Sci-Fi: Uhura and the Most Influential Women in ‘Star Trek’

Screen capture of Nichelle Nichols as Nyota Uhura in ‘Star Trek: The Original Series’. Copyright goes to Paramount Pictures and Roddenberry Entertainment.

Hey! Hallie here!

A few days ago we were all hit with the news that Nichelle Nichols had passed away. This news has been really difficult for her friends, family, fans, and all of those who took major inspiration from her work. The impact she had on the film industry, science, and the fight for equality for both the Black community and women can’t be understated. It’s really hard to put into words how amazing she was and how missed she will be, especially after all of the lovely words already shared by people much closer to her. That said, I still didn’t want to just brush over this news given how big of a role ‘Star Trek’ has played in my life recently. So this post is going to be a huge appreciation post for Uhura and all of the women she paved the way for in future ‘Star Trek’ series. I narrowed down the characters for this post based on popularity, screen-time, and overall impact on the series, but know there are plenty of other strong women left off of this list that I appreciate as well! Let’s talk about Uhura!

Nyota Uhura: Uhura was a Black, female lead in a major show during a time when women were considered largely unimportant to represent in the film industry, and women of color were almost nonexistent in popular media. But it wasn’t just her presence alone that made her so memorable. It was that she was, despite all the odds, GOOD representation. If you look at other female characters in the original series of ‘Star Trek’, such as Christine Chapel and Janice Rand, they have no personality and serve no purpose to most of the plots. Uhura’s different. Uhura was given the role of a communications officer. While this role wasn’t well handled in every episode, it was still inarguably valuable to have someone on the bridge who could communicate incoming transmissions and translate languages that the captain or crew couldn’t immediately understand. And while she wasn’t given as much screen-time as many of her male counterparts, the time she was given was full of personality and badassery. Amongst her most iconic moments are singing a song about Spock to tease him, slapping mirror verse Sulu across the face and threatening him with a knife, responding to “I’ll protect you fair maiden” with “Sorry, neither”, and forcing a lower ranking officer to lock himself in a closet at phaser-point to help save Spock. She was doing things that women at the time were rarely, if ever, seen doing. And part of that was thanks to Nichelle Nichols and the life she breathed into Uhura regardless of what the script did or didn’t give her. She was the backbone for so many POC and female characters that came after, including the brilliant return of Uhura we’re getting in ‘Strange New Worlds’, and we have Nichols to thank.

Deanna Troi: Deanna had her problems. Her role as an empath was written poorly in many, many episodes of ‘The Next Generation’, her empathic abilities often fell into sexist tropes, she was hardly ever allowed to participate in fight scenes despite Marina Sirtis’ experience in fencing, and most of her episodes were focused on shoddily written romances. Still, Deanna held an importance we only saw glimpses of until the final seasons. Deanna proved herself incredibly capable in those later episodes, finally earning an official rank and a Starfleet uniform. In her finest hour we saw her go undercover on a Romulan ship as a Tal Shiar, not just intimidating everyone on the ship so much that they didn’t oppose her forcing the captain to step down, but also arguing with Spock’s spy to the degree that she managed to take over the mission and make it succeed herself. But even after she got there, she was never any less feminine, nor was she ashamed of her femininity. She proved you could be a woman who embraces her femininity and a strong Starfleet officer at the same time. Despite my issues with Deanna, I appreciated the character we got to by the end of the series.

Beverly Crusher: Beverly’s biggest issues lie in the fact that she’s the least prominent character amongst the main cast. But when she was on screen, she was amazing. Beverly was a capable doctor, ready to throw herself into danger for the sake of those who needed her. There was even an episode that focused on her being captured by a terrorist group because she refused to leave a group of injured people behind. Along with her bravery, she was always extremely intelligent and reasonable. Almost every character in the main cast had at least one episode where they came to Beverly for major life advice and relied on her support as she helped them sort out their problems. Picard himself had several of those episodes, all of which established Beverly as an equal to Picard in strength and wisdom. And if all of that wasn’t enough, she was one of the first main women in ‘Star Trek’ we got to see take up the position of captain, and she proved herself more than capable in not just the one, but two occasions we saw it happen. Beverly was incredible as a mother and a Starfleet officer, and I hope we get much more of her when she comes back in ‘Picard’.

Guinan: Guinan was in even less of the show than Beverly was, but Guinan is rightly remembered as a major presence on the show. She was the first woman of color we got to see amongst the main cast since Uhura and she stole the hearts of fans. So much so that many fans acknowledge any episode Guinan shows up in as a good episode. Guinan wasn’t human, but that put her in the position of having even more wisdom and knowledge than Picard. She was much older, and much more inclined to listen to those who needed someone to talk to than anyone else. In fact, her willingness to lend an ear was the only reason Picard managed to befriend another fan favorite, Ro Laren. When something went wrong and Picard was looked to to come up with answers, it was very often that Picard would seek answers himself from none other than Guinan. This was especially true when the Borg were involved. Guinan is probably the most comforting presence in all of ‘Star Trek’. We all wish we had a ’10 Forward’ to go to just so we could chat with Guinan.

