On July 30, 2022, the beloved Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols died at the age of 89. She was known for playing Nyota Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series of 1966-1969 and subsequent series of films. At TOS, Uhura was the only permanent female actress on the bridge of the Enterprise as a crew interpreter and communications officer specializing in linguistics, cryptography and philology.
At a time of racial controversy, Uhura became a beacon of hope as one of the first black characters to be portrayed on television in a laid-back role. Although the character has since been portrayed by Zoe Saldanha in the 2009 reboot, and most recently by Celia Rose Gooding in the TOS 2022 prequel series Strange New Worlds, no version has had as strong an impact as the original iteration by Nichelle Nichols.
“I’m afraid I’ve changed my mind again.”
Season 2, episode 4 – “Mirror, Mirror”
Most of Uhura’s iconic moments in TOS involve the franchise’s first encounter with the Mirror Universe, in which Uhura, Kirk, McCoy and Scotty find themselves in an alternate dimension where tyrannical humans rule the galaxy. Pursued by the evil Sulu with a scar, Uhura plays along with his interests to distract attention.
Reminding Sulu that “the game has rules” and he must persevere when she refuses him. Grabbed by him at the console, she distracts him from Scotty and McCoy’s work in engineering before slapping him in the face after an apparent change of views. Viewers continue to root for the fabulously dressed Uhura brandishing a dagger in front of a sexual predator even decades later.
“Why don’t you tell me I’m an attractive woman, or ask me if I’ve ever been in love?”
Season 1 Episode 1 – “Trap Man”
Although this is not the first episode filmed, the first episode of the series shows an interesting interaction between a liaison and a researcher. Kirk and McCoy may tease the local Vulcan, but throughout the series Uhura tends to flirt with the uncomfortable Mr. Spock.
Recognizing herself as an “illogical woman,” she tries to talk to Spock, asking, for example, “how does a Volcano look on a lazy evening when the moon is full.” However, Spock, unaware of her advances, simply replies that “Vulcan has no moon.” With such hilarious and awkward interactions in TOS, it’s easy to see why the Kelvin Timeline films wanted to explore these relationships further.
“Sorry, neither one nor the other.”
Season 1, Episode 4 – “Naked Time”
When Sulu gets drunk due to an infection aboard the Enterprise, he demonstrates his abilities in topless fencing. On the bridge, when Uhura tries to reason with him, the thug grabs her, declaring that he will protect this “beautiful girl”.
She immediately rejects the outdated racist and sexist term, because she is not honest and not a girl. This iconic response, supposedly improvised by Nichelle Nichols, was an incredible moment to present on television. Uhura has become more than just another damsel in distress as she escapes from the very sweaty but dangerous George Takei.
“If it’s not done right, I can blow up the entire communication system. This is a very delicate job”
Season 2 episode 2 – “Who mourns Adonais?”
The sad truth is that Uhura has not been used enough in TOS, which the current reboots and prequels are trying to compensate for. However, she has this chance when God captures the Enterprise and blocks all communications; Uhura puts on an engineering jumpsuit and manually connects the communications console.
Doubting his abilities, Spock gives Uhura the courage that “can’t think of anyone better suited for this job.” It’s incredible to see her prove how valuable she is to the bridge. Undoubtedly, without the help of this amazing character with such diverse skills, the ship could have been cut off from its Captain on the surface indefinitely.
“But I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid.”
Season 3, episode 10 – “The Adopted children of Plato”
Without a doubt, one of the most memorable moments associated with Uhura is when she, Kirk, shared one of the first interracial kisses on television. “The Adopted Children of Plato” is one of the most important episodes of Uhura and one of the most defining episodes of “Star Trek”. This title, mistakenly called the first interracial kiss on television, belongs to the film “I Love Lucy” starring Lucille Ball, who ran the studio that produced “Star Trek”.
Although Uhura and Kirk’s kiss was uncoordinated because they were ruled by Greek gods, she changed the definition of the moment, stating that she was “not afraid” of the aliens controlling them, nor of the backlash that Star Trek would face at this incredible moment in black representation on television. Nichelle Nichols’ groundbreaking moment as Uhura in that kiss paved the way for future actors to do the same without fear of retribution.
“Oh, there’s someone in the guise of Satan on the starship Enterprise.”