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Coming to On Demand And Digital on February 16, 2021, Shout!Factory’sWoman In Motion: Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek And The Remaking Of NASA’ is a great addition to Black History Month, and it gives insights into how one person can change the course of history. When Star Trek: TOS originally aired, “astronaut” was a job that only Caucasian men were doing; then one Black woman spoke out and firmly took the opportunity to make change.

To quote Neil deGrasse Tyson in the trailer, “What is a change in society? A change is — you cannot even imagine a world any other way!”

“Where are my people? … I will bring you so many qualified people — the world will never be the same again!”

In the role of Lieutenant Nyota Uhura of Star Trek, Nichelle Nichols was involved in many important “firsts”: the first interracial kiss on American television; the first American live-action series with an interracial cast; the first American science fiction series with a continuing cast that told stories aimed at adults rather than children; the first African-American to place her handprints in front of the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

Born in a village suburb of Chicago, and at heart a stage actress who loved doing musical theater, Ms Nichols had intended to leave the series after the first season, to pursue a job offer of a Broadway role in a musical. As fate would have it, the same day she handed in her resignation to Gene Roddenberry, she was introduced to “her greatest fan”, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. He made her aware that she was part of something of historical proportions. She stayed.

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr’s statement about Nichols/Uhura.

After ST:TOS had been off the air for a decade, Ms Nichols gave a speech in Washington DC under the auspices of the National Space Society, entitled, “New Opportunities for the Humanization of Space” or “Space, What’s in it for me?” In that speech, she chided NASA for multiple rejections of applications from qualified women, who had then felt disenfranchised and discouraged. NASA responded by contacting her with the offer of a position that would help them recruit women and People of Color.

In her own words, her response to NASA’s job offer (as told to the Smithsonian Magazine) was, “OK. I will do this and I will bring you the most qualified people on the planet, as qualified as anyone you’ve ever had and I will bring them in droves. And if you do not pick a person of color, if you do not pick a woman, if it’s the same old, same old, all-white male astronaut corps, that you’ve done for the last five years, and I’m just another dupe, I will be your worst nightmare.” She spent the next ten years as a NASA Recruiter.

In addition to Ms Nichols herself, ‘Woman In Motion: Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek And The Remaking Of NASA’ features a large number of celebrities, activists, scientists and astronauts who discuss and reminisce about the influence of this woman, who was not only at the right place at the right time, but who seized the opportunity to change our world.

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Ellen McMicking
Ellen McMicking
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