Nichelle Nichols on the Legacy of Star Trek, Diversity, and the Importance of Fans
Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed the poised and competent Lieutenant Uhura aboard the USS Enterprise, is everything that her character possessed and so much more.
At nearly 85-years young (she has a birthday later this month), she speaks fondly of the franchise for which she played such a pivotal and socially necessary role and encourages people today to pursue their own goals, voyaging, as one might say, where no one has ever gone before.
Although this interview occurred over the phone, Nichols has a bright lilt to her voice, and, it can be assumed, a near constant spark in her eye. When talking about diversity, her own career, advice for young people, and even her birthday, her laugh danced throughout the conversation.
How do you feel about the legacy of Star Trek, how it continues to be a fan favorite, and why do you think that is, that it has such an impact for people?
Well I think that [Hollywood] was having an issue with diversity. And I think that it has rallied around a cause to make sure that everybody’s got a voice. And I think it’s about time! The results are really speaking for themselves. From the Oscar nominees last year, to Sonequa’s staring role in Star Trek: Discovery. And I think that’s just great.
These experiences in a fan favorite show have branched out to continuing the film franchises and shows. I think that it’s been an amazing ride. Because nobody was involved with Gene Roddenberry’s original vision. They would have been surprised – we all know the story of exploration, of cooperation, and a peaceful future – that it would have a lasting message. So I just want to continue to go where no woman has gone before.
Do you think you would ever appear in another Star Trek show or film?
Only if they ask me! The answer is, “Heck, yeah!”
That would be pretty exciting to see you again.
It would be pretty exciting to be seen again.
Do you have a favorite episode or favorite movie that is very special to you?
Hmm… I think anytime that Uhura gets to get off the planet. Get off the ship, that’s right. I just enjoyed doing it and I’m just honored to be involved with it, the whole thing. And I talk about it with fans and for them to talk to me about it, where they’re coming from.
I often get new ideas, you know, from the fans who talk to me […] from their point of view. Because we all have a point of view. But sometimes it comes at you from a strange direction, and you realize, “Hey, that’s right. That’s a good one.”
So what is your favorite thing about conventions then?
The people. They are just incredible. And they have questions for me that I didn’t even realize that they thought that deeply, you know? And they’re just great. And they come at you with some questions, you know.
And I’ve just enjoyed my life through Star Trek and this, doing what we’re doing, and the fans. Everyone seems to have a feeling of their own, and to realize that you have that feeling too.
Star Trek certainly brings people together. It’s very unifying.
You said it like I wish I had! Because that’s the truth!
Speaking of bringing people together, you have a birthday party coming up.
Lord have mercy, don’t I just!
Are you excited?
Of course I am! Oh I should say, “Oh I’m really not that excited about it. I think hopefully not.” Because I’d be lying through my teeth! I’m just as excited about it as everybody else is. Or more so!
That’s very good. I’m assuming at your birthday, people will be talking about what an inspiration you are, how much they love you…
Oh I hope so.
If people could only say one thing about you, what would you hope that they would say?
Well whatever they say, I’m gonna get myself a big mirror and sit it in front of them, turn it so that they can see themselves, cause that’s the way I see them. And what they bring to me, it’s because of them. It wouldn’t matter if they weren’t there and if they didn’t speak out loud about how they feel about me. I find myself feeling the same.
You really realize that, right? And it makes me more proud to be involved than I maybe would have been, because it’s just something that’s so far out there. And God gave me the opportunity to be out there too. I love ‘em all.
Since you’ve been such an inspiration to so many people, especially young women, if you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?
When I was starting to talk to people again, no one – man, woman, black, white – should ever think there’s something out of their reach. And the more we talk about our differences, the more we exacerbate them.
What I think is that everyone should go out there and find their own voice, and their role. Don’t worry about what’s holding you back, you know. Just don’t let anyone tell you you can’t be anything you want to be. I say that all the time.
You can be what you want to be. And just surround yourself, and don’t let people tell you you can’t do that. You can do any dang thing you want. And just let it be a good one. Let it be about the quality of it. And uh, that’s it.
That’s some really good advice. I think that’s all the advice people need, honestly. And speaking of not holding back, you have some upcoming projects, correct? Can you tell me about those?
Yeah, I’m currently producing a sci-fi parody called Unbelievable!!!!! And it’s got a few Star Trek stars. And I’m also producing a drama, a film called Noah’s Room. And I’m really excited about Noah’s Room.
It sounds like you’re keeping yourself pretty busy.
Yeah. I stay busy. It makes me think more of myself!
This month Nichols will be celebrating her 85th birthday on Thursday, December 28, at La Piazza in The Grove in Los Angeles. Tickets are available for fans to meet the acclaimed actress, enjoy a meal, and toast to such a radiant life.
As for her two upcoming projects, Unbelievable!!!!! screened at Dragon Con and is still slated for release (and she isn’t kidding when she says it has “a few” Star Trek stars!), while Noah’s Room is in pre-production, with Nichols as both producer and cast member.