Nichelle Nichols dreamed of being in space … but I’m getting ahead of this story as told in “Woman in Motion” a nod to the name of her company, that she created to add diversity and inclusion to the NASA program.
It started with a line. “To go boldly go where no man has gone before,” the iconic opening narration, for each episode of Star Trek. To Star Trek fans around the world, Nichelle Nichols is known for playing Uhura in three seasons of the original series and six Trek feature films.
A trailblazer breaking stereotypes for African-Americans in the late 1960s in the new documentary “Woman in Motion” the filmmaker explores the actress’s contributions to change NASA and the space program. From the beginning, Nichelle wanted more, saying — “If they let me in the door, I will open it so wide — they will see the world !”
If you think you already know Nichols’ story you most likely would be off the mark. In reality, her dreams were as wide as the sky above our heads and as deep as the unexplored universe. She dared. “Woman in Motion” is a compelling documentary that deftly combines new and archival interviews along with historic photos and film, all assembled in an effort to bring light to how this African-American woman changed the space program.
Nichols was born in Robbins, Illinois, near Chicago, and raised in the Jim Crow-era, her father (Samuel Earl Nichols) a factory worker championed his daughter’s ambitions and respected her vision. Nichols dreamed of space but how she could get there, was a confusing conundrum but destiny lead to a fated meeting with Gene Roddenberry, on the set of “The Lieutenant” in 1964. This simple hello changed the trajectory of her career and her life.
But before there was NASA, there was Star Trek, the place Nichols left her mark in television history for her role in Star Trek smashing limitations and giving thousands of inspiration for just being on the show. This was a period of history when television was mostly populated by White people. Her very presence on the USS Enterprise was an act of revolution and a sign of major and positive changes to come. Nichols says, “I became essentially who I became through [creator] Gene Roddenberry. He discovered me. It was meant to be.”
Kismet aside, the doc doesn’t shy away from discussing the shortcomings of Star Trek as it relates to diversity and inclusion. Co-star George Takei, David Gerrold, and late Star Trek writer DC Fontana shared how storylines, that were written for Uhura would be severely altered and eventually axed through the writing process.
Under the weight of racism and sexism, Nichols almost cracked under pressure and had decided to leave the show. The reason she stayed, a conversation with Martin Luther King, Jr., who felt that her very presence was a step in the right direction during the turbulent Civil Rights era.
Martin Luther King III shared how his father, so proud, would find time to watch Star Trek with his family. He was not the only person of note to get inspiration from Nichols, others were inspired like congresswoman Maxine Waters, future astronauts like Frederick Gregory, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Star Trek: The Next Generation star Michael Dorn.
After the cancellation of Star Trek, Nichols volunteered her time in a special project with NASA to recruit minority and female personnel for the space agency, making an affiliation between NASA and a company which she helped to run, Women in Motion.
Nichols program was a success helping to change the lives of many including Dr. Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut, and the United States Air Force Colonel Guion Bluford, the first African-American astronaut, as well as Dr. Judith Resnik and Dr. Ronald McNair, who both flew successful missions during the Space Shuttle program before they died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986.
Devoted to space exploration, Nichols served on the board of governors of the National Space Society, a nonprofit, educational space advocacy organization founded by Dr. Wernher von Braun.
“Woman in Motion” is more than just Gene Roddenberry’s vision and desire for a diverse future. It’s more than a story about Nichols, at its core, it’s a celebration of everyone involved at NASA and beyond to make it possible.
In the end, Nichelle Nichols summed it up, perfectly, saying —“We have only begun to begin.” Fathom Events has added more shows (February 2 — 6). To learn more, go to www.FathomEvents.com. “Woman in Motion” is expected to be released for video on demand later this year.