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Nyota Uhura
Nichelle Nichols, NASA Recruiter - GPN-2004-00017.jpg
Uhura on the Enterprise
Species Human
Home planet Earth
Affiliation United Federation of Planets
Starfleet
Posting USS Enterprise chief communications officer
Starfleet Command
USS Enterprise-A chief communications officer
Starfleet Academy
Rank Lieutenant
Lieutenant commander
Commander
Portrayed by Nichelle Nichols
Zoe Saldana (2009)

Nyota Uhura (English pronunciation: /ʊˈhʊərə/; from Swahili nyota, "star", and uhuru, "freedom"), originally played by Nichelle Nichols, is a character in Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Animated Series, the first six Star Trek films, and the 2009 film Star Trek. In the 2009 film, a younger Uhura is portrayed by actress Zoe Saldaña.

Uhura was part of the original series' pioneering multicultural cast;[1] she was one of the first major black characters on an American television series.

Contents

Development

Soon after the first scripts for Star Trek were being written, Gene Roddenberry spoke of a new character, a female communications officer and introduced Herb Solow and Robert Justman to Nichols, who had worked for him on The Lieutenant.[2]

Nichols planned to leave Star Trek in 1967 after its first season, but a conversation with Martin Luther King, Jr. persuaded her to stay, stating that she was a role model for the black community.[3]

Depiction

Uhura is from the United States of Africa and speaks Swahili.[4] James Blish's non-canon novels identify her as Bantu, as does Gene Roddenberry's novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Uhura first appears in the episode "The Man Trap", joining the crew of the USS Enterprise as a lieutenant, and serves as chief communications officer under Captain Kirk. She is later promoted to lieutenant commander in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and to full commander in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock sees Uhura take an assignment in the transporter room as part of a plot to steal the Enterprise. After locking a colleague in a closet, Uhura uses the transporter station to beam Kirk, Leonard McCoy and Hikaru Sulu to the Enterprise so they can use it to rescue Spock from the Genesis Planet. As planned, Uhura later meets up with her crewmates on Vulcan and witnesses Spock's successful renewal.

Following these events and the destruction of the Enterprise, Uhura joins her crewmates on a stolen Klingon ship amid a crisis on Earth in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Traveling to the 20th century, they attempt to save a pair of humpback whales in order to repopulate the species. During a trip to San Francisco, Uhura and Pavel Chekov infiltrate the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and use emissions from the carrier's nuclear reactor to recharge the Klingon vessel's power supply. Kirk and Spock then procure the whales so the crew can return to the 23rd century and save Earth.

In light of their heroics, Starfleet Command exonerates Uhura and the rest of Kirk's crew for their illegal activities. Kirk is demoted to the rank of captain after a prior promotion to admiral, but is assigned to command the USS Enterprise-A. Uhura joins Kirk's crew, and once again serves as chief communications officer throughout the events of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. In those final two films, a romantic interest between Uhura and Montgomery Scott is implied, but only briefly developed (deleted scenes more extensively expand this subplot).

Alternate timeline

In the 2009 film Star Trek, Zoe Saldana plays a young Uhura who is introduced as a cadet at the academy, but is promoted to a communications officer as the movie unfolds. This Uhura is initially cold towards Kirk after he attempts to flirt with her while intoxicated. But in the end, she eventually comes to respect him as captain of the Enterprise.

A former student of Spock's, Uhura is also romantically involved with him. Though it is unclear when this began, the first hint of implied romantic involvement occurs when she is initially assigned to the Farragut, in an attempt by Spock to avoid the appearance of favoritism. She demands he assign her to the Enterprise. Using his own logic against him she easily convinces him she has earned her spot on the flagship through her own merit. Convinced, he makes the change with no further argument. Had she remained on the Farragut, she would have been killed.

