Lt. Uhura is one of the most important characters in the history of television. Her presence on the bridge of the Enterprise on Star Trek was not only groundbreaking, it was game-changing. While her character was given dignity and treated as an equal among the crew, as a Black woman, she was still limited by the times. Despite the show’s sci-fi, futuristic setting, outside of the starship it was still the ‘60s, so she couldn’t be seen as too smart and confident.
Over the years, the movies featuring The Original Series characters have allowed the legendary Nichelle Nichols to give us a more well-rounded view of Uhura. We also got an action hero version of the character from Zoe Saldana in 2009’s Star Trek. Now Celia Rose Gooding is offering a glimpse at Cadet Nyota Uhura as she starts her Federation journey on the new Paramount+ series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Gooding spoke to The Root about taking on such an iconic role and bringing something new to the franchise.
When we meet Uhura, one of the first things we learn about her is that she speaks 37 languages and beat out hundreds of other cadets to get the assignment on the Enterprise. She’s instantly established as someone special, who everyone needs to respect. It sets the tone that we need to spend time with this person and get to know everything about her.
“I think having Nichelle Nichols on the bridge was already so groundbreaking that her presence on the bridge was enough for the time,” Gooding said. “But as we have evolved and continued to show the wide range of how Black women can present themselves in entertainment, even beyond sci-fi, I am incredibly honored to have an opportunity to humanize this character in a way she wasn’t able to be before.”
This is Uhura long before she becomes the confident, self-assured lieutenant we know and love. This is a cadet who’s just learning the ins and outs of space travel, living on a starship and fitting in amongst the crew. She’s not sure of her place or importance to the mission, but she quickly figures it out.
“We’re seeing the person that she was, because in this franchise, it’s already so well established, who she’s going to be and who she is in the future as a lieutenant, eventually a commander and a captain,” Gooding said. “We know where she’s going, but we don’t know where she’s been. As human beings, we are a product of our experiences and of the world around us. I think it was incredibly important to see her at her beginning stages.”
In the Season 1 episode “Memento Mori,” as Uhura is completing her engineering rotation, disaster strikes–as it usually does on this ship–and she’s forced to take on more responsibility than has ever been asked of her. In the process, she bonds with chief engineer Hemmer, a gruff, brutally honest being who doesn’t suffer fools and doesn’t care what Uhura’s rank is. The hour establishes Uhura’s ability to learn every aspect of the ship, as well as sets the stage for their entertaining odd couple friendship.
“I’m so excited for our fans to see how they connect because Hemmer challenges Uhura in a way that doesn’t make her feel small, but makes her feel valued. A lot of the crew in this first season are very, very kind and gentle with her and Hemmer doesn’t really do that,” Gooding said. “Hemmer isn’t about sugarcoating it. Hemmer is like, ‘Oh, you’re a person in Starfleet. Okay. This is what Starfleet is. I’m not gonna sugarcoat this for you.’ Uhura really needs that.”
She continued, ”She needs someone who’s going to challenge her and make her feel like she’s just part of the crew. Hemmer is going to be hard on her the way Hemmer’s hard on everybody. Some of my favorite moments of the first season are moments with Hemmer and Uhura, because knowing how important Hemmer is to Uhura, and how important Uhura is to Hemmer, it’s an incredibly beautiful friendship and I’m really excited for the fans to watch it grow.”
For die hard fans of Star Trek: The Original Series, Strange New Worlds does a spectacular job of respecting and celebrating the franchise’s roots, while also establishing its own special place in Star Trek history.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is now streaming on Paramount+.