August 2, 2022

"Nichols’s Uhura spent a lot of time in her seat, sometimes not doing more than just taking calls."

"But that didn’t mean she was relegated to servitude — she was responsible for communications, as the expert on languages both alien and human. She could be supportive and authoritative, a team player and a problem solver. She... was a part of one of television’s first interracial kisses, with William Shatner’s Capt. James T. Kirk."

They got away with putting a beautiful woman in a minidress in the background of as many shots as possible, but what did she do other than provide eye candy for the little boys and little men who watched? 

She was the secretary, seated at the switchboard, receiving calls. 

Come on. The sexual politics was ridiculous, and blackness was the device to make it seem progressive, or at least to shut up the critics.

And I mean no disrespect to Ms. Nichols or to any other black actor who accepted a role constrained by stereotypes. There should have been more offers. There should have been more roles.

132 comments:

Levi Starks said...

Wasn’t she dressing the exact same way you would have demanded to dress?

Unknown said...

Aw, now I feel bad.

She should show up Kirk every show, like a modern "strong female character" carrying the "message" that women don't need men.

Maybe a whole show on abortion starring Stacy Abrams as new caption...

Kevin said...

And I mean no disrespect to Ms. Nichols or to any other black actor who accepted a role constrained by stereotypes.

Oh come on. Earthlings were WAY overrepresented in Enterprise crew.

As instructed by galactic CRT, that role should have gone to a creatrure made of green slime.

Kate said...

If you weren't Kirk, McCoy, or Spock you weren't getting prime camera. Nurse Chapel got a few extra moments for being Roddenberry's wife.

Nichols turned a secondary character into a great career and a motivational figure. Good for her. When she was given the moments -- like when she sings in the crew lounge -- she killed it.

MadisonMan said...

There should have been more offers. There should have been more roles.
True. If you look at the roles for Leonard Nimoy, he did plenty post-Star Trek -- starting with Mission Impossible. Even Grace Lee Whitney, Yeoman Rand, had steady work after Star Trek. But maybe Nichols's post-TOS roles weren't TV/Movie. I don't know.

Rory said...

I typed "Uhura's legs" into youtube. I'm surprised there's not an hour-long video of all the footage of her just sitting in the background, displaying good posture.

Big Mike said...

There should have been more offers. There should have been more roles.

Agree 100%

Terry di Tufo said...

Galaxy Quest and Sigourney Weaver nailed the role perfectly. Her character’s only duty is to repeat what the computer says.

Enigma said...

@Althouse: "And I mean no disrespect to Ms. Nichols or to any other black actor who accepted a role constrained by stereotypes. There should have been more offers. There should have been more roles."

I don't think it had anything to do with racism, but more to do with typecasting and the limited number of "star" and "actor" slots then available. Female stars had/have a very short professional window too, as they were and are routinely replaced by younger women after about age 30 to 35.

The actors in the Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan's Island, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Green Acres, etc. were all typecast. Hollywood routinely 'retired' successful TV shows to do something new, knowing that anything they threw on screen would draw 25% to 50% of the viewing audience.

Only a few TV stars ever made it past typecasting, such as William Shatner and Clint Eastwood. Shatner was still typecast as Captain James Kirk. Leonard Nimoy was too tooo toooooooo distinct to move beyond Spock.

Ann Althouse said...

"Wasn’t she dressing the exact same way you would have demanded to dress?"

What's that supposed to refer to?

I was critical of this at the time. It was obviously sexist *at the time*!

Ann Althouse said...

That was supposed to be a uniform. We get all the way to the future and that's what women are not just wearing, but required to wear? On a spaceship? It was like something out of Playboy. And Nichols's relation to Playboy is very weird:

"Nichols' break came in an appearance in Kicks and Co., Oscar Brown's highly touted but ill-fated 1961 musical. In a thinly veiled satire of Playboy magazine, she played Hazel Sharpe, a voluptuous campus queen who was being tempted by the devil and Orgy Magazine to become "Orgy Maiden of the Month". Although the play closed after a short run in Chicago, Nichols attracted the attention of Hugh Hefner, the publisher of Playboy, who booked her for his Chicago Playboy Club."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nichelle_Nichols

~ Gordon Pasha said...

Her uniform was not unique to her, almost all of the women were there as eye candy. Here is a picture of Yeoman Rand interacting with LT Sulu.

https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Janice_Rand?file=Hikaru_Sulu_and_Janice_Rand%252C_2266.jpg

Menahem Globus said...

In the original Star Trek pilot the women wore pants. In the revamped pilot Grace Lee Whitney wanted to wear the mini-skirt to show off her dancers legs. The crew liked it and that became the default.

Anthony said...

She was in more episodes than any of the other cast (apart from Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley).

As for The Kiss. . . .I was born in 1962 and was a bit young when it first aired, but I know the first time I saw it (probably while in syndication, still quite young): "EEEEwwwwwww. . . more kissing!!!! Resist!!!"

Fast forward a few years: "Yeeeeah, go Kirk! Stop resisting!"

I daresay most people my age thought it was weirder seeing a Russian on board than a black woman.

Wince said...

She was the secretary, seated at the switchboard, receiving calls.

"One ringy-dingy. Two ringy-dingy."

Ernestine Calls Jimmy Hoffa

Maynard said...

Journalist opinion writing has devolved into college sophomores writing essays for Lit 201.

Joe Smith said...

The show wasn't Shakespeare, and she was fairly wooden in her acting.

But you have to give Roddenberry (known to be a horn-dog) credit for a diverse cast way back then.

He even had a Canadian Jew as the star!

The biggest mistake Roddenberry made was casting George Takei...little did he know that, in the future, George would become an insufferable, raging queen.

Oh my...

Andy said...

So the question is who has to die before Uhura takes command of the Enterprise. My guess is Kirk, Spock, Scottie, and Sulu.

PM said...

We're talking 1967. Meaning prep was 1966. Why wouldn't she wear a miniskirt-like outfit? That was the happening fashion and youth were the target group. Hey, Now Generation, the future looks like you!

Ann Althouse said...

"I don't think it had anything to do with racism, but more to do with typecasting and the limited number of "star" and "actor" slots then available. Female stars had/have a very short professional window too, as they were and are routinely replaced by younger women after about age 30 to 35."

