'Star Trek' Day: 'Pioneer' Nichelle Nichols Remembered by Peers and Fans in Moving Memorial

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Nichelle Nichols
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This year's Star Trek Day shared glimpses of all the upcoming treats awaiting fans from every corner of the Starfleet universe and allowed fans and peers a moment to pay tribute to the late, great Nichelle Nichols.

The Los Angeles-based event, which was live-streamed for fans globally on various Star Trek platforms, featured appearances by Star Trek stars from across the franchises, including Picard's Patrick Stewart, Michelle Hurd, Jeri Ryan, Kate Mulgrew, Melissa Navia, Christina Chong and Rebecca Romijn.

The excitement on the red carpet was nothing compared to the reverence with which stars reflected on the memory of the late actress known for playing Lt. Nyota Uhura in the original William Shatner-fronted Trek series.

"She is really the reason why I feel so proud to be a part of this amazing franchise," Hurd told ET. "When I was a young kid... my father was an actor and he knew that it was really important for his three brown girls to see themselves represented. So when we would sit down to watch something, Star Trek was always the first thing and it's because of Nichelle Nichols."

She added, "I hope that people understand how impactful and how much she changed everything. It wasn't just that there was this beautiful Black woman in this cute dress sitting at a console -- she had importance, she had control, she had power, she had a service that she contributed. Seeing that as a child, I saw that I could have a purpose, I could serve."

The Picard actress shared how Nichols' shift to wearing her hair naturally inspired her own decision to style her character Raffi similarly.

"I wanted all of our brothers and sisters to see that in [the year] 2400, curls are still there and they're not going anywhere," she declared. "So I’m so humbled and appreciative to think that Nichelle did that for me and for so many of us, and that maybe I have a tiny little impact in conveying that same message to little brown and beige girls and boys around the world. That they tune in now and they see me and they go, 'I could do that, I could do anything.'"

Actress Celia Rose Gooding, who plays Nyota Uhura on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, had a similar outlook. 

"It means everything to be here and to have a moment to honor the icon that is Nichelle Nichols," she said to ET on the red carpet."It's incredible [and] paramount that we do this, and so to be a part of it means the world to me because I would not be here if it weren't for Nichelle. Probably wouldn't be in this industry if it weren't for her because she paved the way for so many of us."

"We've been able to look up to her for years and for those to finally have an opportunity to honor her, it means a lot to me and I’m so happy to be a part of it," she added.

Star Trek: Lower Decks actor Paul F. Tompkins pointed out to ET how Nichols' impact was immense in front of and behind the camera.

The actress broke barriers as one of the first Black women to play the lead role in a television series when she made her debut on the series in 1966. During her time on the show, Nichols made history and inspired other Black actors to join the series in future seasons and iterations. Then, following her departure from the role, Nichols was employed by NASA to help encourage women and Black Americans to become astronauts. 

"She held the door open for so many on-screen and off. The work that she did with NASA, encouraging young astronauts of color to apply and get involved, I mean, it's rare that you have someone who inspires in both the sciences and the arts," Tompkins said. "I think that’s such a rare and beautiful combination."

He added, "You know, it's incalculable the effect that [representation] has, and you know, even in comedy, we hear from people like that are coming up. It's a really wonderful thing to know that there are people that can see themselves in something and they can then become that thing. It's wonderful."

During the presentations, Gooding introduced the moving video honoring the late Star Trek icon after Tawny Newsome and Tompkins dedicated a moment of silence to Nichols' memory

"On Star Trek: Strange New Worlds it has been my honor to perform the role of Cadet Nyota Uhura," Gooding said. "I stand on Nichelle's shoulders, not only in portraying the character she originated and embodied but in following a path she blazed for Black women and femmes on-screen and off. As I sit on the bridge of the Enterprise I feel her presence, I see her influence in those who knew her and I strive to carry the majestic legacy forward into the future she wanted for all of us."

"Nichelle Nichols was a force to be reckoned with," Dawnn Lewis, who voices Captain Carol Freeman on Star Trek: Lower Decks, said in the tribute.

Other voices featured in the tribute include Newsome, Gooding, Discovery and Star Trek: Picard director Hanelle Culpepper, Mulgrew, Hurd, Trek executive producer Alex Kurtzman, and more.

"She's uncompromising in her belief that the stars should be for everybody," Kurtzman said.

"This woman is a true hero," Star Trek: Discovery star Sonequa Martin-Green said. "Her legacy is turning fantasy into fact. Because that's what she did. I hope she knows that she's going to continue to teach me. Forever."

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