I was one of the first black women in the country, more years ago than I care to remember, who wore an afro ‘outside,’ in public. This was way before Star Trek. I wore one of the biggest afros in New York, but I wore it with Dior and Chanel suits. One of the other persons who was the first to wear an afro, but she cut it very short, was Cicely Tyson.
But when it came time to do the Star Trek movie, I had to fight for that afro. It was nothing against the afro, but the feeling was that the afro had become so very popular that it looked too contemporary.
I said, ‘However, the afro is not modern, the afro has been around for at least not less than 5,000 years and probably at least 10,000. I’m not sure how long we’ve been on the planet, but as long as there have been black people the afro has been around.’
Then they said, ‘Well, it can’t be the big bubble, so let’s try to get a more “Uhura’ style.” I said, ‘What are you going to do, deny her race and make her hair straight again? If we’re going to have to live through that again…’ They assured me that what they had in mind was more of a balance, and we agreed.
We said, ‘OK, women in the future will do all kinds of things, as they have in the past. For 5,000 years and more they’ve straightened their hair and curled it and rolled it and twisted it and braided it and twirled it and shaved it off and done everything under the sun. And so, in the future, it’s very conceivable that, just as we do today, black people will do these twirly-curl kind of things, and point their bangs, and this would be peculiar to Uhura: the pointed bangs and long sideburns.’
[…] To tell the truth, I really wanted cornrow braids. And don’t you dare call them ‘Bo Derek braids!’ That’s something that we’ve been doing for thousands of years before she was born!
- From Return to Tomorrow: The Filming of Star Trek The Motion Picture. h/t the Women of Star Trek Facebook page.
I love this so, so much. It really speaks to issues that black women in Hollywood and everyday life are still facing today around the shaming of natural hair that comes with the assumption that the beauty standard to appeal to is that of white women’s hair. And it touches on cultural appropriation of black hairstyles like cornrows by white people! Nichelle Nichols is so the most amazing.