Yeah, and I was talking about sexism, so you are agreeing with me.

Why did the doctor have to be a man? The main 3 characters were white men. Then arrayed around them were lessers roles, given based on diversity, and only one woman, who doubled as the black person and who was given a stereotypically female role to play and dressed for display, not for acting.

Ann Althouse said...

@Wince

Yes, that's exactly what I was thinking when I wrote what you quoted.

W.Cook said...

At one point she decided to quit for these very reasons, but Martin Luther King himself urged her to stay on.

I think maybe your are looking at a sixties situation through a 2020s lens.

https://en.as.com/latest_news/how-martin-luther-king-jr-convinced-nichelle-nichols-not-to-quit-as-star-treks-uhura-n/?outputType=amp

Ann Althouse said...

"As for The Kiss..."

The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member. It's a sexual harassment scenario. It seems the "secretary" got her position based on her sexual attractiveness and then they turn this into a plot point where she gets to be another of the captain's sexual conquests. It was ludicrous, the lack of professionalism in the captain. It seemed stupid at the time — and I remember — and it's mind-boggling that half a century later people are still devoted to this show.

It was out of date when it originally aired!!

JAORE said...

Oh to have lived a pure and equitable life fifty years before today's definitions. Sure she was a secondary character, like Chekov (sp). But it was a break though role, for that time, for an African-American actor.

But let's use her death to point out the sins of our past by today's standards.

Rabel said...

"The main 3 characters were white men."

I think you mean the three main actors.

Dude1394 said...

I don't know if the doctor HAD to be a man, but I cannot imagine the dynamic between spock and mccoy if replaced by a curmugeon woman doctor.

I don't see it, their love/hate relationship is much better personified by two men imo.

Dude1394 said...

What JAORE said.

Rabel said...

It's never enough.

Christopher said...

"Wasn’t she dressing the exact same way you would have demanded to dress?"

What's that supposed to refer to?

I was critical of this at the time. It was obviously sexist *at the time*!


It's supposed to refer to your famous tale of the mean sexist high school principal who advised you on skirt length. Touche if you ask me.

but what did she do other than provide eye candy for the little boys and little men who watched?

Yikes, I can't quite place it, but I sense a cartoon panel involving a peach coming on.

Uhura was a respected and treasured member of the crew, both in the scripts and in Star Trek fandom. Maybe you were never immersed in that world and can't take in the entire landscape.

Attractive women have always been sex objects and always will be sex objects, but are not only sex objects. Just like men are power/status objects but not only that. Suscribe to my substack for more life hacks.

Jamie said...

Considering that before Star Trek there simply were no sci-fi roles played by black women, she kind of represents one giant leap for black womankind, it seems to me.

This objection, that she played eye candy doing a stereotypical girl job, is well and good... but it's like saying that Irene Adler wasn't a strong enough foil for Sherlock Holmes because her "crime" was a stereotypically female one - jealousy - and she should have been a murderous mastermind, in a time when women were not viewed as having either capacity. The important thing is that Conan-Doyle wrote her in at all, in that era.

Meaning no disrespect to the women, the astonishing thing about a dancing bear is not how well it dances, etc.

gilbar said...

The Cool Thing about Star Trek; was that the Federation had "out grown" war.
The people of the Earth lived together in peace and peaceful togetherness!

All you had to do, was look at the crew! Blacks, whites, asians, aliens(!) all working together.
Of course,
Out of the ENTIRE Crew, there was ONLY one (ONE!) russian, and the asians were Japanese americans.
That is to say..
Earth "Out Grew" war.. after a series of wars that annihilated Nearly EVERY SINGLE COMMIE on the planet!
PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!!!

Enigma said...

@Althouse: "Why did the doctor have to be a man? The main 3 characters were white men. Then arrayed around them were lessers roles, given based on diversity, and only one woman, who doubled as the black person and who was given a stereotypically female role to play and dressed for display, not for acting."

Star Trek aired in the late 1960s. Doctor McCoy was a "fine southern gentleman" and a very overt nod to including a major role for someone positive from the post-Civil War south. Women were able to vote only in 1920. The Hollywood execs saw suffrage happen during their lifetimes, and perhaps viewed women as homemakers and eye candy. Only. They may have never considered women qualified or capable of leadership and power roles. "Women's Lib" didn't get really rolling until the 1970s. Bra burning, ERA. Women aimed for the Vice Presidential role in 1980 (Ferraro) and 2008 (Palin), but didn't win. Hillary failed to be elected President in 2016. [Now, I won't digress into the criticisms of Kamala Harris.]

Tom T. said...

There was an episode of the subsequent Star Trek Animated Series where Uhura (voiced by Nichols) took command of the Enterprise, after a planet of space sirens had hypnotized all the male crew members. Maybe they could be a little looser with the gender roles since the animated series was such a smaller stage.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lorelei_Signal

gilbar said...

Professor Althouse, who doesn't watch much TV, said..
The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member.
You're Right! that was THE POINT
In "Plato's Stepchildren," which was broadcast in 1968, the kiss is involuntarily forced by telekinesis.

It WASN'T the crewmembers kissing, it was the EVIL ALIENS making them kiss (like puppets)

Jeff Weimer said...

"The Kiss" - Ann, it wouldn't be considered unprofessional, they were
*both* forced against their will to do it by a godlike being pretending to be . She was never treated like one of his sexual "conquests."

And as for her position on the show - even she was upset about out to the point she briefly quit after the 1st season. MLK himself convinced her to stay, as he knew even the smallest step in the right direction was a good thing. Later, especially in the movies, she got to be more than just a "secretary." Even during the original series, she got more screen time, and stories, than anyone else outside the Big Three.

Free Manure While You Wait! said...

"Come on. The sexual politics was ridiculous, and blackness was the device to make it seem progressive, or at least to shut up the critics."

If you're honest with yourself, Ann, nothing has really changed, has it?

Michael E. Lopez said...

"The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member. It's a sexual harassment scenario."

I mean, it's more of a rapey scenario than anything else.

But *not* by Kirk or Uhura.

Not sure where you got the "captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member" out of that episode.

Paddy O said...

