Where no man or woman has gone before.
At its core, the original Star Trek was an exploration of the human experience and a forward-thinking journey into the future.
Gene Roddenberry was not always subtle about his vision for the TV show: an inclusive future where humans worked with each other as well as other races to overcome mutual problems in order to establish a universal set of values.
But Star Trek not only took viewers to a dreamy and distant future, it allowed them to analyze their present through a new reality where a commitment to equality was often at the forefront of plots; a far cry from life in the United States in 1966.
Thinly disguised as sci-fi, Star Trek explored more than new worlds: it explored our own hearts as well.
With the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed but a year before the show’s debut, Star Trek arrived at a time when American TVs were slowly transitioning into color, but when the country itself was as black and white as ever.
Though set in the far future, about two centuries ahead of the 1960s, creator Gene Roddenberry once said, “I have no belief that Star Trek depicts the actual future, it depicts us, now, things we need to understand about that.” Writer David Gerrold also admitted, “The stories are about twentieth century man’s attitudes in a future universe. The stories are about us.”
That being said, the show was a ripe platform for social commentary masked only slightly by its futuristic set and costumes.
Among the many social themes that Star Trek tackled were racism, race relations, sexism, feminism, war, and peace.
How better to introduce and analyze these themes than through various alien races and uncharted planets, all of which were seen by the audience through the familiar eyes of three white men presented as a Freudian trio: Kirk as the id, McCoy as the ego, and Spock as the superego.
While Kirk in essence is a brash symbol of white, masculine authority, Bones often plays as his conscience while Spock goes beyond that as the voice of logic and reason. In fact, most of the action takes place among the crew’s men, while the women typically watch from the sidelines. All except for one, that is.
Coming from the Swahili word uhuru meaning “freedom,” Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, was one of the first African Americans ever featured in a co-starring role on American television.
Originally, Roddenberry intended for this black female character to be Lieutenant Sulu, but executives were worried about the similarity between this name and “Zulu” and thus changed it in order to preserve the show’s progressive stance on racial diversity. Sulu would instead become the character portrayed by Japanese-American actor George Takei.
Roddenberry’s answer to the studio’s removal of his original powerful female character (Number One) from the script, Uhura would go on to become not only the most capable woman on the crew, but an icon for female and black actresses and women everywhere.
But in 1968, her iconic presence on the show would go even further when she helped Star Trek change TV history forever. Keep reading!