“Like a lot of things in life, it started with a kiss.
The 1968 Star Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” began like most others: The crew meets a new alien race. The villains of the story start wreaking havoc. And then Captain Kirk (William Shatner), a white man, and Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), a black woman, kissed.
Widely thought to be the first interracial kiss depicted on television (although archivists have found earlier examples), the episode was a monumental moment in American television and culture.
“I made sure they didn’t have a place to edit. I just forced the pace. I don’t quite remember what I did but it apparently worked,” Shatner recalls of the day they shot the scene. “My goal was to sustain the kiss so they couldn’t cut away from it.”
“Talking to people who witnessed it on television in its original airing, it was like a nuclear bomb went off in their living rooms,” says Shawn Taylor, a writer for web site Nerds of Color. “The best science fiction is always about the present.”
Star Trek has gone boldly where few shows had gone before in terms of diversity and representation, in that historic moment and beyond. The sci-fi series, and its movies, repeatedly tackled themes of race and identity, years before other shows would even touch them. Even the cast of the original series was revolutionary.
“That vision that (original series creator Gene Roddenberry) had: starship Enterprise, a metaphor for starship Earth,” original cast member George Takei tells Neil deGrasse Tyson in his new book, Star Talk. “And the strength of the starship lay in its diversity, coming together and working in concert. Nobody was thinking that.”
Roddenberry’s son Rod, now chief of Roddenberry Entertainment, agrees. The show “was about searching out and finding new ideas. That was the most fundamental thing,” he says. “Let’s find a new alien. Who cares what they look like? Let’s find out what they know about the universe, even if it’s contrary to our beliefs…”