WOC Wednesday: Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols is such an icon for many reasons. Her Star Trek character Lt. Nyota Uhura is, of course, one of the few POC characters in sci-fi, but Nichols has also inspired countless black women and men to join the NASA program or live out their acting dreams (most notably, Mae Jemison, who saw Uhura as inspiration to become an astronaut, and Whoopi Goldberg, who has said many times how much seeing Nichols on TV as a kid made her believe she could make it in Hollywood).

Often, and I think unfairly, Nichols’ career as Uhura often gets whittled down to that one time Uhura kissed Capt. Kirk in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” marking it as the first scripted interracial kiss on TV. Don’t get me wrong—it’s important. But Uhura’s worth more than just getting kissed, don’t you think? That’s reducing Uhura down to just sexual qualities, if you ask me, and there’s more to Uhura than just sex appeal.

Having said that, if anyone should have gotten the chance to kiss Uhura, it should’ve been Spock. First of all, they’re more compatible,  a subject which could become it’s own post since I’ve been reading a lot of Spock/Uhura fanfiction lately and because Uhura was the only one who could openly tease Spock and get away with it (and even get a smile out of him):

Second, their character histories seem to be more intertwined than I originally thought:

But most importantly, it should have been Spock because Nichols stated that it was originally supposed to be Uhura and Spock anyway.

Wikipedia states that the script originally did have Kirk and Uhura to kiss. But the network heads were floating around the idea that Uhura should probably kiss Spock as a go-between, since southern states would get mad that Uhura would be kissing Kirk, a red-blooded white man. At the very least (I’m inferring from metatextual reading) Spock was an alien, and technically, not white (and green-blooded to boot). Wikipedia states that William Shatner didn’t like the idea of changing the script and was adamant about sticking to what was written.

However, Nichols stated to the Vancouver Sun in 2013 that that’s not how it went down at all. Shatner did want to kiss Nichols-as-Uhura (or Nichols as herself—metatextual reading again) and had the script rearranged so he was in Spock’s spot.

[She] told The Vancouver Sun she was rehearsing her lip-lock with Leonard Nimoy (a.k.a. the Vulcan, Mr. Spock) when William Shatner (a.k.a. interstellar stud, Captain Kirk) saw the smooch. “Bill Shatner saw what was going on and he said, ‘Woah, woah, woah. If anybody is gonna get to kiss Lieutenant Uhura it’s gonna be me.’ And he had the whole thing changed so the first interracial kiss was with Lieutenant Uhura and Captain Kirk.”

She also said that Shatner wanted to rehearse the scene all the time. I see you, Shatner. I SEE YOU. 

In any case, the backstory of how they actually got this interracial kiss shot is really cool, since Wikipedia states that Shatner and Nichols would flub takes until the director, who wanted to shoot the scene without them kissing, just gave up and went with the kissing shot.

I ended up making this all about the kiss even though I just said Uhura shouldn’t be reduced to just the kiss. SIGH. But there is indeed a lot more to Uhura than just that. She showed that women can do the important work, like working on the bridge of the Enterprise, just as good as men can, if not better, and look completely fly while doing it. She was a positive role model to many girls of all races, but especially for the time, she was a beacon of hope to black girls who were constantly told they couldn’t do something because they were both black and female. It makes tons of sense as to why Martin Luther King, Jr. told Nichols to stay on the show when she considered giving up the role.

What do you love about Nichols and Uhura? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

  • I grew up wanting to be Uhura, to me a child when introduced to Star Trek, she seemed so cool, calm, collected and was freaking good at her job, I just adored seeing a woman who was all that and not being ‘a klutz’ or something like that.