nichelle nichols

I Am Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek’s “Uhura”, first black woman on television in a non-stereotypical role, and recruiter for the first minorities in NASA. AMA!

Hello Reddit, I am Nichelle Nichols, “Uhura” in Star Trek (now “The Original Series”). I’ve been an actress and singer in many other productions as well! I played what Dr. Martin Luther King called, “the first non-stereotypical role portrayed by a black woman in television history.” Due to my unexpected position as a role model on television for minorities in space, I was asked by NASA to help in a highly effective campaign to recruit minority and female personnel for the space agency. People I recruited include Sally Ride, the first woman in space, Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space, and Charles Bolden, the current NASA administrator.

(Her friend, Gil, is here actually writing up Nichelle’s responses).

Today, I’m blessed to be able to spend so much time travelling the country (and the world!) at comic cons and Star Trek conventions. I’ve probably met many of you in my travels.

I’m doing something very exciting online. I’m one of the founding celebrities on a new website called StarPower, where stars raise funds for the causes we care about while building closer, long-lasting relationships with our fans. I’m giving away some of my original Star Trek memorabilia, tickets to upcoming events, and doing some exclusive one-on-ones with fans. I even started hosting my own mini-AMA before someone told me I should do it here! What sets StarPower apart from other sites is that it’s a monthly subscription rather than a flash-in-the pan. I know from working with non profits in the past that a constant, reliable revenue source is the dream compared to the booms and busts of traditional fundraising. I’m supporting the Technology Access Foundation and the Planetary Society.

I’m also involved in some new, exciting projects. In September, I’m traveling on a NASA SOFIA flight, a second generation Airborn Observatory, which I am honored to have been invited too. I’ll be streaming as much from that as I can on StarPower as well! So please, ask me anything! Star Trek, NASA, singing, gardening, StarPower, anything you like.

My Proof:

When you were working on the first season of the original Star Trek, did you get a feeling that you were working on something special or was it simply an acting gig to pay the bills?

I absolutely thought it was going to be something special. You only had to read it to know it was something special. The writers, producers, the story, it was something brand new.

I heard a story that you were considering leaving Star Trek to pursue a Broadway career, but that Martin Luther King Jr. convinced you to stay. Is this true? What was this conversation like?

This is true. I had several conversations with him over the years, and it sounds like the stories have gotten mixed and confused.

I was offered a role on Broadway. I was a singer on stage long before I was an actress, and Broadway was always a dream to me. I was ready to leave Star Trek and pursue what I’d always wanted to do.

Dr. Martin Luther King, quite some time after I’d first met him, approached me and said something along the lines of “Nichelle, whether you like it or not, you have become an symbol. If you leave, they can replace you with a blonde haired white girl, and it will be like you were never there. What you’ve accomplished, for all of us, will only be real if you stay.” That got me thinking about how it would look for fans of color around the country if they saw me leave. I saw that this was bigger than just me.

I got to do a lot of singing after the series ended.

What was it like working with Gene on a regular basis? Did he talk about trying to create the better world he portrayed in his science and police fiction?

He didn’t talk about it, he just did it. It was who he was. He believed in that world, if you got it you got it. If you didn’t get it, you’d see it anyway.

How did you feel at the time he asked you to stay on Star Trek? How do you feel now about it?

I trusted Dr. Martin Luther King implicitly. I stayed on the show and I never looked back. I absolutely still believe in that decision.

What was the role you were offered on Broadway?

I promised them I wouldn’t say so that whoever did get the role didn’t feel they were second to anyone.

Ah, fair enough. That’s a kind promise to make, and I’m glad you uphold it. If you don’t mind a follow up question, if you could play any roll on Broadway, what would your choice be?

After the show, I would have loved to see them take Star Trek to Broadway as a musical. I write as well as perform, I would have loved to take a creative lead here.

Were you in touch with Gene at all during the last years of his life, while he was working on The Next Generation? If so, what was he like? There are a lot of mixed impressions of him from that time.

He was like Gene Roddenberry, no matter when and where it was. That was the wonderful thing about him.

Do you have an interesting story involving Whoopi Goldberg?

Whoopi Goldberg said Star Trek was her favorite show growing up. She said “they need to write something for me!” Her agent said “you can’t act in Star Trek, you’re a comedian!” She said “No, I’m an actress who does comedy!”

Gene talked to me about it, I think he wanted my reaction. I was really excited about it, and I laughed and said “yes, that’s what the show needs, a Whoopi Goldberg! Yes!” She was terrific.

