Kirk and Uhura's kiss

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In the "Plato's Stepchildren" season 3 episode 10 of Star Trek: The Original Series, first broadcast November 22, 1968, Uhura (played by black actress Nichelle Nichols) and Captain Kirk (played by white actor William Shatner) kiss. The episode is often erroneously cited as the first example of an interracial kiss on television.[1][2][3]

Background[edit]

The first interracial kiss on television is a subject of discussion and debate, with several examples identified as early as the 1950s.

William Shatner himself was involved with an interracial kiss more than 10 years earlier on a 1958 episode of The Ed Sullivan Show, when he kissed France Nuyen, a person of Asian ancestry. This was during a scene from the then current Broadway production of The World of Suzie Wong.[4]

In Star Trek[edit]

The famous 'Plato's Stepchildren' kiss was not even the first interracial kiss on Star Trek itself.

In the season one episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of", first broadcast in October 1966, there is a friendly kiss between Uhura (played by Nichelle Nichols) and Christine Chapel (played by Majel Barrett).

Later in season one, in the episode Space Seed, there is a kiss between characters played by Ricardo Montalban and Madlyn Rhue.

In the Season Two episode "Mirror, Mirror," first broadcast on October 6, 1967, Kirk and Lt. Marlena Moreau (played by BarBara Luna, an actress of Filipino-European ancestry) kiss on the lips. Meanwhile, Mirror-Sulu, played by Japanese-American actor George Takei, kisses Uhura's neck.[citation needed]

In "Plato's Stepchildren," which was broadcast in 1968, the kiss is involuntarily forced by telekinesis. William Shatner recalls in Star Trek Memories that NBC insisted their lips never touch (the technique of turning their heads away from the camera was used to conceal this). However, Nichelle Nichols insists in her autobiography Beyond Uhura (written in 1994 after Shatner's book) that the kiss was real, even during takes in which her head obscures their lips.[5]

When NBC executives learned of the kiss they became concerned it would anger TV stations in the Deep South.[6] Earlier in 1968, NBC had expressed similar concern over a musical sequence in a Petula Clark special in which she touched Harry Belafonte's arm, a moment cited as the first occasion of direct physical contact on American television between a man and woman of different races.[7] At one point during negotiations, the idea was brought up of having Spock kiss Uhura instead (as Spock was half Vulcan),[8] but William Shatner insisted that they stick with the original script.[9] NBC finally ordered that two versions of the scene be shot—one in which Kirk and Uhura kissed and one in which they did not.[10] Having successfully recorded the former version of the scene, Shatner and Nichelle Nichols deliberately flubbed every take of the latter version, thus forcing the episode to go out with the kiss intact.[11][12]

As Nichelle Nichols writes:[13]

Knowing that Gene was determined to air the real kiss, Bill shook me and hissed menacingly in his best ham-fisted Kirkian staccato delivery, "I! WON'T! KISS! YOU! I! WON'T! KISS! YOU!"

It was absolutely awful, and we were hysterical and ecstatic. The director was beside himself, and still determined to get the kissless shot. So we did it again, and it seemed to be fine. "Cut! Print! That's a wrap!"

The next day they screened the dailies, and although I rarely attended them, I couldn't miss this one. Everyone watched as Kirk and Uhura kissed and kissed and kissed. And I'd like to set the record straight: Although Kirk and Uhura fought it, they did kiss in every single scene. When the non-kissing scene came on, everyone in the room cracked up. The last shot, which looked okay on the set, actually had Bill wildly crossing his eyes. It was so corny and just plain bad it was unusable. The only alternative was to cut out the scene altogether, but that was impossible to do without ruining the entire episode. Finally, the guys in charge relented: "To hell with it. Let's go with the kiss." I guess they figured we were going to be cancelled in a few months anyway. And so the kiss stayed.

