Monday , May 20 2024
Credit: Pat Cuadros

Awesome Con: LeVar Burton on ‘Star Trek: Picard’ and Literacy Initiatives

Beloved actor LeVar Burton (Roots, Reading Rainbow, Star Trek: The Next Generation) received a warm welcome on Juneteenth weekend at Awesome Con, Washington, D.C. Fans were very excited about his visit to D.C.’s Comic Con, even singing the Reading Rainbow theme song with him during the Q&A.

Burton cherished being part of that TV series, not only for the opportunity to help children with reading, but for a personal connection as well. He said, “Once my son was born, I started talking to him through the lens of the camera. I cherish that process of being able to speak specifically to my son.”

He’s been keeping busy with a variety of projects. “At this point in my life, unbeknownst to me, my endgame was becoming a storyteller. What that means to me is I’m able to make a living as an actor, writer, producer, podcaster, and public speaker. My job is to tell stories. I’m blessed to be able to do that in a lot of different modalities.”

Photo of LeVar Burton holding a microphone
Credit: Pat Cuadros

On Returning as Geordi in ‘Star Trek: Picard’

Of course, one major production is Star Trek: Picard, where Burton appeared in the third season. “We dared not think that this was ever gonna happen. In fact, I was convinced it never would. I mean, that ship had sailed, right? This was a complete surprise!”

He met with director, executive producer and writer Terry Matalas about where they wanted to take Geordi La Forge’s story. Burton didn’t like how The Next Generation‘s “Booby Trap” episode depicted Geordi’s relationships with women. “He stalked Dr. Leah Brahms. That’s not cool. He created a holographic image of a girl and then dated her. That’s not okay!”

Burton wanted to “rehabilitate” Geordie in this arc. “I said I wanted to be a family man and have a family relationship. Terry did me one better: he gave Geordie not one, [but] two daughters. And that was great!”

Photo of actor LeVar Burton and moderator Tony B Kim sitting across from each other
LeVar Burton and moderator Tony B Kim (Credit: Pat Cuadros)

On Audiobooks and Promoting Literacy

It’s no surprise that Burton keeps up with his reading. “To this day, when I’m reading a particularly good piece of fiction, I slow down for the last few chapters to forestall that inevitable sense of depression…I’m leaving that world I became completely enmeshed in, and there’s a profound sadness that descends. That’s what reading is all about: losing myself in a good story.”

He served as an executive producer of a new documentary, The Right to Read. “[It] frames early childhood literacy as a civil right. Right now in America, one third of all fourth graders cannot read at grade level: functionally illiterate.”

The challenge became more difficult when the education system adopted an alternative method of teaching reading skills. “Twenty-five years ago, we abandoned scientifically based phonics-centered instruction for something called whole language. That ‘whole language’ has been the bane of my existence for the last quarter century.”

To Burton, promoting literacy is vital on many levels, particularly with how people can relate to each other. “For me, human beings have empathy and compassion for other people. That’s why I think reading is so important. It introduces you to different ways of looking at the world [through] different people who inhabit different ideas.”

LeVar Burton returns as Geordi La Forge in ‘Star Trek: Picard,’ streaming now on Paramount Plus.

About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros is Pop Culture Editor for Blogcritics Magazine. She frequently covers TV, film and theater. Her portfolio includes interviews with Ndaba Mandela and actors Juliette Binoche, Fran Drescher, Derek Jacobi and Brent Spiner. She's also spoken with notable voice actors Petrea Burchard, Garry Chalk, Peter Cullen and Brian Drummond.

Check Also

GalaxyCon Richmond: Jaleel White

"All my mom cared about was that I was going to college."