Tour de Femme: Nichelle Nichols

The master at work. 
Today we get to talk about two of my favorite things: strong women and Star Trek. Star Trek is famous for being ahead of it's time. With the main cast comprised a Russian, a Japanese man, and a black woman, Star Trek dealt with philosophical subjects concerning just about everything, from the duality of human nature, to the place of love in society and it's a show that has been doing that for almost fifty years. 

That's not to say that Star Trek was perfect, particularly not in those early days, but the diverse cast and crew of Star Trek did something that few television shows had done before. It presented a future post bigotry that worked. 

Nichelle Nichols was cast as Lt. Uhura despite the fact that she knew little about the show. Nichols says that she was handed a part of a script that featured Kirk, Spock, and Bones. Knowing little about Star Trek, she agreed to do it because, Nichols says, it was a good scene. 

Nichols became one of the first black women to have a pivotal role in a major network show. She was one of the first black actors to have a non-menial role on television period and holy hell did it matter. Nichols says that in her time as Uhura she heard that the show was boycotted by people in the South just because she was on it. 

Unfortunatly, Uhura suffered from some serious bigotry and her lines kept being cut. Nichols says that they "would rehearse and it would be a beautiful scene and then they would bring down the rewrites and it would be 'yessir' 'nossir'". Nichols was forced to consider leaving the show. Despite thousands of letters of protests from fans, Uhura's lines continued to be cut. 

It seemed that this would be the end for Nichols on Star Trek and Uhura as a character, until Martin Luther King Jr. stepped in. 

Dynamic Speaker. Civil Rights Leader. Trekkie. 

You read that right: Martin Luther King Jr. told Nichols to stay on the show. He told Nichols that Uhura was more than just a communications officer, she was a beacon of hope for the Civil Rights Movement. King said that despite fighting the good fight they still made it home in time to watch Star Trek every Thursday night. 

Nichols stayed on the show after that(because when Mr. King tells you that you are a beacon of hope for people, you damn well continue on as that beacon of hope) and Nichols went on to portray the character for the rest of the show run and six Star Trek films. So go her. 

I feel like I'm forgetting something...wasn't there another big thing that happened during that time? I just can't quite...put my finger on it....

Oh yeah. This: 

You, ladies and gentleman, are looking at a picture of the first interracial kiss on Network television. And in case some of you aren't thinking that this is a big deal get ready to be shocked because it was a big. freaking. deal. 

So much so that the network tried to cut it, but couldn't because every take without the kiss Nichols and William Shatner kept messing up. 

You lucky dog. 
So, just to recap: hugely influential black actress plays one of the most beloved characters in all of Science Fiction during a time when black actors weren't getting much work period and then shares the first interracial kiss on network television with one of the greatest Starfleet Captains this world has ever known. Badass enough for you? 

No? Well then how about that fact that NASA worked with Nichols to recruit women and minorities into the space program. This includes Sally Ride, Ron McNair and Guin Bluford. The character of Uhura had a huge effect on Mae Jamison as well who would go on to use Uhura's catch phrase "Hailing frequences open" during her missions. About the influence Uhura and Nichols had on her, Jamison has this to say, "What was really great about Star Trek when I was growing up as a little girl is not only did they have Lt. Uhura played by Nichelle Nichols as a technical officer […] At the same time, they had this crew that was composed of people from all around the world and they were working together to learn more about the universe.  So that helped to fuel my whole idea that I could be involved in space exploration as well as in the sciences." Woah. 

Nichols not only boldly went where no man had gone before, she inspired others to do the same and that, more than anything, is enough to make Nichelle Nichols this weeks tour de femme. 

I wasn't going to say it, but...

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