On November 22, 1968, Captain James T. Kirk and Lieutenant Nyota Uhura locked lips for the first, and only time. Though “Star Trek: The Original Series” was always relatively progressive, the kiss between co-stars William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols was the boldest choice the show had ever made.
“Star Trek’s” most famous kiss is often called the first interracial kiss shown on television. However, this isn’t exactly true. Though the kiss was certainly historic, it was not the first. It wasn’t even the first interracial kiss on “Star Trek.”
The History of Interracial Liplocking on TV
The first interracial kiss on television happened nearly a decade before Kirk and Uhura’s.
According to the book “Fade to Black and White: Interracial Images in Popular Culture,” the first interracial couple on television was Ricky and Lucy from “I Love Lucy.” The characters were played by real-life husband and wife Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Ball was white and Arnaz was Cuban-American. The couple kissed several times on the show, which ran from 1951 to 1957. However, Arnaz was white-passing, so their kisses weren’t seen as interracial by the general public.
In 1959, the action series “Sea Hunt” featured an interracial kiss. The second-season episode “Proof of Guilt” featured Japanese-Canadian actress Nobu McCarthy. At the end of the episode, McCarthy’s character planted a big kiss on the main character, Mike, played by Lloyd Bridges. Though McCarthy was clearly Japanese, the kiss was not given the same historical significance as Kirk and Uhura’s.
A year later in 1960, an episode of “Adventures in Paradise” featured another kiss between a white man and an Asian woman. In “Big Surf,” the show’s lead actor, Gardner McKay, kissed Filipina actress Pilar Seurat.
“Star Trek’s” actual first interracial kiss happened in 1967. In the first season episode, “Space Seed,” Mexican superstar Ricardo Montalban kissed white actress Madlyn Rhue. Montalban was a darker-skinned Hispanic man, but he was still considered white by the general public.
Hispanic is technically a different ethnic identity, not a racial identity. However, the Pew Research Center found that many Hispanic people self-identify their racial identity as Hispanic. Because of this ambiguity around race and ethnicity, especially in the 50s, the public perception of a Hispanic person kissing a white person was not that it was an interracial kiss.
Later in 1967, the first televised kiss between a Black person and a white person took place during Nancy Sinatra’s television special “Movin’ With Nancy.” Sinatra performed with entertainment icon, Sammy Davis Jr. At the end of their performance, they exchanged a quick peck on the cheek.
Why the Kirk/Uhura Kiss Was Still so Important
So, Kirk and Uhura’s kiss was far from the first interracial kiss on television. Technically, it wasn’t even the first kiss between a Black person and a white person on television.
However, Kirk and Uhura’s kiss was the first lip-lock between a white person and a Black person on television. That’s why it got so much attention and went down in history as the first interracial kiss on television.
“Plato’s Stepchildren” aired about three years after one of the most violent years of the Civil Rights Movement, according to History.com. 1965 saw both the assassination of Malcolm X and Bloody Sunday, the day when police brutally attacked protesters marching from Selma to Montgomery to campaign for Black voting rights. The episode aired just months after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The Civil Rights movement was on the minds of every American.
“Star Trek’s” creator, Gene Roddenberry, saw the show as an opportunity to address the sociopolitical issues of the time, as Time Magazine pointed out in their profile of him. He believed that by putting these issues into a futuristic setting, he could explore them in ways that other media at the time could not. The allegories included in “The Original Series” are evident throughout the show. However, none is more evident than Kirk and Uhura’s kiss.
As television critic Eric Deggans told The Associated Press, via NBC News, the kiss “suggested that there was a future where these issues were not such a big deal.” He pointed out that none of the characters in the scene, human or alien, seemed to care that a white man was kissing a Black woman.
The kiss promised that in the future, humankind would have moved past racism. This was a radical message in the middle of the bloody battle that was the Civil Rights Movement. Though it wasn’t the first interracial kiss on television, Kirk and Uhura’s kiss certainly was a historic moment, rife with meaning and hope.
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