Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Nichelle Nichols

By Andrea Plaid

Gina Torres reigns as the current Queen of Sci-Fi and Sci-Fantasy, true. And if it wasn’t  for Nichelle Nichols, we probably wouldn’t be talking about Torres. Or Avery Brooks as Captain Sisko. Or Zoe Saldana as the new Uhura. Or my doing fan-dancing.

 

Courtesy: Emmy TV Legends

Nichols’ iconic status in sci-fi results from a conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Frustrated during her first year on the original Star Trek, she decided to leave the show.

It sounds like you put a lot of thought into the part. Why did you want to quit after the first season?

After the first year, Grace Lee Whitney was let go so it became Bill and Leonard. The rest of us became supporting characters. I decided to leave the show after the first season.

What convinced you to stay on?

I was at a fundraiser and the promoter of the event said there’s somebody that wants to meet you. He is your biggest fan. I stood up and turned to see the beatific face of Dr. Martin Luther King walking towards me with a sparkle in his eye. He took my hand and thanked me for meeting him. He then said I am your greatest fan. All I remember is my mouth opening and shutting.

What was that like?

I thanked him so much and told him how I’d miss it all. He asked what I was talking about, and told me that I can’t leave the show. We talked a long time about what it all meant and what images on television tell us about ourselves.

As I wrote about her on the R’s Tumblr :

Because of this conversation and because Nichols took King’s advice, she inspired generations of people—especially young Black girls—to imagine themselves in space. One of those people is former NASA astronaut  Dr. Mae Jemison, who is a longtime friend of Nichols.

And Nichols inspires awe-stuck silence in the latest generation of Star Trek stars:

I got a call from JJ and he invited me to lunch and ask me how I felt. He did me the honor and I thought that was unbelievable. I went on the set and they were shooting, and I was being very quiet and then all of a sudden everything stops. I mean the actors just stopped in place. The saw me walk in and they were in their lines, and went like “and sir we have the….” And that was such an honor bestowed upon me. I went “Oh, I’m sorry” and everyone laughed.

Zoe Saldana, who plays the younger Uhura in the Star Trek reboot, said this about meeting Nichols:

Yes, I did meet her, and I was so humbled to have met such an icon. She’s an amazing woman and a strong human being.

 

Courtesy: fanpop.com

What may be lesser known—yet equally inspirational—is that Nichols is an incredible dancer.  She started ballet at 13 and moved to Afro-Cuban dance in her young adulthood.

Nichols continued to progress, and was offered engagements at modern dance performances, including the College Inn Hotel, where she was praised by the distinguished French dancer Josephine Baker and, more importantly, Duke Ellington…Truly, Nichelle Nichols dancing career was the envy of many. Her talent provided a springboard on to a star-filled career in show business.  [Source]

How I remember hearing about Nichols’ dancing background is that she did a fan dance. I told this bit of info to my burlesque mentor, Brown Girls Burlesque’s Chicava HoneyChild, and she—always in search of info to recover the history of women of color in burlesque—raised her eyebrows in pleasant surprise and asked where. At the time I simply said, “In one of the Star Trek movies.” Let me clarify that: more specifically, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (clip slightly NSFW).

What warms my about-to-be-43-year-old newbie burly-q heart: Nichols did that dance for the film at 57 years old. And with gloriously salt-and-pepper hair. I took up fan-dancing.

And all of this is why she’s the R’s Crush Of The Week.

 

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  • Ladyguerita

    what took you so long? :DUhura: Why don’t you tell
    me I’m an attractive young lady. Or ask me if I’ve ever been in love.
    Tell me how your planet Vulcan looks on an Lazy evening when the moon
    is full.
    Spock: Vulcan has no moon, miss Uhura.
    Uhura: I’m not surprised, Mr. Spock.

  • trooper6

    I met her at a Star Trek convention and she gave me a hug when I told her how important she was to me…my mother was with me and Nichelle meant so much for my mother as well. Something I remember: Nichelle gave this huge, warm, enveloping hug…and she wore the most divine perfume. It was one of the highlights of my life meeting her.

  • http://twitter.com/Ellington3 Rhonda Yearwood

    Ever since I was little and would watch Star Trek after school I was in awe of Lt. Uhura and Nichelle Nichols! 
    I wanted to be like Lt. Uhura (and I wanted to marry Spock) and I thought that Nichelle Nichols was just stellar!
    It was not until I was much older that I found out how ground breaking her role on the Enterprise bridge was, and I have to thank her for that, because of her I saw someone who had the my skin tone and was smart, capable and very beautiful and as a little black girl and now an adult black woman that really means so much!
    Thanks Ms Nichols and thanks for making her your crush of the week Andrea. : )

  • Anonymous

    I may not be at the top of the social totem pole. I may not be the desired western beauty standard. I may come from people who were enslaved for centuries. But what I DO have? Sweet sweet melanin that insures that I age gracefully. Nichelle looks amazing!

  • Lachiflera

    I did not know she was a dancer, too! *sigh* Crushing now…

    • Elton

      And a singer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3B4lsvrzfZI

    • Elton

      And a singer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3B4lsvrzfZI

  • Asada

    How interesting!

    I am impressed by how long “star trek” has managed to say relevent in pop culture.  Reading her interview, I am reminded part of it’s appeal was that it broke barriers by employing POC  and showcasing their talent in a different light.

    This was a good read and informative, thank you.

  • Elton

    Nichelle is the hottest ever.  I’m guessing George Takei is coming up soon.

    By the way, required viewing for all Star Trek fans:
    The Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner
    “Where No Fan Has Gone Before” (Futurama episode)
    and of course, Trekkies and Trekkies 2, the documentaries on the Star Trek fan phenomenon

    all of which feature Nichelle Nichols and most of the original series cast.

  • Anonymous

    Fantastic! Thanks for this post :)

  • http://www.scribblesandsonnets.blogspot.com/ Jessica Isabel

    I went to the Science Channel’s panel discussion at the New York Comic Con back in December. Rod Roddenberry was there and he showed a clip of his interview with Nichelle Nichols. She related the story of meeting Dr. King and I’ve got to tell you – in a room full of over 200 people there was not a single dry eye at the end of that clip. She said that when she told him she planned to leave the show that he replied “You can’t. You just can’t. This is the first time we are shown in a position that we deserve to be in – not as maids, slaves, servants, or buffoons. You can’t leave the show.” She got very emotional after talking about it and even the other panelists (among them Dr. Michio Kaku) were visibly affected. It’s really powerful to me the way that nerdiness (science fiction, fantasy, comics, video games, etc.) can interact with momentous historical occasions. This is a great example of that.

    • Elton

      I think “nerdiness” and anti-racism intersect because nerds and anti-racists are outsiders who imagine ways to make things better.  That’s why it’s so unfortunate that nerd culture can be painfully dumb when it comes to issues of race and representation.  On popular sites like Reddit and the various -chans, you often encounter an arrogance and lack of even basic understanding of critical race theory, privilege, and derailing.  Many people on those sites have the attitude that because they are tech-savvy, liberal, atheist, etc., they are entitled to a certain level of racism, even when they denounce intolerance among conservatives, Republicans, the non-tech-savvy, Southerners, etc.
      I believe the spirit of “nerdiness” should be about opening one’s mind to interests and topics that the mainstream shuns simply because they are unpopular, while delving into those interests and topics deeply, without concern for whether society approves or whether they will get rich or popular, out of pure self-motivation.  That describes anti-racism precisely.

  • mr. oyola

    Crush of the week? Crush of a lifetime.

  • Anonymous

    She and Mae Jemison are friends? That is just… I think my brain just exploded from the awesomeness.