Name

Roddenberry had intended his new female communications officer to be called Lieutenant Sulu.[2] Solow pointed out how similar this was to "Zulu" and thought it might act against the plan for racial diversity in the show, so the name Sulu remained with George Takei's character.[5] "Uhura" comes from the Swahili word uhuru, which means "freedom". Nichols states in her book Beyond Uhura that the name was inspired by her having had with her a copy of the book Uhuru on the day she read for the part. When Justman explained to Roddenberry what the word "uhuru" meant, he changed it to Uhura and adopted that as the character's name.[5]

Uhura's first name was not used in Star Trek canon until Abrams's 2009 film, in a scene where the young Spock calls her "Nyota" in a moment of intimacy. Although other non-canon names had previously existed, "Nyota" had been the most common. Author William Rotsler created the name "Nyota" for his 1982 licensed tie-in book, Star Trek II Biographies published by Wanderer (Pocket) Books. Seeking approval for the name he contacted Gene Roddenberry and Nichelle Nichols. Gene Roddenberry approved of the name. Nichelle Nichols also approved and was very excited when Rotsler informed her that Nyota means "star" in Swahili.[6] After originating in Star Trek II Biographies "Nyota" started appearing in Star Trek novels, such as Uhura's Song by Janet Kagan.

  • In appearances at Star Trek conventions, Nichols had indicated that the character is "Nyota (U)penda Uhura"[7]; perhaps coincidentally, in Nichols' 1996 novel Saturn's Child she named the mother of the titular character "Nyota".
  • That "Nyota" is the Swahili word for "star" is mentioned by William Shatner in his book, Star Trek Memories.
  • Startrek.com uses the name Nyota on its character biography page for the Animated Series but not on the TOS biography page.
  • "Nyota" was also used as Uhura's first name when Nichols reprised the character in the fan film Star Trek: Of Gods and Men.

Until the 2009 film became part of the franchise's canon, "Nyota" was one of three possibilities; the other two were "Penda" and "Samara":

  • According to FASA's Star Trek RPG, Uhura's first name is "Samara".
  • The non-canon book The Best of Trek suggests that Uhura's first name is "Penda", coined when a group of fanzine authors suggested it to her at an early convention.

In the 2009 film, the mystery regarding Uhura's first name is the subject of a running joke as Kirk repeatedly tries to find out what it is, before finally hearing Spock utter it. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Uhura's name is misspelled as "Uhuru" in the credits.

Cultural impact

Role model

Whoopi Goldberg, who later played Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation, described Uhura as a role model for her, recalling that she told her family, "I just saw a black woman on television; and she ain't no maid!"[3][8] NASA later employed Nichols in a campaign to encourage African Americans to join the service, and Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to fly aboard the Space Shuttle, cited Star Trek as an influence in her decision to join. Jemison herself had a minor role on an episode of The Next Generation called "Second Chances", playing a transporter operator named Lieutenant Palmer. Jemison was the first, but not the last, real-life astronaut to appear on Star Trek.[9][10]

Milestone

In the 1968 episode "Plato's Stepchildren," Uhura is involved in an interracial kiss, one of the earliest instances with such a scene on United States television; in a December 1967 episode of the variety program Movin' With Nancy, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Nancy Sinatra had kissed.[11]

References

  1. ^ "Roddenberry, Gene (U.S. writer-producer)". Museum of Broadcast Communications. http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/R/htmlR/roddenberry/roddenberry.htm. Retrieved 2009-05-13. 
  2. ^ a b Solow, Herbert; Robert Justman (06 1997). Inside Star Trek The Real Story. Simon & Schuster. pp. 153. ISBN 0-671-00974-5. 
  3. ^ a b Beck, Donald R. (Director). (1991). Star Trek: 25th Anniversary Special. 
  4. ^ Star Trek episode: "The Man Trap".
  5. ^ a b Solow, Herbert; Robert Justman (06 1997). Inside Star Trek The Real Story. Simon & Schuster. pp. 154. ISBN 0-671-00974-5. 
  6. ^ Hise, James Van: "An Interview with Bill Rotsler", Enterprise Issue Number 2, June 1984.
  7. ^ Shoreleave 29, June 14, 2007, during Nichols Q and A session
  8. ^ Star Trek Monthly issue 56.
  9. ^ http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Social/star_trek/SH7.htm
  10. ^ Second Chances on Memory Alpha
  11. ^ "Transcription of Larry King Live Weekend". CNN. June 17, 2000. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0006/17/lklw.00.html. Retrieved 2009-05-13. 

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