Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Uhura Celebrates Equality

I had seen the ever-beautiful Nichelle Nichols just two years back, as she appeared at the closing night ceremony for Outfest, the Los Angeles LGBT film festival. The pioneering actress, who as Star Trek's fourth-in-command Lieutenant Uhura was the first African-American actress on TV not playing a maid or other servant, was on stage as a star of the 2008 film Tru Loved, and to receive the ACLU's Liberty and Justice award from her Trek co-star, George Takei.

Today at the Television Critics Association convention in Beverly Hills, Nichols joined a panel promoting PBS' special, Pioneers of Primetime, along with four other amazing actors: Robert Conrad, from Hawaiian Eye and Wild Wild West; Mannix's Mike Connors; Mission: Impossible's Martin Landau; and Linda Evans, of Big Valley and Dynasty.

We reporters asked each actor for his or her favorite memory from their iconic series, and Nichols' was by far the most affecting. At the time she was making history, she remembers, she actually felt frustrated that Star Trek was keeping her from the career she'd always dreamed of in musical theater. And so, at the end of season 1, she submitted her resignation to that show's legendary creator, Gene Roddenberry.

But that very night, as she appeared at a fundraiser for the NAACP, Nichols was told that her "biggest fan" wanted to meet her. And there, approaching from across the room, was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King reminded the actress of the importance of the image she was portraying for America, as a positive role model inspiring millions. That Monday, she rescinded her resignation, and continued to make history.

At a reception after today's panel, I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Nichols. And after hearing her speak so eloquently about civil rights, I also had the pleasure of breaking the news to her of today's court decision overturning California's Proposition 8. (The news had only begun to break on the internet just as the five actors were taking their seats on stage.)

Below, the words of this groundbreaking icon, at today's historic moment:

Must-Hear TV: Here we are, invoking the name of Dr. King on what turned out to be an important day for Civil Rights. How do you feel about hearing that Prop 8 was overturned?

Nichelle Nichols: Amen! America has another chance to be America. Everything you see on TV is the “No” party saying "No, no, no." The Republicans shape the news and say this, and everybody repeats it. They said this would never happen. So all the commentators repeated it like little parrots. I’m so sick of the TV news, I could cry.

MHTV: Do you feel that the LGBT civil rights struggle is following the same arc that African-Americans did 40 years ago?

NN: I don’t think there’s a comparison. There are lesbians and gay people in every lifestyle and community. And to deny it is ridiculous. As black people, our thing was totally different.

MHTV: True. You can’t be in the closet.

NN: Exactly. Nor would I ever want to. But understanding what you’re talking about, I think that eventually everyone will win. Because we all deserve to be who we are.

MHTV: What a great way to end. From your lips to God’s ears.

NN: And She is listening!

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