Tuesday, January 20, 2015
An amazing anecdote from Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series:
I’m going to get all old-farty here (and, by the way, get those young whippersnappers off my lawn), but this was a big deal at the time. Maybe more than anybody can imagine now, who wasn’t watching TV (and I watched a lot of TV when I was a kid) at that time. Uhura, and Sulu, too, and, frankly, a Russian navigator in the middle of the Cold War.
Far from perfect (let alone its many artistic failings — many of the episodes are, IMHO, basically unwatchable now), sexist as hell, certainly not free of racial stereotyping… but they were trying. Roddenberry wanted a woman as second-in-command, but the network said no and that responsibility was shifted over to Spock.
TV was very, very white in those days (and when there was a Black character, it was mostly because the story demanded a Black character), and very much based in traditional gender roles (one of the weird things about Star Trek, by the way, was how every version of the show shied away from same-sex romance, even when they could have gone in that direction). But they were trying, and even that was rare.
You’re note being old-farty at all! You’re so right. What I’ve always loved about Star Trek is how it pushed the envelope in so many ways.
Was it a perfect representation of equality? No. But like you said, it was trying. It was forward-thinking. It was progress.
And that was so important to a little halfie girl in Texas. :)
I remember the episode where Captain Kirk kissed Uhura. First interracial kiss on television, ever. Commentators set their hair on fire and ran around like the world was ending. Of course, when Star Trek started bans on interracial marriage were legal and while it was on the air, George Wallace (look him up yung’uns) almost became our President.
Which all leads to the question, does television (and entertainment generally) create our culture, or reflect it?
That’s a great question. I think it’s a push-and-pull kind of thing. In any medium, we need a balance of What Was, What Is, and What Could Be. (And maybe sometimes even What Couldn’t Be.)
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