There were, however, few contemporary records of any complaints commenting on the scene.[14] Nichelle Nichols observes that "Plato's Stepchildren", which first aired on November 22, 1968, "received a huge response. We received one of the largest batches of fan mail ever, all of it very positive, with many addressed to me from girls wondering how it felt to kiss Captain Kirk, and many to him from guys wondering the same thing about me. However, almost no one found the kiss offensive" except from a single mildly negative letter from one white Southerner who wrote: "I am totally opposed to the mixing of the races. However, any time a red-blooded American boy like Captain Kirk gets a beautiful dame in his arms that looks like Uhura, he ain't gonna fight it."[14] Nichols notes that "for me, the most memorable episode of our last season was 'Plato's Stepchildren.'"[15]

Reception[edit]

The kiss created little fuss at the time, but became more famous over the years as it became a core part of the Star Trek mythology as a 'watershed moment' for Black-White relationships on US television.

For context, Kirk kissed 19 women (humans and/or aliens) during the course of the original series run.[16][17]

In 2016, TVline ranked the kiss as one of the top 20 moments of Star Trek.[18]

In 2016, Radio Times ranked the kiss between Uhura and Kirk as the 25th best moment in all Star Trek, including later spin-off series.[19]

The cultural impact of the kiss was noted by National Geographic, in 2016.[20]

WhatCulture ranked this the 8th best romantic-sexual moment in Star Trek.[21]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Shattered TV Taboos: How Bea Arthur and Others Broke Barriers". TVGuide.com. April 27, 2009. Archived from the original on June 16, 2011. Retrieved March 23, 2011.
  2. ^ "After 40 Years, Star Trek 'Won't Die'". Space.com. 7 September 2006. Archived from the original on 8 October 2009. Retrieved March 23, 2011.
  3. ^ Christian Höhne Sparborth (September 5, 2001). "Nichols Talks First Inter-Racial Kiss". TrekToday. Archived from the original on February 29, 2012. Retrieved March 23, 2011.
  4. ^ Tom Lisanti (25 April 2016). "William Shatner on Broadway, Before His Trek Through the Universe". New York Public Library. Archived from the original on 23 September 2021. Retrieved 23 September 2021.
  5. ^ Nichelle Nichols, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, G.P. Putnam & Sons New York, 1994. pp.195-198
  6. ^ Nichols, p.195
  7. ^ "Harry Belafonte 'Speaking Freely' Transcript". First Amendment Center. Archived from the original on 2014-01-01. Retrieved May 13, 2013.
  8. ^ Bernardi, Daniel (1998). Star Trek and History: Race-ing toward a White Future - Daniel Leonard Bernardi. p. 38. ISBN 9780813524665. Archived from the original on March 13, 2022. Retrieved August 15, 2012.
  9. ^ "Little-known sci-fi fact: Uhura's famed Trek kiss wasn't meant to be with Kirk". Blastr. 2013-04-19. Archived from the original on 2016-10-24. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  10. ^ "Nichelle Nichols bio at NNDB.com". Archived from the original on 2016-10-14. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  11. ^ Nicholls, p.195-196
  12. ^ Nichelle Nichols also claimed this to be fact in an August 2006 Comedy Central online interview, recorded the day of her participation in the network's roast of Shatner.
  13. ^ Nichols, p.196
  14. ^ a b Nichols, pp.196-197
  15. ^ Nichols, p.193
  16. ^ "The 19 women Kirk kissed on 'Star Trek'". Me-TV Network. Archived from the original on 2019-07-08. Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  17. ^ "'Star Trek' Is Right About Almost Everything". National Geographic News. 2016-06-16. Archived from the original on 2019-07-04. Retrieved 2019-07-04.
  18. ^ Mason, Charlie (2016-07-19). "Star Trek's 20 Most Memorable Moments". TVLine. Archived from the original on 2019-03-27. Retrieved 2019-07-04.
  19. ^ "The 50 Greatest Star Trek moments of all time - 6". Radio Times. Archived from the original on 2019-03-27. Retrieved 2019-07-06.
  20. ^ "'Star Trek' Is Right About Almost Everything". National Geographic News. 2016-06-16. Archived from the original on 2019-07-04. Retrieved 2019-07-04.
  21. ^ Marion (2013-10-06). "Star Trek: 10 Sexy Moments That Made Geeks Feel Hot Under The Collar". WhatCulture.com. Archived from the original on 2019-07-08. Retrieved 2019-07-08.