Kira Nerys: Anyone who’s read ‘Star Trek’ content on this blog knows that I can’t praise Kira Nerys enough. She’s become one of my favorite characters of all time. Kira Nerys was the first woman on ‘Star Trek’ to actually take up one of the two main command positions as the first officer on Deep Space 9. And she wasn’t a first officer to mess with. Nerys stood up for her people in every situation regardless of the cost, often going against Sisko’s orders in earlier seasons for the benefit of her people. As the seasons went on she learned how to work more harmoniously with Sisko, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t push back fiercely if she was met with a decision of his she didn’t like. Nerys also wasn’t willing to take unwanted attention from others, threatening to break Quark’s wrist in only the first episode of the show for touching her without permission. She also participated in fights just as much as her male counterparts did and sometimes even more because of her past as a resistance fighter. Even when she was pregnant the show never treated her gingerly. Along with this badass behavior was an extremely compassionate woman who learned to work with and appreciate the people around her, including Cardassian characters she initially disliked for admittedly valid reasons. Kira Nerys blew me away when I first saw her on screen and I’ll never forget her for that.

Jadzia Dax: What to say about the woman who shared one of the first lesbian kisses on screen? Though the writers initially tried to make her a Spock-like character in the first season of the show, complete with lines about swearing off romantic attachments for being unreasonable, she grew into so much more. Starting season two we got to see her relationship with the Klingons, her excellent fighting skills with a bat’leth, and her more flirtatious personality. Jadzia was never to be underestimated in wits or in strength. She was an excellent source for fun banter and sarcastic comments in the show, in particular while interacting with Sisko. Just as important was the advice she gave, which was full of wisdom her peers didn’t possess because of the age of the Dax symbiote. There was never a dull moment when Jadzia was around. From falling in love with a woman from her past despite Trill rules, to crawling through sewers to get to Sisko and Julian, to exploring the past of a former host who was guilty of murder, she kept viewers on their toes. And it does help that her constant reintroduction of her pronouns and her experiences with gender spoke to the trans and nonbinary communities. Purposeful or not, she made waves in the queer community and beyond it.

Kathryn Janeway: Our first female captain! Janeway was no push over. As a former science officer she was able to take over some of the scientific research on Voyager and even took control of a few experiments by herself. But those things never interfered with her command duties. In the first episode she was forced to make peace between the Starfleet and Maquis members of the ship and she refused to take any nonsense from either side. It was her discipline and careful watch that made the crew cement together as quickly as it did. Only Janeway could have the resilience to keep seeking a way to escape the Delta Quadrant after so many failures. Only Janeway could singlehandedly protect her ship while under attack as she does in ‘Year of Hell’. And only Janeway could convince a Borg to change their ways and join the crew. Say what you will about her disregard of the rules, Janeway was the most resilient captain in all of ‘Star Trek’.

Seven-of-Nine: Though she was clearly brought in as eye candy, Seven was an interesting character right from her introduction. Her experience with the Borg gave us the first look into what being assimilated as a Borg at a young age might do to a person. Seven had very little experience being a human to go back to after she was disconnected from the Borg collective, and that made for really interesting content. She also took up the position as most intelligent on the crew alongside the Doctor, cementing her importance. But her trauma and previous position as an adversary to Starfleet made her quick to disobey commands and take problems into her own hands. While these traits were problematic, they made for a much more complex character than “eye-candy” usually were. When Seven was introduced on ‘Picard’ she was given even more time and even more nuance while she fully explored what it meant to be human and what morality she wanted to adopt. Along with that exploration came her feelings for Raffi and now she’s one of the first ‘Star Trek’ characters in an openly queer relationship. Seven only gets better as they continue to write her and I hope to see her more in the future.

Michael Burnham: I’m, admittedly, not completely sold by ‘Discovery’. But I can’t overlook the importance Michael Burnham holds as our first Black woman to take up the mantle of captain. Michael Burnham is a nuanced character with both incredible logic from her time growing up on Vulcan, and incredible passion when she chooses to let her more natural humanity take over. She forms relationships fast and can sometimes take unnecessary risks for those she cares about, but she simultaneously can always be trusted to keep a clear head and come up with the best solution to a problem. ‘Discovery’ also took the time to flesh out her character completely before having her step into the role of captain, making it a part of her character growth in a way we’d never seen before. Whether you like the writing for Michael or not, she’s a well developed character and one that deserves appreciation.

Beckett Mariner: How can you not love Mariner? First off, Mariner is a canonically bisexual queen who isn’t ashamed of who she pursues romantically and won’t shame you for who you choose to pursue romantically either. She’s also the closest of all the Lower Decks crew to taking up a command position. Because she’s already done so multiple times. She even served on Deep Space 9! But that scene isn’t for her. She doesn’t want the pressure and she prefers being able to have fun with her friends. Not to mention that she views any orders given by her superiors as a challenge, and has proven in almost every episode that she could fight each member of the bridge crew for their position and win. Where her interest wanes in more scientific endeavors she makes up for with street smarts and wisdom gained by her past Starfleet experiences. Those things make her by far the most knowledgable of the Lower Decks crew and the most admirable in each episode. She just needs to get reigned in sometimes.

None of these women could have taken the major steps they have for female representation without Nichelle Nichols paving the way first. ‘Star Trek’ has always been far in front of other major franchises when it comes to representation of women and people of color, and Nyota Uhura was one of the first characters to set that trend. But Uhura and Nichols didn’t just effect ‘Star Trek’. They made waves in all television shows as well as scientific fields. Since Nichols’ passing we’ve heard story after story from astronauts and women in STEM who made the decision to pursue their career path because they saw Nichelle Nichols on screen. I have her to thank for some of my favorite characters of all time, in and out of ‘Star Trek’, and we all have her to thank for the walls she actively kicked down not just in ‘Star Trek, but in her every day life. We’ll see you out there, Nichelle Nichols.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!


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