Nichelle Nichols, who played the groundbreaking Lt. Uhura in the original Star Trek series, is hitting town this weekend for Wizard World Philly - and she's looking forward to it.
"I've been to Philadelphia a few times before, but not with Wizard World and not for a few years! I'm excited to see my fans here again," said the 84-year-old Nichols in an exclusive interview. "It's been some time and I remember them being a fun loving bunch of convention goers. Last time I was here, I met up with a bunch of them after the show for dinner at a great burger place near the convention center."
Though she has done many other projects, Nichols is still best-known for the role of Uhura, one of the first black female characters on TV to be portrayed as something other than a servant - and Nichols said she knew the character and show were special when everyone on Star Trek got together 51 years ago.
"We all knew - all the actors and the producers - that Gene Roddenberry (the show's creator) was on to something big and different before the first episode even aired. That's why we were so eager to sign up."
Star Trek had a profound impact on Nichols' life and American culture. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself encouraged Nichols to stay on the show when she was thinking about leaving because of the impact she was having - everyone from actress Whoopi Goldberg to astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson was inspired by Nichols' Uhura.
"Star Trek represented, and still does represent, the future we can have," Nichols said. "A future that is beyond the petty squabbles we are dealing with here on Earth, now as much as ever, and are able to devote ourselves to the betterment of all human kind by doing what we do so well: explore. This kind of a future isn't impossible - and we need to all rethink our priorities to really bring that vision to life."
With the original characters being rebooted for new films starting in 2009, Zoe Saldana is now Uhura to millions of new fans - and Nichols couldn't be happier.
"I've spoken to Zoe, and wished her all the best," she said. "I think she's a fantastic actress who is giving her all to that role."
With the new Star Trek: Discovery series on deck, Nichols said she would be open to portraying Uhura again.
"(It) depends on the role, but I would be happy to be involved!"
In closing, Nichols said that while Uhura was a groundbreaking role for black women, she doesn't like the feeling that we have become more tribal in America - that some feel Uhura is only inspiring to blacks, that Rocky Balboa is only inspiring to whites, that Zorro is only inspiring to Hispanics.
She feels characters like Uhura should be seen as having universal appeal.
"Gene's whole vision was that minorities weren't on set because we were minorities, we were on set because in the future our diverse world would all be working together as equals," Nichols said. "I understand that everyone needs to see role models that can inspire them and talk to them and represent them, but I believe we need to move to a future that transcends race, gender, or anything else. We're all people."