No doubt you missed this one, but Uhura's fan dance in Star Trek V was very impressionable for a young high school freshman.

"Why did the doctor have to be a man?"

This brought to mind that influential (really, it was!) show Emergency! Very male dominated, including paramedics and doctors, though Julie London played a strong female no-nonsense nurse character.

Which makes me wonder when was the first really strong woman doctor role on TV? St. Elsewhere? I never watched that show so don't know it well.

Buckwheathikes said...

Kirk kissed a green chick, too, who now forever languishes in the shadow of Nichelle Nichols.

But on a more serious note ... yes, during the very, very short-lived 3-year run of the original series, Nichols was basically just the operator: "Uhura, patch me in to the Klingon commander!" "Uhuru ... hailing frequencies." Yeah, ham radio actress.

In the movies, she had a bit more heft. She played a pivotal role in the theft of the Starship Enterprise by pushing a kid into a closet.

And that fan dance on Nimbus 3. Oh, baby, those gams could move!

Jamie said...

It was ludicrous, the lack of professionalism in the captain.

I'm not the first to observe that the show was Freudian, and that the three main characters represent the id (Kirk), the ego (Spock), and the superego (McCoy). Making Kirk into Picard would have made the show... boring. (Next Generation was kinda boring, in fact, with a consummate professional at the helm.)

Was it a proper primer for how to conduct an exploratory mission? Absolutely not. But Kirk's lack of self-discipline (offset by his courage and resourcefulness), Spock's lack of emotion (offset by his great intelligence and the human part of himself that he tried to but couldn't quite deny), and McCoy's lack of omnipotence (offset by his competence and his perseverance) made for a fun and character-driven show.

And in that context - the three Freudian elements of personality, playing off one another - Uhura had a surprisingly strongly drawn character - much stronger than Rand and right up there with Chekhov and Sulu. Of the lesser characters, I'd say only Scott is stronger, and he's at least as much of a stereotype.

hombre said...

Althouse: "They got away with ...." LOL.

Most of the women on Star Trek were beautiful and wore minidresses. Nichols was not likely cast or dressed "to make it seem progressive." The country was sane. Nobody cared what progs thought. If Nichols inspired black actresses, it was without Affirmative Action.

In the context of sexism or "sexual politics," just look how women have progressed under the tutelage of feminists. Porn appears to be rampant and focused on women, if not little girls. Hollywood actresses almost universally appear nude or semi-nude and simulate sex on screen - not "eye candy", soft core porn. Now that's progress. /s

(I have taken the liberty of assuming "women" actually continue to exist despite "progressive" sexual politics.)

effinayright said...

Now do "I Dream of Jeannie", Jeannie's costume and her relationship with the Master.

There's enough there to keep you outraged for the rest of the day!

hombre said...

Althouse: "They got away with ...." LOL.

Most of the women on Star Trek were beautiful and wore minidresses. Nichols was not likely cast or dressed "to make it seem progressive." The country was sane. Nobody cared what progs thought. If Nichols inspired black actresses, it was without Affirmative Action.

In the context of sexism or "sexual politics," just look how women have progressed under the tutelage of feminists. Porn appears to be rampant and focused on women, if not little girls. Hollywood actresses almost universally appear nude or semi-nude and simulate sex on screen - not "eye candy", soft core porn. Now that's progress. /s

(I have taken the liberty of assuming "women" actually continue to exist despite "progressive" sexual politics.)

Ted said...

"The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member. It's a sexual harassment scenario."

In the context of the episode, Kirk and Uhura's bodies were being controlled by aliens -- it wasn't really a romantic scene. (It was one of many situations on the original "Star Trek" in which the captain was compelled to get hot and heavy with a beautiful woman, either because he was being mind-controlled in some way or was trying to manipulate her with his manliness.)

tim in vermont said...

Remember that episode where Uhura got raped by a Klingon or a Romulan, when she was a prisoner and she just shook it off?

Buckwheathikes said...

People forget that Kirk didn't choose to kiss Uhura (and vice versa). They were forced to do it by a malevolent pip squeak ... one Dr. Migaletto Lovelace. (I might be getting my midget parts confused.)

They both actively tried to fight the kiss. They were basically raped. Both of them. Neither one gave consent.

Sadly, this lesson meant nothing in #Hollywood.

The first unforced interracial and intergalactic kiss was between Kirk and the green chick.

Buckwheathikes said...

@gilbar "The Cool Thing about Star Trek; was that the Federation had "out grown" war. "

The Klingons and the Romulans would like to have a word with you.

Andrew said...

Like the Hidden Figures at NASA, Uhura was the real driving force behind the Enterprise. Take her away, and everything collapses.

Thorley Winston said...

The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member. It's a sexual harassment scenario.

I agree but if you go back watch the original series, you’ll notice that they were pretty careful not to have Kirk get romantically involved with anyone under his command unless it was under duress as it was in “Plato’s Republic” when he and Uhura and were literally forced to kiss each other by psychokinetic aliens. The loneliness of command was a reoccurring theme in the original series because Kirk was actually very much a professional when it came to his job and took his responsibilities to his ship and crew very seriously. Which means that the captain can’t get involved with someone under their command.

OTOH if you fast forward to TNG, you’ll see that Picard and Riker were engaged in romantic relationships with women who reported up to them. And this was considered the more “progressive” show. It may have had something to do with them deciding that Starfleet was no longer a military organization.

Jamie said...

The Hollywood execs saw suffrage happen during their lifetimes, and perhaps viewed women as homemakers and eye candy. Only.

I'd say more to the point, Hollywood execs, who wanted to make money, knew that their audience would largely view women this way. With only 3 networks, a bunch of unveiled social justice activism in a sci-fi show would've been a near guarantee of quick cancellation. Roddenberry managed to sneak a lot in anyway, in the story lines, but mainstream American society was certainly seen as not ready for the ship's doctor to be a black woman. Many white people were still edgy about getting a blood transfusion from a black person!

I commend to anyone's attention the interesting essays about television in the late '60s and early '70s collected in Harlan Ellison's The Glass Teat.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member. It's a sexual harassment scenario. It seems the "secretary" got her position based on her sexual attractiveness and then they turn this into a plot point where she gets to be another of the captain's sexual conquests.

