Hollywood Flashback: 'Star Trek' Showed TV's First Interracial Kiss in 1968
Nichelle Nichols says NBC execs originally wanted to shoot two different versions of the scene between her and William Shatner locked lips to avoid outrage among Southern affiliates, but "Bill was deliberately trying to flub it up."
A story of prohibited interracial marriage, Loving set Cannes abuzz this month. But in 1968, Star Trek boldly took mixed-race kissing where U.S. TV had never gone before, with an episode in which Captain Kirk (William Shatner) planted one on Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols).
Where Loving's plot is relatively simple (white guy falls in love with black woman, they marry in 1958 Virginia, all hell breaks loose), Kirk and Uhura must pass through some galactically convoluted plot points before their lips meet. The Enterprise finds a planet inhabited by aliens who are followers of Plato and have developed psychokinetic powers. The crew gives them medical care, and the Platonites insist they stay. When Kirk declines, the aliens mess with their minds and force Kirk and Uhura to smooch against their will. (This is all done in dramatic Star Trek-style, with Uhura saying things like, "I'm so frightened, Captain! I'm so very frightened.")
There were reasons for the cast to be nervous about this TV first — the show was in its third season, and cancellation was imminent. But it was NBC that was reluctant to pull the trigger. Network execs were worried the interracial scene would upset Southern affiliates, so an effort was made to shoot coverage where Kirk and Uhura don't actually lock lips. "We did a few takes, but Bill was deliberately trying to flub it," recalls Nichols. "At one point, he even crossed his eyes to make me laugh."
Eventually, the network gave up trying and ran the scene as written. And with an eye toward the Emmys and stirring up controversy, producers took out an ad in The Hollywood Reporter asking none too subtly if TV's first interracial smooch was about to actually happen. Because of the kiss, "Plato's Stepchildren" became such a famous Star Trek episode that when Comedy Central roasted Shatner in 2006, Nichols got a huge laugh when she said to him, "Let's make TV history again — and you can kiss my black ass!"
This story first appeared in the June 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.