Sometimes it seems very easy to throw around words like “groundbreaking” or “one of a kind” when describing certain actors that have graced the screens of movies and television. For famed actor and pop culture icon Whoopi Goldberg, there may be no other individual that fits this mold better than the late, great Nichelle Nichols. Nichols passed away at the age of 89 last week, and her passing was followed by heartfelt tributes from fans and former coworkers on social media. When it comes to leaving a legacy, Nichols accomplished that goal tenfold primarily due to her performances as Nyota Uhura in the Star Trek franchise, as well as her time volunteering for decades for causes she believed in.
Talk show host Whoopi Goldberg recently added her thoughts on Nichelle Nichols and the gift her talents have left on the arts and entertainment industries. According to a report by Deadline, Goldberg spoke emotionally about Nichols’ unconventional presence as a Black woman on network television at a time when such a thing simply didn’t exist. Talking about Nichols with the other hosts on the daytime talk show The View, Goldberg called the late actress a “trailblazer, a heroine, and an extraordinary woman—someone who inspired millions and millions of people but inspired me.” She continued, calling the actress, “the first Black person I’d ever seen who made it to the future.” Nichols also volunteered for NASA to help recruit women and minorities to become astronauts, using her celebrity for a good cause.
Whoopi Goldberg and Nichelle Nichols both appeared in iterations of the Star Trek television series and subsequent films. Nichols began her run in 1966 by portraying Uhura, the communications officer of the USS Enterprise. As Variety reports, Nichols’s role as Uhura broke barriers since she was one of the first Black women to be a leading star on television. Because she took the part so seriously, many loyal fans of the franchise believed Uhura’s gender didn’t seem to matter to the overall nature of the character. Nichols embodied the role throughout the initial run of Star Trek and reprised it in six films that later followed. Zoe Saldana took over the role when the franchise rebooted for a new generation starting with 2009’s Star Trek, directed by J.J. Abrams.
It’s evident why Whoopi Goldberg became very emotional when discussing Nichelle Nichols. It seems that Goldberg may have followed in Nichols’ footsteps in many ways as an actor. Goldberg is well-known for winning an Academy Award for her performance in Ghost, the first time since 1939’s Hattie McDaniel that a Black woman had won the award. Since then, she has become what’s referred to as an EGOT recipient, as she has also earned an Emmy, Grammy, and Tony award throughout her long career. Nichols broke her own barriers by kissing costar William Shatner on an episode of Star Trek in 1968, which according to space.com, was the first time an interracial kiss was shown on television. This paved the way for actors like Whoopi Goldberg to do the same in Ghost, the 1993 film Made in America, and many others.