What have they done to Uhura?

Posted on May 14, 2009. Filed under: SF TV | Tags: , , |

I saw the new Star Trek movie on opening night. Believe it or not, despite what this post ends up saying, I mostly enjoyed the movie.

It was only afterward, once I was back home, that I started thinking … .

If you haven’t seen the new Star Trek movie, you might want to stop reading right here. But …

If you’re a woman, maybe you want to know before you go in. Especially if you’re a Boomer woman. Really especially if you were a pioneer yourself leading women into new professional territory.

Really, if you want to watch the movie and be surprised — stop reading now.

I mean it. Last chance … because …

Uhura is sleeping with her boss.

Not Kirk. Spock.

Who is cute, I admit. But a smart cookie like Uhura would be too professional to play where she works. Especially in a military unit. Despite what Battlestar Gallactica portrayed.

Thank goodness she’s still smart as far as her job is concerned. She’s still the ears of the Universe picking up odd noises and interpreting them like a crackerjack submarine sonar officer.

I’m okay with the fact that she’s a babe. I do wish she’d been given more to do.

I wonder what Nichelle Nichols, the original Uhura, thinks.

Y’all know the famous story. Nichelle was bored out of her skull with her role as a TV space ship switchboard operator. She was about to quit.

Then Martin Luther King Jr. himself stepped up and asked her to please stay, that she was showing a black woman in an important job on a TV show.

Even if not many people then were watching her.

But Dr.  King knew a potential pop culture icon when he saw one.

In those days on the cusp of the woman’s movement, Uhura was a bridge officer on the flagship of the fleet. Smart, good at her job and good in a fight. Every once in a while, she had to act like the flinching pre-ERA woman and say, “Oh, captain, I’m so afraid.”

I think I remember reading where Nichelle had to protest a few of those wimpy throwback moments and remind the producers and directors that Uhura was a soldier.

Apparently, the creator of Alias’s tough Sydney Bristow and Fringe’s capable Olivia Dunham forgot that Uhura is a soldier, too.

But now she’s a space babe in lacy lingerie. Perhaps on a career track to become “The Captain’s Woman???”

It all makes me wonder about what we leading women have wrought.

We embraced the freedom to reproduce when we wanted, not when biology happened. The control that The Pill gave us allowed us to wonder what else we could do now that we weren’t shackled by biology?

Then, we wanted to learn more about our own biology for health reasons. And we took the shame out of acts of love.

We didn’t want our daughters and nieces to feel the same taboo that we used to feel, either.

In the ’90s, fashion designer Donna Karan added sex to the power suit, which had morphed from Joan Crawford’s shoulders to a bow-tied-almost-Mormon-nun thing to attorney Ally McBeal wearing a mini skirt in court.

Hey, Uhura wears a mini on the bridge of the Enterprise. Both Uhuras.

A positive aspect of the new character is that today’s Uhura takes the lead in the relationship. Which makes Spock whipped, even though he’s in a position of authority. I’m not sure that’s a good image for him, either.

One character trait about the original Captain Kirk, who is probably about 15 years older than the new Kirk of the movie, is that he was always a professional with his subordinates.

The military has strict rules against romance in a unit between superiors and subordinates.

Kirk’s behavior on the Enterprise showed that he lived by that code. He knew that, when he was aboard his ship, he would spend his nights/afternoons/spare moments alone. His female yeoman’s blonde beauty weighed heavily on his mind. His hormones must have tormented him greatly.

Granted, this crew is young, their hormones coursing. But they’re still in the military.  And, supposedly, Spock’s hormones only activate every seven years.

So, has the new Star Fleet abolished the military code of conduct?

And I wonder, what would Dr. King say now?

P.S. – Actress Zoe Saldana deserves better.


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9 Responses to “What have they done to Uhura?”

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Great post, Rhonda. I wonder if the writers erred by staying too true to the original in portraying Uhuru. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but don’t mind the spoiler. At least she had the good taste to pick Spock instead of Kirk! I watched one of the old episodes last night called Miri where Kirk has a bit of flirtation with a prepubescent girl and I found the whole thing vaguely disturbing. Obviously, nothing happened but the melting looks he gave that young girl were entirely inappropriate, and would be looked on as such today. Maybe something good came out of women’s lib consciousness raising after all.

You might have a point there, that the new Uhura is too much of 1960s woman for our modern preferences.

And Kirk’s flirtation with Miri – along with his manipulation of her emotions to achieve his goals – is a bit creepy now.

You’re probably not old enough to remember a hit movie from 1971, “The Summer of ’42,” about a 15-year-old boy whose crush on a lovely nearby war widow gets consummated when she’s grieving about her husband’s death.

Audiences loved it. The movie was a humongous hit. But nowadays, it too closely resembles stories straight out of the news – an adult woman with a teenage boy.

Rhonda, I remember Summer of ’42 very well, and you’re right how much our sensibilities have changed. At least it was a one-time event in the movie, something she’d never have done but for her intense grief, unlike some of the unhealthy relationships we see in the news, and she wasn’t in a position of authority over him. Still, it’s more than a little disconcerting now. And yes, Kirk’s manipulation of Miri is creepy.

Okay despite your spoiler alert I read on and totally agreed! Uhura was ahead of her time and it seems a shame that they lessened her accomplishments by having her sleep with her boss. As a young woman in an office environment I was subject to a great deal of sexual misconduct and it was always a struggle to make people (especially male superiors) take me seriously. Uhura was taken seriously, she had an active role in making the ships missions successful. I loved her. I thought she was so beautiful, smart and VALUED for her knowledge. I’d never heard of that story about Dr King but I’m not surprised. Uhura was a first for black women, way ahead of her time and a benefit for all women. Did they really have to cheapen that by having her get busy with Spock?

Beth – If you think of it, after you do see the movie, come back here and tell if you feel the same way. Thanks for your response. I, too, worked in a male-dominated business and am quite conscious of a woman’s professional image.

OK, I’m nitpicking here, but aren’t Spock and Uhuru both lieutenants? So that makes them equals, I think, at least in rank. I still haven’t seen the movie, but I’d better hurry up.

Linda – Interesting point. They are technically the same rank, but when you see the movie, you’ll see that Spock has a lot more responsibility than the other lieutenants on the ship. And I hope you, too, come back and give your opinion.

Rhonda, I won’t comment further until I’ve seen the movie. Soon, I hope.

Anyway, have a great time when you see it.

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