How Nichelle Nichols Made Zoe Saldana Feel Safe Playing Uhura in ‘Star Trek’

To better portray Uhura, Zoe Saldana talks about how Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols influenced her. Uhura was created by Nichols for Star Trek: The Original Series. Despite having only aired for three seasons before being canceled in 1969, The Original Series was instrumental in developing what would become the massive Star Trek franchise. Star Trek is one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time, with an estimated $10.6 billion in revenue from 12 TV shows, 13 films, books, games, and comics.

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Nichelle Nichols Made Zoe Saldana Feel Safe While Playing Uhura

Nyota Uhura, played by Nichols, was a regular cast member throughout all three seasons of The Original Series and six Star Trek films. She was one of the first major Black characters to appear on television, so her role in the show was historic. After 18 years since Nichols’ last appearance, fans finally got to see Uhura again in 2009. Saldana played Uhura alongside Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock in the 2009 Star Trek reboot film. So far, Saldana has acted in three movies as Uhura, with a fourth in the works. In light of Nichols’ passing, Saldana is currently paying tribute to her predecessor.

Saldana reflects on Nichols’s influence on her portrayal of Uhura in an Instagram post posted on July 30. Nichols passed away on July 30 at the age of 89. Saldana writes that Nichols told her to play Uhura “with all the confidence in the world” alongside several photographs of Nichols, including two of them together. She also discusses Nichols’ significance as an activist, calling her “an amazing woman—who blazed a trail that has shown so many how to see women of color in a different light.”

How Nichelle Nichols Made Zoe Saldana Feel Safe Playing Uhura 'Star Trek'
How Nichelle Nichols Made Zoe Saldana Feel Safe Playing Uhura ‘Star Trek’

There was apprehension among die-hard Star Trek fans that the new cast wouldn’t meet the standards set by the actors in The Original Series, but the films have since been praised for their casting choices. While every actor brings something unique to their portrayal of a Star Trek character, Saldana has said that Nichols made her feel “safe” in the role of Uhura and her comfort in the role shows. In addition to finding ways to honor Nichols, Saldana seems to have felt more confident in her ability to play the role after receiving her blessing and hearing her kind words.

In Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Uhura’s younger self (played by Celia Rose Gooding) has become a major player, ensuring that Nichols’ legacy as Uhura will never die. Nichols’ groundbreaking performance as Uhura on The Original Series and the strides she made for Black women in television and beyond has been lauded by every actor who has played the role since. Nichols may be gone, but her remarkable and powerful legacy will live on thanks to Saldana and Gooding, who continue to carry the Star Trek torch even after her passing.

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