Did you see that episode? They were forced to kiss by psychic aliens. There was no "sexual conquest." In addition, Nichols and Shatner intentionally messed up a reshoot demanded by network executives where they did not kiss because said executives didn't want to air an inter-racial kiss in southern states. As for why the three main actors are white men, Rodenberry tried to have the second-in-command be a woman in the first pilot, which was rejected by the network. It's true! Every episode of a television series that was created around 50 years ago does not perfectly comport with today's standards of wokeness! Thankfully, this is year zero and we can reject the past and discount any attempts by those who came before us create progress in regards to equality because they were not perfectly in accord with us in all ways.

Andrew said...

Leonard Nimoy was actually good at playing villains. He was a murderer in a Columbo episode, and a pod person in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

"Why did the doctor have to be a man?"
Because women are bad at math.

Aggie said...

So.... she shouldn't have taken the job then?

Jim Gust said...

I was going to make the same point as W.Cook at 10:44. Watch the youtube video, as Nichols explains why she changed her mind about resigning after the first season. Hers was an important breakout role in television, if judged properly in the context of the times. Listen to what MLK had to say about the role.

BTW, Communications Officer is far more important than "secretary."

Jim Gust said...

BTW, Star Trek had female doctors occasionally as well.

Rory said...

"The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member. It's a sexual harassment scenario."

Both kissers were subject to mind control by aliens who could do that sort of thing.

chuck said...

There was a time when secretaries were men.

Rocco said...

Kevin said...
Earthlings were WAY over represented in Enterprise crew. As instructed by galactic CRT, that role should have gone to a creature made of green slime.

On the Star Trek-inspired show The Orville, Lieutenant Yaphit is a gelatinous green blob who spends most of his spare time macking on the humanoid females on board the ship, especially Dr Claire Finn. He was perfectly voiced by the late Norm MacDonald.

Howard said...

I think that was exactly the point of Gil Scott Heron's timeless ode to the 1960s:The revolution will not be televised

Peter Spieker said...

“Why did the doctor have to be a man?” In the original pilot, the doctor is a good deal older than the captain. Rodenberry originally thought of the role as being that of an older advisor: an avuncular or father figure. Apparently, this concept lingered even after both roles were recast. A women doctor would have been another dynamic – maternal not fatherly.

Also in the original pilot, the second in command was a women (played by Rodenberry’s wife) and Spock was just the science officer. I don’t know why that was changed. Maybe the network objected to having a female so high in the command structure, maybe the objection was about the nepotism, or maybe someone just decided Spock was the more interesting character.

LordSomber said...

More parts? Does anyone remember Dr. Richard Daystrom?

Jersey Fled said...

"The main 3 characters were white men."

Spock was half Vulcan

J Melcher said...

"The main 3 characters were white men." At risk of being pedantic, the CHARACTERS were two white human males and a green-blooded alien whose sexual presentation and attractions mattered only rarely.

To remark that the three main ACTORS were white men, you would draw no quibble.

The retroactively continuous backstory concocted for Spock aside, the canonical 1060s TV episodes portrayed the character as something we would now label "brave and stunning; trail blazing". His race was otherwise self-segregated to one, separate but equal, starship. Vulcans and humans both served, but not together. Spock was ostracized from both worlds due to his parent's miscegenation. Halfbreed. Bastard, had his parents married in 1966 in Virginia, one year before SCOTUS decided the "Loving"case in 1967. (Was there ever a better-named SCOTUS case than "Loving", dealing with marriage law? ) The main white male actor was portraying a culturally subversive character, about as far as the TV censors and audience of the time were believed willing to accept.

Demanding -- drafting -- an oppressed female into the point position on the frontlines of the culture war is a modern expectation.

Rocco said...

Ann Althouse said...
"As for The Kiss...

The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member. It's a sexual harassment scenario. It seems the "secretary" got her position based on her sexual attractiveness and then they turn this into a plot point where she gets to be another of the captain's sexual conquests. It was ludicrous, the lack of professionalism in the captain. It seemed stupid at the time — and I remember — and it's mind-boggling that half a century later people are still devoted to this show.

It was out of date when it originally aired!!


One of the several themes of the episode can be summed up in Lord Action's maxim "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." Kirk and Uhura were forced to kiss for the jaded amusement of the Platonians who had god-like powers, including telekinesis.

A better description of the scene is that it was a broadcast-acceptable substitute for the sexual assault of both Uhura AND Kirk by beings who saw the two as their inferiors who they could make do whatever they wanted.

JK Brown said...

Instapundit had link to an article on the social hierarchy on nuclear submarine. They had this to say about the "radioman"

"Radiomen are the gatekeepers of all message traffic from the most sensitive top-secret orders to routine personal messages. No matter what is happening or planned, the Radiomen know about it first."

LT Uhura didn't operate the phones, she was the link from the ship to the rest of the universe. She controlled the flow of information. She knew things before Kirk, Spock or McCoy did, in the Star Trek universe.

Such unthinking commentary by someone who has had little exposure to the real world. LT Uhura was in today's parlance "The Internet Provider"

Rocco said...

Dude1394 said...
I don't know if the doctor HAD to be a man, but I cannot imagine the dynamic between Spock and McCoy if replaced by a curmudgeon woman doctor.

I don't see it: their love/hate relationship is much better personified by two men imo.


They explicitly tried to recreate that dynamic in the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation with Dr Katherine Pulaski and the android Data. Fan reaction was immediate and overwhelmingly negative for several reasons:

1) Dr Pulaski saw Data as a machine - a very sophisticated one that could mimic human behavior, but still as machine: a piece of equipment. Whereas McCoy might have said things towards Spock that would be considered unacceptable today, he clearly respected Spock and saw him as an equal.

2) Pulaski was seen as emotionally bullying Data. As an android, Data simply had no emotions. But McCoy saw the Vulcan emotional restraints that Spock practiced were extremely unhealthy, causing emotional repression in Spock's half-human side.

Lewis said...

What's wrong with women looking hot? Sure beats looking frumpy.

n.n said...

True for most regular, transitory, and the infamous nonviable crew members. However, Star Trek was not the first public indulgence of liberal license to exercise diversity [dogma] (e.g. people of red, people of black, people of yellow, people of female sex, people of poor, etc.). The dress was socially forward.

n.n said...

of one of television’s first interracial kisses

Excluding members of diverse indigenous nations, tribes, and indulging diversity [dogma] (e.g. color bloc including "people of color"), yes.

n.n said...

It was indeed progressive (i.e. unqualified monotonic change): one step forward, two steps backward, but not because they indulged diversity [dogma] (e.g. racism, sexism) under the Pro-Choice ethical religion.

Roy Jacobsen said...

The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member. It's a sexual harassment scenario. It seems the "secretary" got her position based on her sexual attractiveness and then they turn this into a plot point where she gets to be another of the captain's sexual conquests. It was ludicrous, the lack of professionalism in the captain. It seemed stupid at the time — and I remember — and it's mind-boggling that half a century later people are still devoted to this show.

A key part of the scene is that both Uhura and Kirk were being compelled to kiss. His professionalism or lack of it wasn't part of the equation; the aliens du jour had the ability to treat them as puppets.

Koot Katmandu said...

Yikes why the hostility? "little men".

Inquiry said...

As I recall, that miniskirt style of uniform was still in place in the first season of Next Generation. I also remember that there were male extras who wore it as well. I think that makes it more egalitarian. Not better, just more egalitarian.

GRW3 said...

I thought she was terrific as Dead Pool's blind housekeeper in the Dead Pool movies.

MadisonMan said...

The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member. It's a sexual harassment scenario.
The kiss was under duress, forced by those evil Platonians.

Yinzer said...

Sorry Anne, your unfamiliarity with the series is showing when you phrase 'the kiss' as sexual harassment. In the episode, the actions of both Uhura and Kirk are being controlled by an alien's mind while they were its captives. Both resisted the signals to kiss, with Uhura bravely telling Kirk 'I'm not afraid'. Not that the scene made an impression on me or anything :-).

Smilin' Jack said...

“ Why did the doctor have to be a man? The main 3 characters were white men. Then arrayed around them were lessers roles, given based on diversity, and only one woman, who doubled as the black person and who was given a stereotypically female role to play and dressed for display, not for acting.”

Perhaps centuries from now it has been realized that stereotypes and traditional roles actually reflect certain aspects of reality, and that forced diversity would result in a suboptimal crew. It is science fiction, after all.

lonejustice said...

I love this blog and what the good Professor writes, but I know she has written favorably before about her own enjoyment of wearing miniskirts in her youth, and I believe she even posted a photo of herself at a younger age wearing a miniskirt. (I didn't save the photo.)

I attended a public high school in the late sixties and early seventies, and let me tell you, every school day the boys were subjected (in a good way) to young teen females showing off in miniskirts. It did make it hard to concentrate on academics, however.

MikeR said...

@Althouse "The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member. It's a sexual harassment scenario." Wait, what? Perhaps you have have forgotten the context. It was involuntary for both of them, forced by telekinesis. See "Plato's Stepchildren".

effinayright said...


“Why did the doctor have to be a man?”
*******************

Why the entirely un-warranted assumption that some man DECIDED that the doctor "had to be" a man?

Whiskeybum said...

The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member. It's a sexual harassment scenario. It seems the "secretary" got her position based on her sexual attractiveness and then they turn this into a plot point where she gets to be another of the captain's sexual conquests

The episode where this kissing takes place is titled "Plato's Stepchildren", in which alien beings involuntarily force human behaviors via telekinesis. So, there was no "sexual harassment" or "sexual conquest" involved.

If you're not going to try to understand the storyline whereby the events you are commenting on occur, then you can draw all kinds of wrong conclusions. And why jump to Kirk being the aggressor... for all you know, Uhura might have been the harasser in this scene!

Roy Jacobsen said...

Nice to see that so many readers here are up to scratch on Star Trek episode details.

effinayright said...

MadisonMan said...
The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member. It's a sexual harassment scenario.

**********************************

It might also be a "scenario" where they both wanted to kiss each other. Now, that might also be a breach of "good order and discipline" in a military setting, but that's entirely different "harrassment".

Why the knee-jerk rush to judge?

FullMoon said...

Who cares?
The important thing is she was getting paid 28% less than male counterparts and was passed over for promotion multiple times.

Tim said...

1. It was the 60s. We all thought that minidresses were going to be around forever. And every girl I knew liked them and pushed the hem as far up as they could get away with.
2. I know you do not have a military tradition, but she was a Navy Lt. And she was a line officer. Meaning she was in the line of command. And she was the equivalent of a Captain in the Marines, Air Force, or Army. That is NOT a trivial role. And MLK himself thought that her role was important as a role model.
3. She had as big a role as anyone in the series outside the giant 2 and big 2. (Shatner and Nimoy, then Kelley and Doohan)

The Vault Dweller said...

Her role will seem different to different people. I know that Whoopie Goldberg has commented many times that her seeing a Black Woman on TV on Star Trek was exciting and formative for her. But the Original Star Trek was very different from the ones that follow. The lead roles were Captain Kirk and too much lesser degree Spock. Captain Kirk was the Heroic Gunman who rode into town and set things straight, Spock was his loyal companion. Everyone else was supporting characters to make the hero look like a hero. The other Star Treks that followed were much more balanced in their ensemble cast. Most of the recurring characters were developed at one point or another during their series. And if the mini-dress bothers people just remember in the first episode of Star Trek the Next Generation, hey made it a point to have a male extra walk across the set in a mini-dress as well. They also thankfully moved the women away from the mini-dress uniform in that series, which was a change that stuck with the other Television series.

rcocean said...

"little men" - oohs there's a shot. guess not many Trekkies at Althouse since no one seemed to notice.

Nichols was upset at her lack of lines as was Checkov and Sulu. Seems Shatner was a camera hog and didn't want to give lines to the "minor" characters. He apologized 40 years later.
Nurse Chapel didn't get much camera time either but she was married to Roddenberry so she wasn't too unhappy.

Anyway, she got lots of work for, an entire career out of it. IT was grounbreaking at the time. And She was also 36 in 1968 and still looked good in a mini-skirt and a flat tummy (see Mirror Mirror). How talented was she, compared to other black actresses the same age? I dunno - showbiz is tough racket for actresses.

Anyhoo, I'm revisting the series right now and this "little man" is happy she's there in mini-skirt saying "Hailing frequencies are open".

Big Mike said...

@Althouse, with respect, ma’am, when we meet her Lieutenant Uhura is a bridge officer. Bridge officers are individuals with significant responsibilities, otherwise they should not be cluttering up the command and control center of the vessel. She is emphatically not some glorified secretary.

Two points. First, since the ranks and duties are roughly modeled on the navy, there really is a position more or less equivalent to a secretary and that position is called “yeoman.” A yeoman is never an officer — it is a position filled by an enlisted (i.e., non-officer) crew member. On the Original Series there is at least one yeoman on board the Enterprise, played by Janice Rand.

Point number two is that Uhura is promoted at least twice, demonstrating both the criticality of her assignment and her technical competence. In “Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan” she is a full commander, just two promotions below admiral.

rcocean said...

Its amazing how dumbed down the level of discourse is in 2022. The go-to comment on Star Trek is how many "white men" there were in command. And boy, what about that "sexism"!

I just got through watching "Is there no truth in beauty" and all the intenet commentators can talk about is how sexist it is. OMG Kirk and McCoy compliment the beautiful guest star "Doctor Jones". And What pig-dogs they are.

Grab the smelling salts Mertel!

Ampersand said...

I keep hoping for entertainment that will combine elements of race, gender, economics, power, and cultural sophistication that will perfectly reflect all of my harebrained aspirations for the way the world will be. We will then call the result art.

Scotty, beam me up... said...

While Captain Kirk seemed to have a woman at every port of call, planet, and space station, the only episode that I recall that had a “Captain’s Woman” in the crew of the Enterprise was the episode “Mirror, Mirror” where Kirk, Scotty (my avatar, not me…), McCoy, and Uhura were accidentally transported to an alternate universe where their counterparts were evil and behaved badly. The “evil Kirk” had a female crew member whose job, besides her position on the ship, was to be the captain’s mistress. When our hero Kirk is confronted by the “captain’s woman” in their shared cabin, he is uncomfortable being put in that position. In the end, this woman helps Kirk out by killing some goons sent to murder him by Sulu, who wants to move up the chain of command via assassination of the officers above him. BTW, Ann, Uhura puts the evil Sulu in his place when he tries to put a move on her.

Rory said...

"So the question is who has to die before Uhura takes command of the Enterprise. My guess is Kirk, Spock, Scottie, and Sulu."

No one comes after Scottie. Mr. Scott in command was always a classic.

Buckwheathikes said...

@Althouse, who wrote:

"The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member. It's a sexual harassment scenario."

That's actually funny now that you mention it. Of course, everyone knows that Nichelle Nichols got the role of Ohura because she was banging Gene Roddenberry behind his wife's back. She broke it off with him because he was also cheating on his wife with Majel Barrett (an original cast member and also the voice of the computer in TNG).

Sexual harassment scenario, Ann?

Lewis Wetzel said...

Years ago, on some BBS, I ran across reproductions of glamor/topless images taken from some kind of Vegas showgirl/stripper casting book from the 1960s. The look, the makeup, all were oddly familiar familiar to me, a guy who wasn't ten years old in 1970.
Then I realized where I had seen women who looked like this before. Star Trek!
Roddenberry was a dog, and Vegas ain't that far from Hollywood.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Years ago, on some BBS, I ran across scans from a 1960s casting book for Vegas strippers and showgirls. The girls' looks and makeup seemed familiar, tho I was not ten years old in 1970.
Then I got it! Star Trek!
Roddenberry was a dog and Vegas ain't that far from Hollywood.

Bender said...

You all do realize that creator Gene Roddenberry was an uber liberal?

Other Black characters on TOS include Commodore Stone (court martial judge), Dr. Richard Daystrom (super computer genius), Dr. M'Benga (physician).

Of course, the bad ass of all of Trek who out-Kirk's Kirk is Ben Sisko, the Emissary of Bajor and hero of the intergalactic war.

RBE said...

I agree with Tim, She was an integral member of the team. I watched the series first run and many times since those early days.

Bender said...

As for Uhura, like was said yesterday, although she is held up as a role model, Barney on Mission Impossible was even more so, being the smartest guy in the group.

Bender said...

The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member. It's a sexual harassment scenario...It was ludicrous, the lack of professionalism in the captain.

If you ever saw it, you would know that they were forced to kiss by aliens controlling their bodies.

Bender said...

Nichols was not likely cast or dressed "to make it seem progressive."

In fact, it WAS supposed to be progressive.

tcrosse said...

At least they didn't have her filing her nails and chewing gum.

Static Ping said...

Ann: The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member. It's a sexual harassment scenario.

Well, it was but not in the way you are thinking. It is from the episode "Plato's Stepchildren" when the crew ran into a group of aliens who decided they were the Greek gods. These aliens have telekinesis. Much of the episode is the "gods" using their telekinetic powers to use the crew as playthings for their own entertainment, the kiss being one of the things they force upon them. Kirk was a cad when it came to women, but this particular moment was not his fault.

As for other sexual misconduct, apparently Nichelle Nichols was having an affair with Gene Roddenberry. At the time Gene was cheating on both his wife and his mistress, so she was the side piece of the side piece.

Andrew said...

"Get a life, will you, people? I mean, it's just a TV show!"

Tom said...

Context is very important here.

Remember, the Star Trek pilot that was rejected had a female first officer. She was said to be the best first officer in the fleet.

The network absolutely rejected that idea and Roddenberry had to rework the show quite a bit. But, he did get a black women as a bridge officer. She wasn’t a yeoman or enlisted. She was an officer. She took over navigation during a fight with the Romulans.

And she inspired a lot of people. Was it perfect? Hell no. Neither was the times it was produced. But did it chip away at notions of structured inequality? Absolutely.

Jupiter said...

"There should have been more offers. There should have been more roles."

Hmmm... What's the basis for that assessment? Are we going to say that a black woman can only play a black woman? And so there should have been more black women in GeneRoddenberry's vision of the future? Or could a black woman play Captain Kirk? And Nichols should have been chosen? Which absurd cause of action are you pressing?

bentoak said...

