RIP and Thank You, Lieutenant Uhura

 

I wasn’t allowed to stay up to watch Star Trek (the original series) during its first run (though I dearly wanted to) but watched it faithfully in syndication. When my mother would ask me to turn off the TV, I would say, “But I haven’t seen this one all the way through!” (Usually lying.)

As the members of the original cast pass away, it saddens me. This is very much true as I learned today of the death of Nichelle Nichols.  We talked recently at the Movie Fight Club of childhood crushes and she was one of mine.

Star Trek was a politically liberal show for its time. But it was classically liberal, which meant back then that it called for racial equality and fair play. It could be hamfisted in this at times (such as the episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”), but it was mostly all for the good.

This is made very clear in this story of an encounter between Nichols and Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:

It was 1967, and reviews for the first season of Star Trek were not great. Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Nyota Uhura, had bigger issues with the show. She found it demoralizing to see her lines cut and cut again. She had to deal with racist insults off set, as well as from executives who conspired to keep her from seeing her fan mail.

At the end of the first season, Nichols recounted in her autobiography, she told the show’s creator she was done.

But the next day, at an NAACP function, a fan greeted her: Martin Luther King Jr. He told her how important her role was and how he and his family watched Star Trek faithfully and adored her in particular — the only Black character.

Nichols thanked him, but said she planned to leave.

“You cannot and you must not,” she recalls him saying. “Don’t you realize how important your presence, your character is? … Don’t you see? This is not a Black role, and this is not a female role. You have the first non stereotypical role on television, male or female. You have broken ground.

“… For the first time,”he continued, “the world sees us as we should be seen, as equals, as intelligent people — as we should be.”

She stayed for two more seasons, voiced the animated series, and appeared as Lt.  Uhura in six films.

(H/T Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)

In “Bread and Circuses,” a Roman-times episode of Star Trek, it was Uhura that recognized a group on the planet wasn’t worshiping the sun in the sky but rather the Son of God. I’m trusting Ms. Nichols is in the loving hands of that Son.

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  1. BastiatJunior Member
    BastiatJunior
    @BastiatJunior

    I’m heart-broken to hear the news.  She was unusually beautiful

    • #1
  2. Gary Robbins Member
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    She was so lovely.  What a wonderful tribute.  Rest In Peace.

    • #2
  3. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    We didn’t watch Star Trek, but I remember loving Diahann Carroll as Julia.  She was a nurse, my mom was a nurse.  It was perfect.  I had a Julia doll, too.  As a kid, the groundbreaking nature of these roles was lost on me.  It was just normal, as far as I was concerned.   

    • #3
  4. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    She was a ground breaker. I loved her on the show. 

    • #4
  5. Eustace C. Scrubb Member
    Eustace C. Scrubb
    @EustaceCScrubb

    • #5
  6. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Live eternal and prosper, Lieutenant.

    Until I read your post today, Eustace, I had not heard of her interaction with Martin Luther king Jr nor had I ever known she was thinking of resigning from the series.

    Here is a wonderful tribute to her life written in March 2022:

    https://www.thevintagenews.com/2022/03/03/nichelle-nichols-star-trek-mlk/?firefox=1

    LAS VEGAS, NV – AUGUST 04: Actress Nichelle Nichols (C) extends her arms with a “live long and prosper” gesture from the “Star Trek” television franchise during the “Tribute to Nichelle Nichols” panel at the 15th annual official Star Trek convention at the Rio Hotel & Casino on August 4, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images)

     

    • #6
  7. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    There is debate about whether Nichols and Shatner shared American television’s first interracial kiss in 1968. It may have been the first black/white kiss but there had been others before that, notably white men and Asian women, which was evidently more acceptable.

    Story is that Shatner tried to deflect any Southern affiliate backlash by saying it was all camera angles and that their lips never met. According to Nichols they definitely kissed. Could you blame him?

     

    • #7
  8. Eustace C. Scrubb Member
    Eustace C. Scrubb
    @EustaceCScrubb

    EJHill (View Comment):

    There is debate about whether Nichols and Shatner shared American television’s first interracial kiss in 1968. It may have been the first black/white kiss but there had been others before that, notably white men and Asian women, which was evidently more acceptable.

