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Nichelle Nichols' Best Star Trek Episode Is A Series Highlight

"Star Trek" fans are heartbroken over the death of legendary icon Nichelle Nichols, who passed away due to natural causes on July 31. The star is best known for her role as Nyota Uhura in "Star Trek: The Original Series," as well as several movies and cameo appearances throughout the franchise. The actress's son, Kyle Johnson, announced Nichols' passing on Instagram with a touching statement, saying, "Her light, however, like the ancient galaxies now being seen for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn from, and draw inspiration."

Tributes poured in from fans and Nichols' co-stars, with many praising her for being a trailblazer in the entertainment industry as one of the first Black actresses to play a high-ranking role of authority in TV. In "Star Trek: The Original Series," Uhura is the communications officer on the Enterprise, working alongside other iconic characters, like Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and his science officer, Spock (Leonard Nimoy).

Nichols' performance was groundbreaking because it offered millions of Black viewers around the world the ability to see themselves portrayed on television — something that was incredibly important during the 1960s. In 2013, the star revealed in a TV interview that Dr. Martin Luther King persuaded her to stay on the series when she debated quitting. According to Nichols, King said, "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 can go to space, who can be lawyers, who can be professors."

In fact, one of the best episodes of "Star Trek: The Original Series" is a highlight because of how it used Nichols' performance in a progressive way.

A groundbreaking kiss

Although an interracial kiss on TV in the present day is hardly noteworthy, back in 1968, it was incredibly controversial to broadcast something seen as that progressive on mainstream television. So when it came to "Star Trek" Season 3, Episode 10 ("Plato's Stepchildren"), NBC had a surprising issue on its hands. 

The story sees the Enterprise visit a planet where the inhabitants have taken on Greek culture as their own, calling themselves Platonians. Ultimately, it's revealed that the Platonians have telekinetic abilities and use them to manipulate the crew into performing for them. They force Uhura and Kirk to kiss, and it's one of the earliest interracial kisses shown on TV. 

In Nichelle Nichols' 1994 autobiography "Beyond Uhura," the star explained that NBC was concerned about riling up the southern states with the kiss, and they decided to shoot two scenes — one with the kiss, and one without. In response, William Shatner and Nichols purposely sabotaged the second version of the scene so the executives had no choice but to air the kiss (via NBC).

Nichols' performance had already cemented her place in pop culture history, but the kiss became a huge milestone that helped push TV forward into the modern age.