The story behind 'TV's first interracial kiss' between 'Star Trek's' Nichelle Nichols and William Shatner

  • 'Star Trek' made TV history when it aired an episode where Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura kissed on screen.

  • The moment is widely regarded as one of American TV's first interracial kisses.

  • Show executives were worried the kiss would anger Southern TV stations and tried to change the script.

When Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura kissed on screen in 1968, it made TV history.

The kiss between the "Star Trek" characters, played by William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols, is widely regarded as one of American TV's first interracial kisses.

"Star Trek" has left a lauded legacy for featuring a multiracial crew working together to explore space. Nichols, considered a trailblazer for Black actors, was one of the first Black women to star in a major television series. She died on July 30 at 89 years old.

Concerns over the interracial kiss

The episode aired at a time when America was still grappling with racism and civil rights. Just one year prior, the Supreme Court made a landmark civil rights decision in Loving v. Virginia, a case that now protects interracial marriage under the 14th amendment.

Worried the kiss would anger TV stations in the Deep South, NBC executives tried to have Spock, who is half-Vulcan — an extraterrestrial humanoid species in the series — kiss Uhura instead. Shatner insisted they stick with the original script, according to critical race scholar and filmmaker Daniel Bernardi, who wrote the book "Star Trek and History."

Showrunners ended up filming two versions of the scene: one with an on-screen kiss, and one that took place off-screen. But Nichols and Shatner deliberately flubbed lines so the original shot would be used, Nichols said in her autobiography, "Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories."

"The only alternative was to cut out the scene altogether, but that was impossible to do without ruining the entire episode. Finally, the guys in charge relented: 'To hell with it. Let's go with the kiss.' I guess they figured we were going to be canceled in a few months anyway. And so the kiss stayed," Nichols wrote.

A lasting legacy

Despite initial concerns, the episode aired without huge backlash, and has since been ranked by several media outlets as one of the top moments in "Star Trek."

Even Nichols wrote in her book that "for me, the most memorable episode of our last season was 'Plato's Stepchildren,'" as the episode was titled.

The "Star Trek" series has been regaled — and sometimes criticized — for shattering taboos and crossing boundaries of what's deemed acceptable. In a 1966 episode, Lieutenant Uhura and Christine Chapel, played by white actress Majel Barrett, shared a friendly kiss.

More recently in 2016,  "Star Trek" revealed that Hikaru Sulu, played by John Cho, is openly gay.

"The whole show was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but to take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms," Gene Roddenberry, the show's creator, said.

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