    Story is that Shatner tried to deflect any Southern affiliate backlash by saying it was all camera angles and that their lips never met. According to Nichols they definitely kissed. Could you blame him?

     

    Yes, I blame him for trying to deny the kiss. It does seem Shatner made the filming of the show a less pleasant experience for many, arguing to take the good lines and screen time of other actors. Many in the cast had rather harsh words for the man through the years.

    I mean, who in his right mind would skip Lt. Uhura back in the day?

    • #8
  9. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Eustace C. Scrubb: She stayed for two more seasons, voiced the animated series, and appeared as Lt.  Uhura in six films.

    Not entirely correct.  Uhura is addressed as “Commander” beginning with Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

    As is Chekov in the second movie, by the way.

    • #9
  10. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Eustace C. Scrubb (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):

    There is debate about whether Nichols and Shatner shared American television’s first interracial kiss in 1968. It may have been the first black/white kiss but there had been others before that, notably white men and Asian women, which was evidently more acceptable.

    Story is that Shatner tried to deflect any Southern affiliate backlash by saying it was all camera angles and that their lips never met. According to Nichols they definitely kissed. Could you blame him?

     

    Yes, I blame him for trying to deny the kiss. It does seem Shatner made the filming of the show a less pleasant experience for many, arguing to take the good lines and screen time of other actors. Many in the cast had rather harsh words for the man through the years.

    I mean, who in his right mind would skip Lt. Uhura back in the day?

    Define “right mind.”  I’ve actually never found black women to be attractive “in that way.”  Closest I ever got was Holly Robinson, back in the days of “21 Jump Street,” before she became Holly Robinson Peete.

    • #10
  11. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    Victor Tango Kilo
    @VtheK

    It could be hamfisted in this at times (such as the episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”),

    A model of subtlety and nuance compared with any episode of

    : Discovery: or :Picard: 

    • #11
  12. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    Victor Tango Kilo
    @VtheK

    I liked her better in Truck Turner. (SO MANY language warnings. Makes Quentin Tarantino look like Frank Capra)

    • #12
  13. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    We didn’t watch Star Trek, but I remember loving Diahann Carroll as Julia. She was a nurse, my mom was a nurse. It was perfect. I had a Julia doll, too. As a kid, the groundbreaking nature of these roles was lost on me. It was just normal, as far as I was concerned.

    And Denise Nicholas in Room 222.

    • #13
  14. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Eustace C. Scrubb (View Comment):

    Of course that was just an actor reading lines.  In this case, the lines were written by Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon.

    • #14
  15. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    I linked this post at a very interesting Quillette article & discussion to which it seemed relevant.

     

     

    • #15
  16. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    Thank you, Nichelle. 

    • #16
  17. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Warp factor infinity Lt Uhura. God bless and Thank You.

    • #17
  18. DrewInWisconsin, Oik Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oik
    @DrewInWisconsin

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    We didn’t watch Star Trek, but I remember loving Diahann Carroll as Julia. She was a nurse, my mom was a nurse. It was perfect. I had a Julia doll, too. As a kid, the groundbreaking nature of these roles was lost on me. It was just normal, as far as I was concerned.

    Right? I remember Julia. I didn’t think there was anything particularly unusual or groundbreaking either. It was just a tv show about this nurse. That’s just how we were raised. It just seemed very normal to see black people in such roles on television.

    • #18
  19. DrewInWisconsin, Oik Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oik
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Star Trek may have slanted leftward according to the era in which it was made, but what really sticks out to me watching the show today is just how American it is. The principles espoused on the show were distinctly American.

    The other really notable thing is that the Captain was clearly in charge. He might have gotten a bit of pushback (particularly from McCoy) or maybe a raised eyebrow, but his crew obeyed his commands. There was a respect for the chain of command.

    Unlike more modern shows where the crew are always challenging the command structure.

    • #19
  20. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    DrewInWisconsin, Oik (View Comment):

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    We didn’t watch Star Trek, but I remember loving Diahann Carroll as Julia. She was a nurse, my mom was a nurse. It was perfect. I had a Julia doll, too. As a kid, the groundbreaking nature of these roles was lost on me. It was just normal, as far as I was concerned.

