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The original Star Trek series is iconic and helped build a billion-dollar franchise. In 2009, the franchise was rebooted with a brand new cast playing the original characters. Zoe Saldaña stepped into the role of Uhura, formerly played by Nichelle Nichols. Following the Star Trek actor’s death, Saldaña shares the advice Nichols gave her on playing Uhura. 

Nichelle Nichols played Uhura in the original ‘Star Trek’ series

Star Trek actors Zoe Saldana and Nichelle Nichols, who both play Uhura, attend the 2009 BET awards
Zoe Saldaña and Nichelle Nichols | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Nichols starred as Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series, beginning in 1966. Despite only being on for three seasons, Star Trek became a cultural phenomenon and is still coming out with new shows and movies today. Nichols also played Uhura in six movies, including Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Nichols’ role was seen as groundbreaking for black women on television. She was seen as a vital role model to young women and black children with many citing Uhura as their inspiration to become astronauts. Her kiss with William Shatner’s Captain Kirk was the first interracial kiss seen on television. In addition, Nichols worked with NASA on a special project that aimed to recruit more minorities and women to the space program.

Zoe Saldaña shares how Nichols helped her play Uhura

Star Trek received new life in 2009 when J.J. Abrams rebooted the franchise with a new cast. Saldaña starred as Uhura alongside Chris Pine as James T. Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock. On July 30, Nichols died at the age of 89. To celebrate her life, Saldaña shared a post on her Instagram page where she praised Nichols’ accomplishments and how the advice she gave for playing Uhura. 

“Meeting Nichelle was truly a very special moment in my life,” Saldaña said. “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.”

The legacy of Uhura continues to live on


William Shatner: ‘Star Trek’ Creator Would Be ‘Turning in His Grave’ if He Knew About the Spinoffs

It’s unclear if Saldaña is going to reprise her role as Uhura in an upcoming Star Trek sequel. While there have been recent talks about a Star Trek 4, it’s unclear what the status of the project currently is. 

Meanwhile, Uhura and the Enterprise crew return for more adventures on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds on Paramount+. Celia Rose Gooding is the latest actor to play Uhura and continue Nichols’ legacy. Following a successful first season, the show will return for season 2.

Almost every iteration of Star Trek is streaming on Paramount+.