Features and Columns

On Blaxploitation and Breaking Barriers: The Radical Impact of Nichelle Nichols

Representation matters. Just ask Nichelle Nichols.
Nichelle Nichols Uhura Star Trek
By  · Published on June 15th, 2020

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Like with most offshoots of the exploitation genre, it can be tricky to reconcile the “exploitation” part of blaxploitation.  On the one hand: blaxploitation created an explosion of American cinema dominated by, for, and about communities of color. On the other hand: most of the white-helmed studios overseeing blaxploitation cinema were only interested in making a quick buck, which meant an emphasis on damaging stereotypes.

Nichelle Nichols only starred in one blaxploitation film. After she appeared as a foul-mouthed madam opposite Isaac Hayes in 1974’s Truck Turner, she swore off the genre. For Nichols, the promise of blaxploitation — that it would create opportunities for Black filmmakers to tell stories about Black characters that were multifaceted, human, and complex — wasn’t being fulfilled.

Nichols knows a thing or two about the importance of on-screen representation. Before Truck Turner, she was breaking barriers on Star Trek as Lieutenant Uhura, the most visible Black women on television during the Civil Rights era. In the interview clip below, Nichols describes her role in Black representation on-screen, from her brief stint in blaxploitation to her iconic role as Uhura. Nichols also describes the period of time after Star Trek‘s first season when she considered quitting the show, and how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. convinced her to stay.

You can watch “Nichelle Nichols – On Blaxploitation and Breaking Barriers” here:

Who made this?

This exclusive clip comes courtesy of Reelblack, founded in 2007 by NYU and AFI alum Michael J. Dennis (The 13th Amendment). Reelblack’s mission is to educate, enlighten, entertain, and empower people through Black film. The above clip comes from the press room at the 2008 East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention and features Nichelle Nichols and journalist Raymond Tyler. you can subscribe to Reelback on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.