    Right? I remember Julia. I didn’t think there was anything particularly unusual or groundbreaking either. It was just a tv show about this nurse. That’s just how we were raised. It just seemed very normal to see black people in such roles on television.

    Yes. When I was growing up in the dark ages, we had Uhuru, without whom the Enterprise would be cut off from the Federation, Julia, a healer, Barney on Mission: Impossible who did all the difficult technical work that made the magic in the operations work, and the fellow – I forget his name – on Ironsides, without whom Raymond Burr would have just sat there, or rolled down a hill. There were small businessmen like my father (Fred Sanford and George Jefferson, although he was more well-heeled, thanks to his dry-cleaning chain) and spies, like Bill Cosby. I didn’t think any of it was exceptional. Just normal, as you said. 

    • #20
  21. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    DrewInWisconsin, Oik (View Comment):

    Star Trek may have slanted leftward according to the era in which it was made, but what really sticks out to me watching the show today is just how American it is. The principles espoused on the show were distinctly American.

    Which were thought to be widely applicable, as they were self-evidently universal. 

    The other really notable thing is that the Captain was clearly in charge. He might have gotten a bit of pushback (particularly from McCoy) or maybe a raised eyebrow, but his crew obeyed his commands. There was a respect for the chain of command.

    Unlike more modern shows where the crew are always challenging the command structure.

    I like a little bit of pushback. McCoy always chose the worst possible time and means to argue, but it seemed as if he had latitude because he wasn’t bridge staff, and had a special relationship with Kirk that let him go around the norms. In DS9 Kira would argue, being Kira, but also being Kira, would suck it up for the side. Riker was supposed to present alternatives. I remember the bridge crew on Enterprise being collaborative, for some reason. Discovery sucks. 

    • #21
  22. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    DrewInWisconsin, Oik (View Comment):

    Star Trek may have slanted leftward according to the era in which it was made, but what really sticks out to me watching the show today is just how American it is. The principles espoused on the show were distinctly American.

    The other really notable thing is that the Captain was clearly in charge. He might have gotten a bit of pushback (particularly from McCoy) or maybe a raised eyebrow, but his crew obeyed his commands. There was a respect for the chain of command.

    Unlike more modern shows where the crew are always challenging the command structure.

    I know. They would be in the brig so fast….

    • #22
  23. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin, Oik (View Comment):

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    We didn’t watch Star Trek, but I remember loving Diahann Carroll as Julia. She was a nurse, my mom was a nurse. It was perfect. I had a Julia doll, too. As a kid, the groundbreaking nature of these roles was lost on me. It was just normal, as far as I was concerned.

    Right? I remember Julia. I didn’t think there was anything particularly unusual or groundbreaking either. It was just a tv show about this nurse. That’s just how we were raised. It just seemed very normal to see black people in such roles on television.

    Yes. When I was growing up in the dark ages, we had Uhuru, without whom the Enterprise would be cut off from the Federation, Julia, a healer, Barney on Mission: Impossible who did all the difficult technical work that made the magic in the operations work, and the fellow – I forget his name – on Ironsides, without whom Raymond Burr would have just sat there, or rolled down a hill. There were small businessmen like my father (Fred Sanford and George Jefferson, although he was more well-heeled, thanks to his dry-cleaning chain) and spies, like Bill Cosby. I didn’t think any of it was exceptional. Just normal, as you said.

    And Harris the aspiring writer on Barney Miller. Ron Glass later gained fanboy immortality through Firefly. 

    • #23
  24. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    Discovery sucks.

    Agree.

    Strange New Worlds is quite good.

    • #24
  25. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    Victor Tango Kilo
    @VtheK

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    Riker was supposed to present alternatives. I remember the bridge crew on Enterprise being collaborative, for some reason.

    Watch the RLM episode about Best of Both Worlds, and how that was the end of Will Riker’s TNG character arc. At the end of part I, he has what he has always coveted, command of the Enterprise. He has to give it up when Picard is rescued from the Borg.

    For the remaining four seasons, Riker’s primary role on the show was to have other characters explain things to him as a stand-in for the audience.  His ambitions to command a ship again were never brought up again until Star Trek: Nemesis.

    • #25
  26. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Victor Tango Kilo (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    Riker was supposed to present alternatives. I remember the bridge crew on Enterprise being collaborative, for some reason.

