The show was called GvsE. Nichelle Nichols and Antonio Fargas were the episode Guest Stars. Right before a break, she invited me to her trailer to hang out for a minute. It was during that visit, I learned we had more in common than I would have ever realized. We both began careers on Broadway and both had life altering moves from New York to Los Angeles.
She shared that at the age of 16, she was a singer with the Duke Ellington’s band. Later, switching to acting she was twice nominated for the Sarah Siddons Award for Best Actress in “The Blacks” and “Kicks and Company.” Her film debut founder dancing with Sammy Davis, Jr. in “Porgy and Bess.” However, it was a guest appearance on “The Lieutenant ” that led to an offer from Gene Roddenberry to join the cast of Star Trek in her best known role as Communication Officer Lieutenant Nyota Uhura was born. Uhura was so important to me growing up as a Black girl in America, as there were very few images and role models that looked like me on television. Roddenberry was one of the few show runners that actually used his project to reflect diversity on television using space as the final frontier.
As a matter of fact, Star Trek was the ONLY show Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took time to watch with his kids in the middle of fighting for Civil Rights. Can you even imagine? I thought this was one of the cooler gems dropped in this fascinating doc. Disenchanted with the limited use of her character on the show, Nichols shared that she would be leaving the hit show. It was at the insistence of Dr. King that she stayed on until the show was cancelled two years later. Little did she know that Uhura would change her life and create a partnership with NASA that would change the space program forever. In show business, everything ends sooner or later. You learn to say goodbye and prepare for the next.
Woman in Motion takes things a step further doing a deep dive into how Nichols was invited to join the Board of Directors of the National Space Institute and participate in its astronaut recruitment program for the space shuttle project. We learn that three of her recruits were on the ill-fated Challenger mission and for her work, received NASA’s distinguished Public Service Award. Through her consultant firm, Woman in Motion, Inc., she produced and starred in the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum film “What’s In It For Me?”
What was absolutely fascinating about this Todd Thompson directed documentary is that this strong, resilient, gorgeous, bright Black Woman used her celebrity status to make a difference in our world. However, it was not without its challenges. While traveling around the country to recruit BIPOC and women as astronauts, she insisted upon astronaut training to make sure she was fully informed while speaking with potential recruits. She also butted heads with the US Government over the manner in which she was recruiting and warned NASA that if at any time they exploited her celebrity and did not keep their word, she would put the organization on blast through the media. And baby, there is nothing worse than pissed off and pissed on Black woman. Luckily for all parties, the threat never had to be ignited. Quite the contrary, as a result of her collaborations, we have seen numerous women and people of color join the space program. Yet, With all this, she has not neglected her singing making a series of video albums the latest being “Nichelle Nichols: Live at Disneyland”.
Currently streaming on Apple TV +, Woman In Motion will inspire, educate and shed light on an individual who has been revered for decades in one lane publicly while thriving and shifting the zeitgeist privately via NASA.