Nichelle Nichols at Star Trek Bi-Centennial 10 1976

Nichelle Nichols at the Star Trek Bi-Centennial 10 Convention in New York. Photos and quotes from the January, 1977 issue of Starlog Magazine (Issue 3).

On the tension between the importance of her character and the network’s expectations for women characters, particularly black women:

“I think that women, at the time Star Trek was being produced for the network, were not regarded then as Uhura was meant to be. It was thought to be a terrible kind of turn-off to the public, to have women in command positions of any form; you know, we had to be constantly dropping our handkerchiefs and waiting for somebody to pick them up and saying, ‘Oh Captain, I’m afraid…’ 

“But that kind of so-called female strategy was really passe, although the women’s liberation was just at a beginning. So the networks were still feeding off the old mores that were about a hundred years behind, and it was already a big number for them to even say that Uhura was fourth in command; and every time she should have taken over command, they would say: ‘Maybe we’d better give it to a man.’ You know, they would just bypass the issue so nobody would even know about it.

“And then it was a big enough jump for them to have a black woman in such a position. It was a breakthrough in two areas, you see – although once they gave it to me they strangled me; still the breakthrough was made. And now, ten years later, it would be inconceivable to perpetuate that kind of chauvinism.

On being “typecast” post Trek:

“If I were a person who recognized the word ‘limitations,’ I would probably be bitter about that. But since I don’t know that word it has nothing to do with me, and my life has been totally opened up by the character of Uhura.

“My father always told me, ‘If you buy a lemon, make lemonade.’ So I took what could have been a gift that tarnished and I polished it – and I discovered the space program. I discovered so much more about my future and the world than I had known. I have become, I think, a better person, a better actor – and now, instead of having a life of acting and singing and dancing,  I have the universe.”

On what Star Trek says about real life:

“We can take our technology, and with our long range goals established, develop it to take us anywhere we want to go. We can do anything we want to do; absolutely anything in the universe we can conceive of doing is possible – by setting that goal and seeking the means by which to arrive at it.

“In other words, technology isn”t going to change us and make us robots; we are not going to be lost in space like 1999. We are masters of our own destiny and the tail does not wag the dog. We wag technology.”

Nichelle Nichols in white shirt dress and colourful beads, 1976

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