    Watch the RLM episode about Best of Both Worlds, and how that was the end of Will Riker’s TNG character arc. At the end of part I, he has what he has always coveted, command of the Enterprise. He has to give it up when Picard is rescued from the Borg.

    For the remaining four seasons, Riker’s primary role on the show was to have other characters explain things to him as a stand-in for the audience. His ambitions to command a ship again were never brought up again until Star Trek: Nemesis.

    It was bizarre.  

    The fleet was devastated. The crew would have been spread to the four winds. 

    • #26
  27. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Victor Tango Kilo (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    Riker was supposed to present alternatives. I remember the bridge crew on Enterprise being collaborative, for some reason.

    Watch the RLM episode about Best of Both Worlds, and how that was the end of Will Riker’s TNG character arc. At the end of part I, he has what he has always coveted, command of the Enterprise. He has to give it up when Picard is rescued from the Borg.

    For the remaining four seasons, Riker’s primary role on the show was to have other characters explain things to him as a stand-in for the audience. His ambitions to command a ship again were never brought up again until Star Trek: Nemesis.

    It was bizarre.

    The fleet was devastated. The crew would have been spread to the four winds.

    I’m not so sure.  “Historical documents” show 39 ships lost to the Borg at Wolf 359, out of possibly 700 or more total.  So perhaps as little as 5%. And at the end of “BoBW Part 2” we get:

    SHELBY: We’ll have the fleet back up in less than a year.

     

    Far more ships were lost to the Dominion especially in the final episodes of Deep Space Nine.

    • #27
  28. Caryn Thatcher
    Caryn
    @Caryn

    Victor Tango Kilo (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    Riker was supposed to present alternatives. I remember the bridge crew on Enterprise being collaborative, for some reason.

    Watch the RLM episode about Best of Both Worlds, and how that was the end of Will Riker’s TNG character arc. At the end of part I, he has what he has always coveted, command of the Enterprise. He has to give it up when Picard is rescued from the Borg.

    For the remaining four seasons, Riker’s primary role on the show was to have other characters explain things to him as a stand-in for the audience. His ambitions to command a ship again were never brought up again until Star Trek: Nemesis.

    RLM?  I do wish people would define acronyms at least once.

    • #28
  29. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Caryn (View Comment):

    Victor Tango Kilo (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    Riker was supposed to present alternatives. I remember the bridge crew on Enterprise being collaborative, for some reason.

    Watch the RLM episode about Best of Both Worlds, and how that was the end of Will Riker’s TNG character arc. At the end of part I, he has what he has always coveted, command of the Enterprise. He has to give it up when Picard is rescued from the Borg.

    For the remaining four seasons, Riker’s primary role on the show was to have other characters explain things to him as a stand-in for the audience. His ambitions to command a ship again were never brought up again until Star Trek: Nemesis.

    RLM? I do wish people would define acronyms at least once.

    I’m pretty sure that means Red Letter Media, but yes.  The standard rule is use the full term once, then acronyms later.

    • #29
  30. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Victor Tango Kilo (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    Riker was supposed to present alternatives. I remember the bridge crew on Enterprise being collaborative, for some reason.

    Watch the RLM episode about Best of Both Worlds, and how that was the end of Will Riker’s TNG character arc. At the end of part I, he has what he has always coveted, command of the Enterprise. He has to give it up when Picard is rescued from the Borg.

    For the remaining four seasons, Riker’s primary role on the show was to have other characters explain things to him as a stand-in for the audience. His ambitions to command a ship again were never brought up again until Star Trek: Nemesis.

    It was bizarre.

    The fleet was devastated. The crew would have been spread to the four winds.

    I’m not so sure. “Historical documents” show 39 ships lost to the Borg at Wolf 359, out of possibly 700 or more total. So perhaps as little as 5%. And at the end of “BoBW Part 2” we get:

    SHELBY: We’ll have the fleet back up in less than a year.

     

    Far more ships were lost to the Dominion especially in the final episodes of Deep Space Nine.

    They lost how many command staff members. 

     Regardless riker would not have been allowed to stay on the enterprise had been promoted to captain and they would have told him you can be in charge of a ship or you can get the hell out of the navy.

    • #30
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