The creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry desired a multi-racial cast for his television series. Fulfilling his wish, George Takai, who played Lt. Hikaru Sulu and Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Nyota Uhura), were cast on the original series. This marked the first time that an African American actress was not portrayed in a stereotypical role. Takai, of Japanese descent used his role to further his advocacy interests for Japanese Americans.
Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Nyota Uhura)
If it weren’t for Martin Luther King Jr., the first non-stereotypical portrayal of an African American actress would have been short-lived. Nichols was constantly receiving harassment fueled by racism while playing Uhura. Once she learned that the studio was withholding her fan mail, she filed for resignation from the television series. But it was King, who convinced her that her role was too important to pass up. She withdrew the resignation soon after.
If it wasn’t for Nichelle Nichols, former NASA astronaut, Dr. Mae Jamison may have not pursued a career in astronomy. She was inspired by Nichols and decided to achieve the feat of becoming the first African American female astronaut. Jemison was known for being a fan of the original star Trek series. Being the first actress to play a non-stereotypical African American role was not the only boat she rocked. The nation was rocked when she and Shatner became the first to deliver an interracial kiss on American television. The mail poured in and to everyone’s surprise, it is said that close to 100% of the mail was positive.
Before Nichols played her influential role, she starred in a few roles (most of them uncredited). After the cancellation of the original TV series, she lent her vocals to a few voice work projects, such as “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.” She has also appeared in known films, such as Snow Dogs and Are We There Yet? She continues to act and can be seen in the 2007 film, Escape From Heaven.
Did You Know? Nichols receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992. In her autobiography, she stated that she once has a close relationship to Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the Star Trek series.
George Takai (Lt. Hikaru Sulu)
Takai was cast in the second Star Trek pilot: “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” After his performance, he was kept as a regular character when the series was given the red light for production. Before the Star Trek series, he appeared in a few Japanese films, as well as in television shows, such as “The Twilight Zone” and “Perry Mason.”
After Star Trek was cancelled, he appeared in numerous television shows as a guest star. He also provided the voice of Sulu for the animated Star Trek series and was quite familiar throughout the Star Trek convention circuit. Heavily involved in the advanced of Japanese-Americans, Takai produced and hosted a public affairs show, titled “Expression East/West” from 1971 to 1973. Outside of the acting world, Takai has participated in many different marathons, as well as the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Torch Relay.
Takai has tackled a wide-variety of projects, from proving voice work for the animate “Simpsons” to making an appearance in the television series, “Scrubs.” Today, he can be caught on stage, television and film, but most of us will remember his as Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu.