Nichelle Nichols (Uhura on the original series):”Whoopi Goldberg, she’s just marvellous. I had no way of knowing that she was a Star Trek fan. When I finally met her it was her first year on the Next Generation.
She loved the show so much and she told her agent she wants a role on Star Trek. Well agents go ‘Big screen, little screen, no, you can’t do that’. Well you can’t tell Whoopi ‘You can’t do that’.
And so they finally asked, and they had the same reaction at Star Trek office, specifically Gene. And she said, ‘I want to meet him and I want him to tell me to my face. If he tells me he doesn’t want me and why, I’ll be fine.’
Knowing Gene he had to take that challenge, and so he met with her. She said, ‘I just wanted you to tell me why you don’t want me in Star Trek.’
Gene said, ‘Well, I’ll just ask you one question and I’ll make my decision on that. You’re a big screen star, why do you want to be on a little screen, why do you want to be in Star Trek?’
And she looked at him and she said, ‘Well, it’s all Nichelle Nichols’ fault.’
That threw him, he said, ‘What do you mean?’
She said, ‘Well when I was nine years old Star Trek came on,’ and she said, ‘I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, “Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!”’ And she said, ‘I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be, and I want to be on Star Trek.’
And he said, ‘I’ll write you a role.’
I know I’ve reblogged this before, and I will undoubtedly do it again.
It matters. And no amount of saying that we’re post-racial or that racism isn’t a thing or that “they just chose the best actor for the role” or otherwise trying to cover up for it will make it okay to keep relegating actors of color to secondary roles, villain roles, stereotyped roles, or no roles at all, and it sure as hell won’t make it okay to keep whitewashing CHARACTERS of color out of the story by casting white actors to play then.
Remember how Martin Luther King Jr. convinced Nichelle Nichols to stay on the show?
I said “Dr. King, thank you so much. I really am going to miss my co-stars.” He said, dead serious, “What are you talking about?” I said, “I’m leaving Star Trek,” He said, “You cannot. You cannot!”
I was taken aback. He said, “Don’t you understand what this man has achieved? For the first time on television we will be seen as we should be seen every day – as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can sing, dance, but who can also go into space, who can be lawyers, who can be teachers, who can be professors, and yet you don’t see it on television – until now….”
I could say nothing, I just stood there realizing every word that he was saying was the truth. He said, “Gene Roddenberry has opened a door for the world to see us. If you leave, that door can be closed because, you see, your role is not a Black role, and it’s not a female role, he can fill it with anything, including an alien.”
At that moment, the world tilted for me. I knew then that I was something else and that the world was not the same. That’s all I could think of, everything that Dr. King had said: The world sees us for the first time as we should be seen.
It matters, man. It honestly does. It mattered then and it still matters.
Some great anecdotes which bear much repeating.