Obituary: Nichelle Nichols, the actress who became a role model for young black women in America as Lieutenant Uhura in ‘Star Trek’

Nichelle Nichols, who has died aged 89, starred in the hit 1960s sci-fi series Star Trek – and in the role of charming Lieutenant Nyota Uhura laid one of the first interracial kisses. on American television on the lips Captain James T Kirk, played by William Shatner, boldly goes where no woman has gone before.

Black spaceship’s communications officer Uss business, Nichols found herself cast in the United States not only as Uhura but also as a role model for a generation of African-American women; Oscar-winning black movie star Whoopi Goldberg hailed her as a life-improving social figure.

Her steamy encounter with Capt Kirk – in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” – was originally shown in the US in November 1968, and despite televised depictions of white and Asian kissing Ah, this is the first white interracial kiss ever seen. in a scripted show on American television. Predictably, it drew a lot of negative attention, and even the NBC network that aired it was worried about the reaction in the Deep South.

The kiss is depicted as involuntary, the result of alien remote control, possibly to avoid any romantic hints that might infuriate some sensitive viewers. . In her memoirs, Shatner recalls NBC insisting that the couple’s lips never touched (both turned their heads away from the camera). But Nichols, in her autobiography Apart from Uhura (written in 1994 after Shatner’s book), emphasizes that the kiss is real, even if their lips are obscured by her head.

In fact, there are two versions of this scene shot, one with the kiss, the other without. But both Nichols and Shatner were so adamant in forcing netizens that they intentionally faked every scene in the no-kiss version.

Of the hundreds of comments, only one letter of mild criticism from a white Southerner wrote: “I am totally against mixing races. However, whenever a red-blooded American boy like Captain Kirk gets a beautiful dame in his arms just like Uhura, he won’t fight it. “

Grace Dell Nichols was born on December 28, 1932, in Robbins, Illinois, where her father was the town mayor. When she was 16, she wrote a ballet for a musical series by Duke Ellington, with whom she would later tour as a jazz singer. She studied in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, where she sang at the famous Blue Note and Playboy clubs. She also appeared in the title role for a Chicago theater company Carmen Jones.

As Nichelle Nichols, she toured North America, Canada, and Europe, sang with the bands Ellington and Lionel Hampton, and appeared in a West Coast musical. Greasepaint’s Roar The smell of the crowd.

In the early 1960s, she was romantically involved with Gene Roddenberry, a former Los Angeles cop who became a television screenwriter, and who wrote her on his first series, sublieutenantin 1964.

She joined Star Trek in 1966, her character name Uhura was a variation of “uhuru”, Swahili meaning “freedom”. But she soon grew tired of being sidelined by television executives, and when she discovered that her fan mail was on hold, she considered leaving the show. show at the end of the first season.

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“If they have to cut the conversation, it’s always me and George [Takei, who played the Asian character Hikaru Sulu] they cut,” she recalls. “Finally I realized: ‘The frequencies are open, sir.'”

But a chance meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King changed her mind. Pointing out that she had an unconventional breakout role, King encouraged her to stay, as she became an important role model for young black women in America. She not only stayed with the series but also appeared in six Star Trek film and provided the voice for Lt Uhura on Star Trek 1974-75 animated series.

When Star Trek canceled in 1969, Nichols moved on to other film work, taking on the role of Dorinda in the blaxploitation film. Revolving truck (1974). She has released several pop singles as well as an EP, The Dark Side of the Moonand make loops at Star Trek conventions.

Her interest in space travel led to an invitation to fly aboard the C-141 Astronomical Observatory, which analyzes the atmospheres of Mars and Saturn. When Nichols joined the board of the National Space Institute, she actively recruited more minorities and women, including Sally Ride, who joined Nasa in 1978 and 1983. became the first American woman in space.

Her two marriages, to Foster Johnson, a dancer, and Duke Mondy, a musician and composer, both ended in divorce. A son of her first marriage, Kyle, who became an actor, survived her.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] Obituary: Nichelle Nichols, the actress who became a role model for young black women in America as Lieutenant Uhura in ‘Star Trek’

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