Welcome to this week’s installment of Geek Girl Authority Crush of the Week. Every week, we will highlight an awesome female character from, or a creator of, geeky media.
Lieutenant Nyota Uhura (played by Nichelle Nichols and, more recently, by Zoe Saldana) was the communications officer and translator on Star Trek: The Original Series. Uhura was one of the first characters of African descent to be featured in a television role that didn’t involve menial labor.
The Real Deal:
Black History Month would not be complete without talking about one of the pioneers of Black sci-fi. Lieutenant Uhura was a gorgeous, strong, and whip-smart member of the original USS Enterprise crew. She was the only member who could speak Klingon (though there are some continuity issues involving this ability we’re just going to call it a win) and she was one half of the first white/black interracial kiss on network television. Ever. So in a way, we have Uhura to thank for the very existence of the show Scandal.
Why Does She Matter:
We all know that as it stands in the year 2018, viewers are often more likely to see sci-fi characters in rainbow colors (see Zoe Saldana in Avatar and Zoe Saldana in Guardians of the Galaxy for a few quick examples) than the wide range of skin colors that exists in real life. This was even truer in the 1960s in the United States. Star Trek was a huge deal for featuring a multicultural cast. Characters like Sulu and Uhura were not frequently occurring in TV and film. It’s not just that they were people of color, it was that they were people of color who had as much standing and power and backstory as the white characters. At the time of Star Trek’s debut exactly two Black people had ever won Academy Awards for acting: Hattie McDaniel (Gone with the Wind) and Sidney Poitier (Lillies of the Field). Both of the characters these actors portrayed were uneducated laborers. While there’s nothing wrong with not having formal education or with pursuing a field that involved manual labor, these were some of the only roles that Black actors got to play.
There’s a famous story about Nichelle Nichols wanting to quit Star Trek and being approached by none other than Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. who begged her not to. He saw the impact that her role had and continues to have to this day. Star Trek played a huge role in the Afrofuturist movement – showing that there was a future for Black people and it involved not serving white people or being looked down on by white people, but being their equals.