This was no ‘comedy thing’ to her, this was her favorite show and she is a great actor, she did fantastic, and the world discovered it through Star Trek.

I believe she knew our roles better than we did.

My all time favorite Star Trek movie is Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. A great part of the movie takes place in San Francisco in the 80’s. Can you tell us a bit about the experience? Filming in on the streets of SF? Also, in the movie, you all have a bit of fun swimming with the whales when the Bounty crashes in San Francisco Bay in the future. Was the scene any fun to film? Or was it not fun at all for you?

It was a lark and a half! Two and a half larks. Three larks. So much fun. Everybody on it understood that Gene Roddenberry had a funny bone.

My biggest memory of San Francisco was the cold.

They wanted to keep me away from the whales and do some kind of special effects, but I was determined. I think I was as interesting to the whales as they where to me.

I’m so honored to have had a part in your life with your choice of career. I hope it’s been everything you hoped for.

Does NASA SOFIA mean we’ll actually see you in space? And I would love to own that phaser gun.

SOFIA does not, sadly, fly into space. It’s an airborne observatory, a massive telescope mounted inside a 747 flying as high as is possible. I was on a similar flight, the first airborn observatory, back in 1977. It’s an amazing experience, you get a totally different perspective than from earth.

I do hope someone gets some great pictures.

Do you have a favourite moment or episode from the original series?

I loved the whole show, from when I left to the studio to when I got home, and everything in between.

My favorite episodes were anytime Uhura got to go to the planet. I fought for that, the person who knows the planet and the people better than all of you is the communication officer! They don’t need to communicate to me up on the ship, I’ve got the communicator right here.

What was it like to sing with Duke Ellington? What was he like as a person?

It was like the sky opened up, and god said “pick anything that you want that would make the world perfect”.

Would you ever appear in another Star Trek movie?

Of course! It would have to be a very specific part, and I’d have to agree with the role. I can’t imagine being completly OK with the Star Trek story without Gene, however.

Was there a specific moment when you realized you had become a symbol as one of the first non stereotyped black women on television? What was it like at first going from being an another actress to one of the most recognized ones?

The way I got into the public spotlight, I never was ‘another actress’, I was Uhura from the beginning on a show that was big from the beginning. It was my first major credit!

I’m excited to be at Dragon Con myself! Please do come say hello.

What is your greatest memory from the set that might not be known to Star Trek fans?

Working with Gene is something that most Trekkers don’t appreciate. Gene set the voice, the tone, and had a great sense of humor. Hey was so serious about the quality of the work, and respectful to everyone on the show, every fan, and every other show he was involved with. Never anything that would demean a fan or an actor, and especially his show.

How do you feel about Uhura dating Spock in the JJ Abrams franchise?

That wouldn’t have happened back in the original series, Uhura was a private person with a personal life separate from the rest of the crew.

I think that you and a number of the other cast members have really gone above and beyond with regards to your commitment to the fans. What is the most surprising thing a fan has done when meeting you (positive or negative)?

Thank you so much 🙂

I’m never surprised by anything a fan does, it’s always wonderful. They really taught me to care, not only about fandom but about my role and responsibility to them.

I grew up watching Star Trek with my father, who used it to teach me about racism and gender equality (not just in the actual stories, but also the behind-the-scenes stuff, like Dr. King asking you to stay on the show). You’ve been a hero of mine for almost my entire life. My question for you is, who was your hero, or who were your heroes, when you were a child?

Thank you so much for your kind words, I’m so honored to have been able to have a role in your life.

I wanted to be a singer as a child. Lena Horne was the greatest when I was growing up, a star, a performer, a lady. When you saw her, you never forgot it. Marian Anderson is tied for first place with her, she was an icon for every black female artist of my generation. And thank God I got to meet her before she died, that was the greatest thing for me. She had a voice that made you just shiver in place.

I have heroes, and I felt it was a duty of mine to be a hero to others. If I was going to be in front of others, I wanted to be a hero I’d be proud to have.

During your years on Star Trek, how were you treated among the general population? Were you respected for your craft? Or was racism too overpowering?

Of course I was well respected. Trekdom was well respected, and the actors were all well respected. While everyone on the planet experienced some kind of racism at the time, I’m delighted to say that I never felt singled out or targeted. Trek Fans were the most respectful, and I have the highest respect for the fans of trekdom.

Do you still hang out with any of your colleagues from Star Trek?

Yes I am. I get along with all of them, and meet them often at conventions around the world.

Were there any moments on Star Trek that required a little fight from you in order to continue the positive portrayal of your race and gender through your character?

Not at all, Gene Roddenberry was the producer.