Re­mem­ber­ing Star Trek’s in­ter­ra­cial kiss

Viet Nam News - - ENTERTAINMENT -

was the kiss heard around the galaxy.

Fifty years ago - and only one year af­ter the US 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 US 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 utopi­anlike fu­ture, we solved this is­sue. We're be­yond it. That was a won­der­ful message to send."

Plato's Stepchil­dren, which first aired on Novem­ber 22, 1968, 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 that 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 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

con­cerns sim­ply amazed and peo­ple have talked about it ever since", said Ni­chols.

While in­side the show things were buzzing, the episode passed by the gen­eral pub­lic and the TV in­dus­try at that time al­most with­out com­ment, said Robert Thomp­son, a Syra­cuse Univer­sity pro­fes­sor of tele­vi­sion and pop­u­lar cul­ture.

"It nei­ther got the back­lash one might have ex­pected nor did it open the doors for lots more shows to do this," Thomp­son said. "The shot heard around the world started the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion. The kiss heard around the world even­tu­ally did ... but not im­me­di­ately."

This was a world where in­ter­ra­cial mar­riage had just be­come le­gal na­tion­wide.

In 1967, the year be­fore Plato's Stepchil­dren aired, the Supreme Court struck down na­tion­wide laws that made mar­riage il­le­gal be­tween blacks and whites, be­tween whites and Na­tive Amer­i­cans, Filipinos, Asians and, in some states, "all non-whites".

Only 3 per cent of new­ly­weds were in­ter­mar­ried that year. In 2015, 17 per cent of new­ly­weds - or at least 1 in 6 of newly-mar­ried peo­ple - were in­ter­mar­ried, ac­cord­ing to a Pew Re­search Cen­tre anal­y­sis of US Cen­sus Bu­reau data.

Most tele­vi­sion - out­side of the news - was es­capist fare and not will­ing to deal with the rau­cous at­mos­phere in the 1960s, Thomp­son said.

"It was so hard for tele­vi­sion in the 60s to talk about the 1960s," he said. "That kiss and that episode of Star Trek is an ex­am­ple of how ev­ery now and again tele­vi­sion in that pe­riod tried to kick the door open to those kinds of rep­re­sen­ta­tions."

Gene Rod­den­berry, Star Trek's cre­ator, and his team had more lee­way be­cause he was writ­ing about the fu­ture and not cur­rent life, ex­perts said.

"Set­ting Star Trek three hun­dred years in the fu­ture al­lowed (Rod­den­berry) to fo­cus on the so­cial is­sues of the 1960s with­out be­ing di­rect or ob­vi­ous," Shat­ner said in his book Leonard: My FiftyYear Friend­ship with a Re­mark­able Man.

A later episode en­ti­tled Let That Be Your Last Bat­tle­field high­lighted the folly of racism by show­ing a gen­er­a­tions-long bat­tle be­tween two peo­ple from the same planet who thought each other to be sub­hu­man - one was black­skinned on the left side and white on the right, while the other was the op­po­site.

Through­out the en­su­ing decades, in­ter­ra­cial re­la­tion­ships with black and white ac­tors be­came more preva­lent on tele­vi­sion, span­ning mul­ti­ple gen­res. From come­dies like The Jef­fer­sons and Happy End­ings, to dra­mas such as Par­ent­hood, Six Feet Un­der and Dy­nasty and back to sci-fi with the short-lived Fire­fly.

The trend is still not with­out its de­trac­tors. In 2013, a Chee­rios com­mer­cial fea­tur­ing an in­ter­ra­cial cou­ple and their daugh­ter drew thou­sands of racist com­ments on­line.

His­to­ri­ans have noted that in­ter­ra­cial kisses be­tween blacks and whites hap­pened on Bri­tish tele­vi­sion dur­ing live plays as early as 1959, and on sub­se­quent soap op­eras like Emer­gency Ward 10.

In the US, in­tereth­nic kisses hap­pened on I Love Lucy be­tween the Cuban Desi Ar­naz and the white Lu­cille Ball in the 1950s and even on Star Trek in 1967 with Mex­i­can ac­tor Ri­cardo Mon­tal­ban kiss­ing Mad­lyn Rhue in the Space Seed episode.

Other shows like Ad­ven­tures in Par­adise and I Spy fea­tured kisses be­tween white male ac­tors and Asian ac­tresses, and Sammy Davis Jr. kissed Nancy Si­na­tra on the cheek on a De­cem­ber 1967 episode of her tele­vised spe­cial Movin' with Nancy.

Whether an­other kiss came first doesn't re­ally mat­ter.

"For what­ever rea­son, that one be­tween Cap­tain Kirk and Lieu­tenant Uhura seems to be the one that is marked as the mile­stone," Thomp­son said.

It stands out be­cause it had a pro­found ef­fect on view­ers, Ni­chols said in 2010.

"The first thing peo­ple want to talk about is the first in­ter­ra­cial kiss and what it did for them. And they thought of the world dif­fer­ently, they thought of peo­ple dif­fer­ently," she said. AP

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