NEW YORK — A critically-hailed show such as "Battlestar Galactica" can deftly blur the line between fiction and reality. That was on full display last night at the United Nations, where "Battlestar" producers and cast joined UN officials for a somewhat surreal discussion on real-world issues such as human rights and questions of justice.
"Battlestar" representatives included executive producers Ron Moore and David Eick, as well as actors Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell. They sat at the head of a chamber for the UN Economic and Social Council, which some savvy UN political officers had transformed into the real-life equivalent of the Quorum in "Battlestar." Attendees filled representative seats labeled by placards with the names of the 12 Colonies on the show, such as "Caprica," "Canceron" and "Aerilon."
The event, titled "Battlestar Galactica: A Retrospective," seemed well-timed with Battlestar's two-hour finale airing this Friday. But most of the evening focused on questions about the show's past episodes involving real-life intersections, rather than potential spoilers about the final fates of humans and Cylons.
Whoopi Goldberg acted as moderator, with her self-professed love for "Battlestar" perhaps holding more weight for the audience than her roles as UN ambassador, Oscar-winning actress and co-host of "The View." She kept the session moving along as video clips from the show introduced themes that included "human rights," "children and armed conflict," "terrorism" and "reconciliation and dialogue among civilizations and faiths."
Four UN officials discussed the international organization's work relating to the themes after each video presentation.
"Water boarding and torture! Madam President, shame on you," said Craig Mokhiber, deputy director for New York's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as he joked around with McDonnell, who plays President Laura Roslin on the show.
Some of the thematic parallels seemed a bit forced, but the show's scenes about human rights and terrorism fit particularly well. UN officials continually mentioned eerie echoes of the real world in "Battlestar."
"I've heard these words from people before, and they weren't actors," said Robert Orr, a UN assistant secretary-general for policy planning. He singled out the "Battlestar" story arc on New Caprica that deals with issues of insurgency and terrorism, and thanked Moore and Eick for creating a show which gave people cause to think about such issues.
Moore said that he continually tried to use "Battlestar" to flip familiar situations and put the audience in uncomfortable spots — such as creating situations where humans resorted to suicide bombings and torture against the Cylons, the supposed "villains" at the start of the show who gradually become more sympathetic.
"We challenge the audience in a lot of ways," Moore said, adding that the show has had viewers "question heroes" and "root for the villains."
"Even if you end up believing at the end the exact same thing you thought at the beginning, at least you thought about it," Moore added.
McDonnell fielded a question from a high school student about her character's penchant for executing people by throwing them out the airlock. She noted that it was a "haunting experience" to stay committed to the character of President Roslin at those times, but added that Roslin and other characters often acted out of sense of fear.
"People who are taking these actions that we find unacceptable are sometimes in the positions where they don't see the solution," McDonnell said.
Perhaps the evening's highlight came when Olmos went on a partial tangent about the use of the word "race," and forcefully argued that the only race which counted was the "human race." He drew increasingly louder clapping and cheers as he proceeded to channel the charismatic leadership of his Battlestar character, Admiral William Adama.
"And then I end up well prepared as the admiral of Battlestar Galactica to say to all of you, there but one race, and that is it! So say we all!" Olmos said, invoking a common "Battlestar" chant used on the show.
"So say we all!" the crowd roared back, responding twice more as Adama's voice rose to a shout. Wild applause filled the chamber, and for a moment it wasn't hard to imagine being on the hangar deck of Galactica.
"I love that you did that here at the UN," Goldberg said after everyone had calmed down.