I grew up watching Star Trek reruns. Never thought of Uhura as 'eye candy'. She was a second tier character, like Chekov or Sulu, but she was on the bridge. Her character developed more in the films. I liked her best in the fourth movie, Save the Whales.

There was an episode in the original where they encountered a planet where everyone was half black and half white. There was a terrible war going on with people killing one another, and you only learned at the end that the reason for the hatred was that some of them were black on the left and white on the right while others were black on the right and white on the left. That episode was the most provocative commentary on race that I remember while growing up.

ALP said...

Bender said: "Of course, the bad ass of all of Trek who out-Kirk's Kirk is Ben Sisko, the Emissary of Bajor and hero of the intergalactic war."

YEAH! Preach it. Love DS9 and Sisko is my favorite Star Trek captain. He had the BEST sarcastic, smart-ass lines. The type of things Picard and Janeaway were too uptight and elitist to say.

Rollo said...

In 1968 "interracial" meant Black and White. If you think there are more races than that, there were earlier interracial kisses on TV. Sulu even kissed Uhura's neck. Maybe the real breakthrough came a year later when Julie Andrews kissed Harry Belafonte.

Today's media don't appreciate past breakthroughs for what they were.
Diahann Carroll's Julia was "just" a nurse. Lloyd Haynes and Denise Nicholas were "just" a teacher and a guidance counselor. But their getting TV shows was a big deal. And in the real world, you may do more good in jobs like those than in positions of power.

rcocean said...

The real reason Star Trek became popular, and spawned fan-fiction, conventions, and ultimatly six movies AFTER it was cancelled is because the stars were 3 white men. They were good actors, perfectly cast for their roles, and above all they had great chemistry together.

Spock, McCoy, Kirk have become part of pop culture. And ALMOST entirely due to the MOSTLY male SF writers writing for "3 white men" and aimed a mostly young male audience. That's why Star Trek was successful. If Bones had been a woman it would've died on the vine after 3 seasons.

Star Wars was the same. It didn't become popular because of Carrie Fischer. Its because George Lucas told a story about a farm boy, who became Luke Skywalker.

I'd have a lot more sympathy with feminism, if woman ever accomplished anything great on their own. Mostly, its just "Wah, wah, what about us?"

Joe Smith said...

Kiss?

What is kiss?

Mikey NTH said...

Being in the USCG Aux and doing water patrols communications with the station and other vessels is crucial. Those have to be done correctly or important info will be missed. As the Enterprise was (originally) a heavy cruiser it was a major fleet unit and on any ship like that all departments have to be good. Chief of Communications included.

As a lawyer (maybe not a great one) good secretaries are also very important and I appreciate what each of them do.

Perhaps the script writers are at fault for how the character was utilized on the show, but the job Uhuru did was crucial to the Enterprise's function.

GrapeApe said...

You are reaching Althouse. Transposing current mores to the past is always a blank exercise. From a historical perspective, an observational type thing might work. Do the beach movies of the era. That’s what sold and to a certain level, still does, though it is a bit more equal between the two sexes. But don’t tell me women didn’t watch Cheyenne or Ben Hur or anything with buff men back then. BS. Shoot, more recently Spartacus was successful for Starz channel- roughly 13 years ago. Full of objectified men and Lucy Lawless. 😂. No difference.

Bender said...

Of course, the person who green lit Star Trek was Lucille Ball, who was assigned female at birth.

Tim said...

You need to watch the episode with "The Kiss". It was forced by an alien, not sexual harassment. And both Shatner and Nichols pulled it off beautifully. A combination of being both being coerced and both not minding it so much. One of the best Star Trek episodes, and your knee jerk reaction of it being sexual harassment shows your bias, watch the episode before you jump to conclusions.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

tim in vermont said...
“Remember that episode where Uhura got raped by a Klingon or a Romulan, when she was a prisoner and she just shook it off?“

No, because it never happened. The Gamesters of Triskelion sent a thrall (of unspecified race) to breed Uhura. He left cradling his injuries.

Uhura didn’t need no man. She could defend herself.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

In one episode, we saw Uhura deep inside her communication console, making electrical repairs.

In “Mirror, Mirror”, she helped Scotty disable the mirror Enterprise’s security systems. More technical work.

She spoke multiple languages (necessary in that position), and knew how to program a universal translator.

She didn’t just work in communications, she was head of the communications department on a 400-person interstellar mission.

The number of instruments on her console was comparable to that of a 747, and she ran it effortlessly.

And that was all before the movies, in which they expanded her role considerably.

She was no mere secretary. But she WAS supporting cast.

I’d like to know what other American TV show of that era had a black woman in such a prominent regular cast role, playing a character equal to every other character save the leads.

I’ll wait for the examples…

William said...

It was a baby step, but it was a baby step in the right direction. Because of Nichol's Uhuru, we now have a female Dr. Who and the world is a better place. I'd prefer to have a younger, prettier Dr. Who in a miniskirt, but you have to work within the parameters of your era. .....I read through the comments. Many here have not just a scholarly but an encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek. Their counter-arguments to Althouse's observations are devastating and completely refute her.....I was a fan of the series which I watched in re-runs back in the seventies. As I remember it, the women on foreign planets were voluptuous and wore revealing outfits. Sadly Kirk was the only one who went topless though. Anyway, you could see what motivated them to go boldly where no man had gone before. ... Some of the scenarios were kind of hot. Some were silly. Some were imaginative and interesting. Fifty years later people still have affection for this low budget show and will debate any who seek to disrespect it. That's quite an achievement.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

You're on more solid ground regarding "eye candy". That's blatantly clear from their production notes. The costume designer was famed for his "titillation theory": how close could he come to making the viewer believe the costume would come off without getting shut down by the censors?

That's also why Kirk lost his shirt seemingly every five or six episodes. But somehow that never gets called out as sexism. I wonder why not...

As for Kirk's womanizing... Geek time. I studied the episodes and made up a spreadsheet. If you exclude times where he was deliberately manipulating the woman to protect his crew or his ship, Kirk's "score" with women isn't significantly more than the unemotional Spock's, or McCoy's. Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Chapel all had their romantic encounters.

