The kiss that changed the world
WASHINGTON—It was the kiss heard around the galaxy.
Fifty years ago — and only one year after the U.S. Supreme Court declared interracial marriage was legal — two of science fiction’s most enduring characters, Captain James T. Kirk and Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, kissed each other on Star Trek.
It wasn’t romantic. Sadistic, humanlike aliens forced the dashing white captain to lock lips with the beautiful Black communications officer.
But the kiss between actors William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols in “Plato’s Stepchildren” would help change attitudes in America about what was allowed to be shown on TV, and made an early statement about the coming acceptance of interracial relationships in a United States still struggling with racism and civil rights.
The kiss between Uhura and Kirk “suggested that there was a future where these issues were not such a big deal,” said Eric Deggans, national
television critic for National Public Radio.
“The characters themselves were not freaking out because a Black woman was kissing a white man … In this utopian like future, we solved this issue. We’re beyond it. That was a wonderful message to send.”
“Plato’s Stepchildren” came before Star Trek morphed into a cultural phenomenon. The show’s producers, meanwhile, were concerned about one of the main episode elements: humanlike aliens dressed as ancient Greeks who torture the crew with their telekinetic powers and force the two USS Enterprise crew members to kiss.
Worried about reaction from Southern television stations, showrunners filmed the kiss between Shatner and Nichols — their lips are mostly obscured by the back of Nichols’ head — and wanted to film a second where it happened off-screen.
But Nichols said in her book Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories that she and Shatner deliberately flubbed lines to force the original take to be used.
Despite concerns from executives, “Plato’s Stepchildren” aired without blowback. In fact, it got the most “fan mail that Paramount had ever gotten on Star Trek for one episode,” Nichols said in a 2010 interview with the Archive of American Television.
Officials at Paramount, the show’s producer, “were just simply amazed and people have talked about it ever since,” said Nichols.
Nichelle Nichols’ and William Shatner’s kiss made a statement on the acceptance of interracial relationships.