Can you guess what the most challenging letter for me in the A to Z Challenge has been? Not X, not Q, not V, not even Z…but U. However, when I thought about all the Ladies I Love and Lieutenant Uhura crossed my mind, I knew she was just the right woman for this tough letter! That is because Lieutenant Uhura of Star Trek, played by Nichelle Nichols, was one tough lady!
Lieutenant Uhura served as a communications officer under Captain Kirk on the USS Enterprise during the original Star Trek series, which ran from 1966 – 1969. Uhura moved up the Starfleet ranks throughout the movie franchise, making the rank of commander in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Nichelle Nichols portrayed Uhura throughout the series, as well as in all the Star Trek movies except for the last two, in which Zoë Saldana played a younger Uhura. Uhura never took a back seat in the adventures of the Enterprise, and was often a key character in story lines, very much an equal among her Star Trek peers.
One of the most remarkable things about Uhura’s character was that she was one of the FIRST African American women on TV to play a role that didn’t have anything to do with being a servant. This was a ground-breaking character, and having an African American woman in a position of equality definitely stirred the pot on occasion. For example, in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”, Uhura famously kissed Captain Kirk (ok, it was a forced kiss because she was under the influence of alien telekinesis…but still…) in a scene that is largely cited as one of the first inter-racial kisses aired on US television.
Apparently, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a fan of the show, and even let his children watch it, in part because of Nichelle Nichols’ portrayal of Uhura’s character. Nichelle actually wanted to quit the show after the first year to pursue a career on broadway, but was told by Dr. King that she “could not give up because she was playing a vital role model for black children and young women across the country, as well as for other children who would see blacks appearing as equals.” It’s a good thing she didn’t quit, because she DID inspire many to achieve success, including former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, who said she was encouraged by Nichelle’s Uhura character.
Yes, Uhura was one smokin’ hot lady. But she was also a star. In Swahili, her character’s first name, Nyota, means “star”, and Uhuru means “freedom”. With a name like that, how could Uhura achieve anything but success? Set your phasers to “stunning”!
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