And when you compare Kirk to other protagonists of the time, he's not out of the ordinary. Maybe even on the mild side. The trope in action series of the time was practically Woman of the Week, with no enduring attachments. Kirk didn't come close to that. The "horn dog" view of the character has more basis in parodies than in episodes.

Except one. This ONE episode is the real source of Kirk's reputation. In "Wink of an Eye", they come back from commercial break. Deela is primping in the mirror. Kirk is sitting on his bunk, putting his boot back on. The implication of what just happened is unmistakable. In every other episode, you could argue that sex never happened. In that episode, it was clear.

Today, that scene would be completely tame. But in 1968, that was SCANDALOUS.

Bender said...

we now have a female Dr. Who and the world is a better place

No, we had the artifice of a transgender Doctor. Even worse than when the Moon was revealed to actually be an egg.

You read that last sentence right.

It ruined Doctor Who.

walter said...

Menahem Globus said...
In the original Star Trek pilot the women wore pants. In the revamped pilot Grace Lee Whitney wanted to wear the mini-skirt to show off her dancers legs. The crew liked it and that became the default.
--
What? A woman working to get ahead via her sexy?

If only Lizzo was around then.
If only the guys wore gaydar trigger shorts.
If only..

The Crack Emcee said...

Star Trek was nursed into being by Lucille Ball. I blame her for the sexism, which - in the case of Uhura - I never saw. Honest. She was "Communications" and that was it (None of the women on the original Star Trek moved me, sexually, really - I was a kid. The whole reason to watch the show was Spock, like the reason to watch The Green Hornet was Kato). Even "The Kiss" never changed that. As I remember it - through a kid's eyes - Kirk bedding females had something to do with Kirk, and not men in general. Bones, Scotty, etc., weren't like that.

It's interesting Ann doesn't comment on females falling at Kirk's feet more - what's THAT about? Please work in an explanation of hypergamy as well, while you're at it. As a kid, I never saw that one coming.

I Love Lucy.

Cappy said...

Give her a break. If there's one thing I know as a retired Database Administrator, most of the job is sitting in front of a screen and keyboard.

Marcus Bressler said...

Nice. In one article, the Hostess again shows her bonafides: 1. commenting without knowledge of the subject (her ridiculous charge of sexual harassment); 2. racist, with the card being played without value or truth; and 3. Woke, again with the vomit-inducing tendency to apply today's (not realistic) standards to a 1960s TV show.

Heh.

Chris Lopes said...

"The captain shouldn't be kissing a crew member. It's a sexual harassment scenario."

The point of the scene is that they are being forced to kiss by beings with super mind powers who like to play with other sentient life forms like they are toys. That's why they are both trying to resist. They know it's inappropriate and are attempting to maintain their dignity. It's called context.

Iman said...

Although several of my school chums were fans, Star Trek was way too corny for me. It only took viewing one and one half episodes to reach that conclusion.

lamech said...

"They got away with putting a beautiful woman in a minidress in the background of as many shots as possible, but what did she do other than provide eye candy for the little boys and little men who watched?"

Maybe she was also eye candy to lesbian little girls and little women?

It is not as if the male secondary players were not chosen for their attractiveness, in tight fitted clothing.

It is credibly alleged that the star, Kirk, wore [was made to wear] a corset.
How sexist is that?

And, channeling Nigel Tufnel: What's wrong with being sexy?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3Qn1uHlRIY

Bilwick said...

I have fond memories of her legs in one of the Star Trek movies, in which she danced some kind of hoochie-koo to distact some bad guys.

Doug said...

RIP Nichelle Nichols. But Sigourney Weaver did it better in "Galaxy Quest"

loudogblog said...

I see that Ann Althouse has left the building. It's probably because she realized that she was judging the show based on episodes that she didn't watch or didn't remember. (And didn't really have a handle on Star Trek history.)

Martin L. Shoemaker, the episode where Lieutenant Uhura was "repairing" the electronics under her console was, Who Mourns for Adonis. Uhura was using a duotronic repair tool to reconfigure the ship's communication circuit boards to get through the interference that was put up by the alien, Apollo. Component level electronic repair and reconfiguration requires a lot of skill.

Also, don't discount the animated series. A lot of the original writers from the original series, like the great Dorothy Fontana, wrote for it. And Gene Roddenberry is credited as the creator. So it's cannon. Plus the episode, The Lorelei Signal, when Uhura takes command of the Enterprise was written by Margaret Armen, who worked on the original series. (She actually wrote three episodes of the original series. The Gamesters of Trilskelion, The Paradise Syndrome and did the teleplay for The Cloud Minders.) She was Fred Freiberger's potential choice to succeed Arthur Singer as Star Trek: The Original Series's story editor, however, as the show was cancelled after the third season, she never got the job.

loudogblog said...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek:_The_Animated_Series

Ann Althouse said...

"I see that Ann Althouse has left the building. It's probably because she realized that she was judging the show based on episodes that she didn't watch or didn't remember."

The show is 50 years old. I'm proud of not having kept up with it over the years, but I did watch it when it actually came out on TV and in reruns in the early 70s. My statements about it here are all about the basic role given to the black female character, and I stand by them. I remember my reaction at the time, and knew many other people who joked about it at the time: They made the black woman the secretary. They picked a beautiful actress and they dressed her in a minidress and put her in the background. Those are the salient facts. The topic of the kiss comes up only in the comments. I can see that I assumed it was a consensual kiss. I am in no way embarrassed that I didn't remember the plot point that she and Kirk were compelled by some other character, which would give Kirk cover on the sexual harassment charge... which I didn't even make... if there were some sort of legal proceeding and depending on what the law would be in the future. I called it a "sexual harassment situation" to avoid making a charge, but just to indicate that as a plot, that's where it was hitting us. Audiences were titillated by making that kiss happen, and it is, apparently, vividly remembered by people 50 years later. That's notable! Why did YOU remember when I did not? Maybe you got off seeing characters compelled to kiss for the amusement of someone else.

Marcus Bressler said...

Hostess: "I stand by them".

Hostess doubles down on her ignorance despite being destroyed on the kiss scenario facts. Libs never apologize or admit that they are wrong.

Life goes on, man, ....

THEOLDMAN