Friday, September 13, 2013

This Is Why We Are Marching - Nichelle Nichols

To start off this post, I simply must quote the article it comes from, because nothing else could do it justice.

“After a year with "Star Trek" as communications officer Lieutenant Uhura, she turned in her resignation. But at an NAACP event that weekend, she ran into King.

"One of the promoters came up and said someone wanted to meet me. He said he's my greatest fan," says Nichols, 78. "I thought it was some Trekker, some kid. I turned in my seat and there was Dr. Martin Luther King with a big smile on his face. He said, 'I am a Trekker, I am your biggest fan.'"

At that point, Nichols thought of herself as just a cast member on the show and hadn't fully grasped the racial implications of her part. She'd dealt with race all her life, of course, even on the set at Paramount, where a security guard hurled insults at her, but she hadn't grasped the importance of an African-American woman having a position of respect on TV.

Nichols thanked King, and told him she was leaving the show.

"He was telling me why I could not [resign]," she recalls. "He said I had the first non-stereotypical role, I had a role with honor, dignity and intelligence. He said, 'You simply cannot abdicate, this is an important role. This is why we are marching. We never thought we'd see this on TV.'"

Nichols was at a loss for words. It was the first time the importance of being an African-American woman on television had sank in. She returned to "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry the next Monday morning and rescinded her resignation.”

Discovered by jazz legend Duke Ellington, having a 45-year long career in television and film, and being an influence on the US space program - she has had an interesting life!  Sometimes I think that these 20 year old kids I run into on Trek bulletin boards or boards for various actors have no clue what has gone on before their lives even started.  They see Zoe Saldana – as the new Uhura, as Neytiri in Avatar, as Gamora in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy – and think “well, of course she gets these roles” - because she’s talented and beautiful – without realizing the debt owed to people like Nichelle Nichols, and without knowing that at one time being talented and beautiful was not enough.  

Thank you, Ms. Nichols, for being a true trailblazer, not only for women of color, but of ALL women!

What would the world have looked like today if that conversation would not have taken place?  We never would have had this photo:

What would Star Trek look like if she had walked off the show?