Nichelle Nichols, famous for her portrayal of Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek, appeared at River City Comic Expo in Little Rock this past weekend.
Uhura was one of the first African American women on television whose role was not of a servant or slave. Her career has inspired generations of young women including fellow actress Whoopi Goldberg and astronaut Mae Jemison, who in 1992 became the first African American woman to enter space.
During the expo fans had the opportunity to meet the iconic actress at her booth in the showroom. The highlight of her appearance, however, was her question and answer panel Sunday afternoon.
Nichols, who is now in her 80s and walks with the assistance of a cane, entered a packed conference room to standing ovation. Her message was one of compassion and solidarity, and her responses emphasized the importance of collaboration between fans and production in making Star Trek a creative success. Women from every race and generation stood to thank Nichols for her inspiration, and Nichols responded to each with heartfelt gratitude. “The people watching affect you as much as you affect the audience,” she said, and her respect for her fans was apparent in the consideration with which she treated their questions.
The response that struck this author most powerfully was to the question of her favorite memory from making the show. Nichols said that it was the selflessness of the project and the cooperation of her coworkers that has stayed with her the longest. “The character [of Uhura] can’t mean anything in isolation.” She went on to say, “you never know everything; you learn in every show and every script where someone is coming from. You aren’t just talking at another person or at the world, you’re talking with them. You learn from one another.”