Star Trek Director Hanelle Culpepper Discusses Picard, Identity & More

Hanelle Culpepper is cognizant of the long way she's come as a director appreciating all the accolades that come her way including her recent nomination for the NAACP Image Award for her work on Star Trek: Picard, earning a distinction of being the first Black director and first female director to launch a Star Trek project on TV and film. Writing for Deadline Hollywood, she reflects on her career she said she hopes one day stands on its own merit rather than just her own identity.

Star Trek: Picard: Hanelle Culpepper on Working with Patrick Stewart (Image: ViacomCBS)
(Image: ViacomCBS)

"Two years ago, right about this time, pre-pandemic and pre-BLM summer, I got the call. Alex Kurtzman loved my vision and was entrusting me to guide the return of a beloved hero – Captain Picard," Culpepper said. "Today, I'm honored to be nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series for the Star Trek: Picard pilot. When I got the job, I didn't realize that I was the first Black director and first woman director to launch any Star Trek movie or series. Why? It never crossed my mind; I was too busy thinking about the work."

Star Trek Picard
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Culpepper clarifies her stance on her conflict between why people should focus more on the director's work and vision than a person's background. "Yet race and gender always take the headlines, and I'm torn on that," she said. "I've never strived to be considered a Black female director, but rather a director who happens to be Black and female. People ask me all the time what it's like to be a Black female director. I don't really know how to answer that – it's not like I have anything to compare it to. Do they ask white male directors what it's like to be them? I work hard, try to evoke and enhance the vision of the script, bring the best out of the actors, frame interesting and unique shots, keep the pace going and do all this while making my days. This is what all directors strive to achieve."

Star Trek Director Hanelle Culpepper Discusses Picard, Identity & More
Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

How Picard Fit with Culpepper

The director extended her thanks to the executive producer for the opportunity to expand on the themes of the human condition through her work. "Aesthetically, I enjoy directing everything from cinematic action — superhero shows like The Flash, Supergirl, and Gotham — to all kinds of diverse human stories that may not necessarily have anything to do with my race or gender, such as Sorry for Your Loss, NOS4A2, Counterpart and my new pilot Kung Fu," Culpepper continued. "I'm thankful Alex Kurtzman saw in my work a balance of strong visual style and attention to intimate, emotional human moments, both of which were so important for Picard, that he felt comfortable having me take the reins."

Kung Fu -- Image Number: KF_1080x1350.jpg -- Pictured: Olivia Liang as Nicky -- Photo: Katie Yu/The CW -- © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Culpepper on Star Trek History

Working on Picard was a lifelong dream come to life for Culpepper knowing what franchise creator Gene Roddenberry had to go through to present more inclusive storytelling citing his work on NBC's The Lieutenant and citing its cancellation as motivation to create Star Trek: The Original Series. For more on Culpepper talking about franchise history including talking about the African American stars of the series, its contributions to the growing social conscientiousness, and the need to continue to recognize diversity within the entertainment industry, you can head to Deadline.

About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.