Back in 1966, the sci-fi series Star Trek launched and began a legacy that’s spanned nearly five decades, with several movies and spin-offs. Star Trek has proved over the years to have serious staying power, with conventions and legions of Trekkies all over the world. With its 50th anniversary looming on the horizon, an entire new generation has been introduced to Star Trek through the rebooted flicks involving the original cast living in a different timeline.
When Star Trek premiered, the series paved the way for diversity in television before many other sci-fi series thanks to the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry. He accomplished this not just in terms of ethnicity but also gender. Roddenberry originally wrote the role of the first officer for a woman. When the studio said no, the role was changed, and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock became the U.S.S. Enterprise’s first officer. In 1990, the year before he passed away, Roddenberry talked about other challenges he faced in his vision for Star Trek.
“I had insisted on half women on board [the Enterprise]. The network came to me and said, ‘You can’t have half women. Our people say it will make it look like a ship with all sorts of mad sexual things going on — half men and half women.’ So we argued about it like a poker game and they finally said, ‘Okay. We’ll settle for one-third women.’ I figured one-third women could take care of the males anyway.”
Roddenberry had a definite vision and explained what he wanted to accomplish with Star Trek.
“Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”
Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura, chief communications officer, shared with the Huffington Post in 2012 there had been a time when she thought about quitting Star Trek. She said she felt frustrated because it seemed to her that Kirk and Spock had become the show’s “main characters.”
However in 2011, Nichols told NPR’s Michael Martin that Martin Luther King, Jr., approached her at a NAACP event in L.A. and asked her to stay on Star Trek.
“And his face got very, very serious. And he said, ‘what are you talking about?’ And I said, ‘well, I told Gene just yesterday that I’m going to leave the show after the first year because I’ve been offered’—and he stopped me and said: ‘You cannot do that.’ And I was stunned. He said, ‘don’t you understand what this man has achieved? For the first time, we are being seen the world over as we should be seen. He says, do you understand that this is the only show that my wife Coretta and I will allow our little children to stay up and watch?’ I was speechless.”
The name Uhura comes from the Swahili word, Uhuru, meaning “freedom.” On Star Trek, Nichols was one of the first African Americans to act in a role that was non-menial. She was also part of the first interracial kiss on television when her character kisses Captain Kirk, played by William Shatner.
“Oh, man, there were parts of the South that wouldn’t show Star Trek because this was an African American woman in a powerful position, and she wasn’t a maid or tap dancer.”
Next year marks Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, and many fans worry there won’t be much of a celebration for the franchise, at least not a satisfying one like those for Doctor Who and James Bond fans. The third Star Trek movie is due to release next year on July 8, in time for the anniversary, but even that has some fans nervous with all of the changes in directors and writers. At this time, there is reportedly no script.
Today, DeForest Kelley would have turned 95-years-old. Born on January 20, 1920, he was best known for his role as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in the Star Trek series. On June 11, 1999 he died from stomach cancer at the age of 79.
What kind of celebration are you hoping for the 50th anniversary? Do you think Star Trek was ahead of its time?
[Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures and PlayBuzz]