Star Trek Insider Speaks Out About Blackface on ‘Wrath of Khan’ Set

Two stunt doubles on the Ceti Alpha V set from The Wrath of Khan.

Paramount Two stunt doubles on the Ceti Alpha V set from The Wrath of Khan.

For all of the films in the Star Trek library, one stands above them all. The Wrath of Khan is regarded as the very best of them all. This status ignores Rotten Tomatoes’ ranking, which places First Contact and Star Trek (2009) as superior films.

Like most masterpieces, Wrath is not without its blemishes and controversies. There were a few minor plotholes — the most famous of these being when Khan recognized Chekov. Trek creator Gene Roddenberry notably fought against many of the film’s plot points, remembers director Nicholas Meyer. 

“Gene was understandably – but not always correctly – distressed at a new and different vintage going into that bottle,” Meyer told TrekMovie in 2017. “And I think the tenor of those memoranda between us was focused on his objections to what I was doing differently.”

In a recent appearance on the Inglorious Treksperts podcast, we learned something that was not public knowledge about Wrath of Khan‘s filming. The Treksperts show is hosted by Trek author Mark A. Altman and Daren Docterman, the visual effects supervisor for Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Director’s Edition.

In their most recent episode, the Treksperts hosted Edward “Eddie” Egan, who served on Wrath as its unit publicist. Egan went on to fill in the same position for Star Treks III and IV. He eventually left Paramount to became a studio executive for other companies.

Egan and the Treksperts discussed several times when the studios created extended cuts of films for release on television in the 1970s. In that era, the three major U.S. networks would require the movie studios to give them a version of their films that contained unique content that was not a part of the theatrical release. Extra footage was shot by the movie studios with the deliberate intention of using the content for these deals. 

New Information From a Classic Trek Film

Paul Winfield and Walter Koenig in Wrath.

ParamountPaul Winfield and Walter Koenig in Wrath.

Egan then told a story that he said he’d “never spoke about publicly before.”

“There were a lot of things that one hand didn’t know what the other was doing,” said Egan. He explained that due to the shooting schedule, many things went on that were not planned.

He told the Treksperts that on the set of Khan, production ground to a halt. It was for the scene in which Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) explore the barren surface of the planet, Ceti Alpha V. 

“The two stunt doubles who were going up and down the rocks with the wind machine,” Egan recalled. “Who, oddly enough, were not Koenig and Winfield.”

“The casting person — because that was a stunt player — didn’t know that Paul Winfield, an African American, had been cast as Terrell. And they made a judgment to make [the stunt double] up as African American.”

According to Egan, someone on the crew called the union during the shoot. 

“The show was shut down briefly,” said Egan. “They got an African American stunt player and did the rest of the set-ups.”

Egan said that even though the change was made, audiences can still see the white actor in blackface in the film’s final cut.

Most of the cast and crew of Wrath of Khan

Trek CoreMost of the cast and crew of Wrath of Khan — note that William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban are side-by-side.

“One of the main shots … the camera’s coming up over a rock,” said Egan. “It’s two white actors — one of them made up to seem African American.”

Egan said that he remembered the situation vividly because he was called to the set.

“It was an innocent mistake until they decided to make up a white actor to appear Black,” said Egan. 

Docterman said that making the change with the stunt actors was the right thing to do. Altman noted that this story was interesting since Wrath was completed over 40 years ago and that fans are still learning new things about it.

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