TV icon Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura on Star Trek and used her status to promote various ways to support women and people of color, died over the weekend at the age of 89. Nichols continued to be a part of the Star Trek family after the original show ended, popping up in the movies and voicing Uhura in the original animated series, but her part—along with everyone else’s, more or less—was recast for director J.J. Abrams’ hugely successful (if still a little divisive) 2009 reboot.
Zoe Saldaña, who played Abrams’ younger Uhura in that movie and its sequels, has shared a post on Instagram (via The Hollywood Reporter) talking about filling Nichols’ shoes, and she—obviously—has nothing but glowing things to say about Nichelle Nichols. In her Instagram post, Saldaña says that Nichols made her “feel safe” and that her “energy was infectious.” Saldaña also says that Nichols convinced her that “anything was achievable, if you put your heart into it,” noting that Nichols also convinced Mae Jemison (the first Black woman in space) to become an astronaut.
Saldaña says that Nichols told her to play Uhura “with all the confidence in the world,” and she says that she hopes that “we continue to keep her memory alive by celebrating her amazing body of work and by spreading the message of peace and equality amongst all people.” Saldaña’s full statement is below:
I’m saddened to learn of Nichelle Nichols’ passing. We have lost a true star—a unique artist who was ahead of her time always. She’s an icon, an activist and most importantly an amazing woman—who blazed a trail that has shown so many how to see women of color in a different light. Her strive for equality was unwavering.
Meeting Nichelle was truly a very special moment in my life. Her energy was infectious every time I was in her presence. She convinced me in believing that anything was achievable, if you put your heart into it. I mean, she inspired Mae Jemison to follow her dreams of becoming an astronaut and that’s exactly what Mae did.
I knew I had big shoes to fill when I was chosen to play Uhura, and Nichelle made me feel safe, told me to play her with all the confidence in the world. My hope is that we continue to keep her memory alive by celebrating her amazing body of work, and by spreading the message of peace and equality amongst all people. She lived a long, impactful life and not only prospered, but helped so many others prosper too.
Maya Angelou once said “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. I agree with this statement with the exception of Nichelle Nichols. It’ll be hard to forget what she said and hard to forget what she did, and it will certainly be impossible to forget how she made us feel.
REST IN POWER QUEEN NICHELLE