Trek: The Original Series, which we have to remember takes place just ten years after Discovery. Maybe that's what Kurtzman meant. But to say this is breaking ground with the Klingons feels very disingenuous indeed.