Nichelle Nichols Opened the Door Wide Enough for Others to Step Through and See the World

The women of Star Trek reflect on the groundbreaking actress’ historical impact.

Nichelle Nichols at the Star Trek: Discovery Premiere Red Carpet Event

This week, honors the late, pioneering Nichelle Nichols by reflecting on not only Nichelle’s legacy but also that of the character she portrayed, Uhura.

During First Contact Day last year, a few of the leading women of Star TrekSonequa Martin-Green (Michael Burnham, Star Trek: Discovery), Michelle Hurd (Raffi Musiker, Star Trek: Picard), Dawnn Lewis (Carol Freeman, Star Trek: Lower Decks), and Isa Briones (Dahj/Soji/Sutra/Kore Soong, Star Trek: Picard) — came together to honor Nichelle Nichols and the documentary Woman in Motion, which tells the story of how Nichols used her visibility to recruit women and people of color to NASA’s space program in the 1970s and 1980s.

Women of Star Trek Applaud Nichelle Nichols’ Historical Impact

“The time when Star Trek was on, the original Star Trek in the ‘60s, for Nichelle, it was taking a big chance,” remarked Lewis, “with her own personal career and her possibilities of future employment by being so outspoken. By daring and committing to being a game changer and using her one little gig in order to open doors and kick down stereotypes that had been established for decades, for centuries, in this country.”

“What it potentially could have cost her…,” continued Lewis, “being able to make a living, as a woman, as a person of color, she put all of that on the line to do what she believed in her heart was the right thing to do. ‘I don’t want to just live in the future. I don’t want this character to just be a fantastic little participle in the bigger scheme of things. Why can’t this be real?’”

Woman in Motion Honors Nichelle Nichols' Contributions to Space Exploration

“As she said in the opening trailer of the documentary, I’m going to make it possible, not just for me, but for multitudes to come beyond me,” noted Lewis.

“I’m so excited about this documentary,” added Hurd. “I really hope that not only just people go see it, but it should be included in educational systems because you’re speaking about people willing to die.”

Still of Nichelle Nichols surrounded by young Black women interested in STEM from Women in Motion

Woman in Motion / Shout Studios

Drawing comparisons to the late civil rights activist and politician, Hurd commented, “I quote John Lewis often. This man was 26 years old when he walked onto that bridge; he knew he was going to die. He figured, ‘This may happen, but I need to do this.’ One of the quotes that I know everybody knows but I think it’s so imperative, it literally harkens to what we’re talking about — the big picture of the long journey. He says, ‘Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, [be optimistic]. Our [struggle] is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month or a year. [It] is the struggle of a lifetime. Never [ever] be afraid to make noise [and] get in [good] trouble, necessary trouble.’”

“This is what Nichelle has done,” continued Hurd. “She asked herself all those questions. I’m going to do Star Trek. I’m an actress. I’m a civil rights person. I’m going to move the decimal forward… From this point on, it impacts. And the fact that her main objective was to reach down, or reach out, and bring people in — this is [why] history and lessons are imperative to our progress.”

Nichelle Nichols and Mae Jemison on Star Trek: The Next Generation

“Because of her, [astronaut] Mae Jamison did,” Lewis chimed in. “I remember they were filming [Star Trek: The Next Generation] near where I was working. I walked over to set to see Michael Dorn, who was playing Worf. Mae was guest-starring on the show, and the first thing Mae said [while] we’re sitting and we’re talking, she said the same thing, 'Lt. Uhura made me want to be an astronaut.'”

There’s no denying Nichelle Nichols’ impact on opening the door wide enough for others to see the whole world. Watch the full discussion with the women of Star Trek below:

FCD: Nichelle Nichols’ Impact On Science And Representation

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