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Art Practical on Simone Leigh

29 Apr 2013

Uhura from Simone Leigh on Vimeo.

From Art Practical:

“The video piece Uhura (Tanka) (2012) stars the author Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts playing Nyota Uhura, the United States of Africa–born communications officer aboard the USS Enterprise in the original Star Trek series. Leigh recalls time spent as a child watching Star Trek and patiently waiting for Uhura to speak: “I had to deal with the conundrum that she mostly repeated one line,” she remembers. The Uhura in Leigh’s piece also remains silent, dutifully pressing buttons and congenially smiling. Nichelle Nichols, who played the original Uhura, holds an unsung but significant place in African American history and is often cited as one of the first black female television characters in the United States that wasn’t a domestic worker. On November 22, 1968, during the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” Nichols and her co-star William Shatner performed American television’s first scripted interracial kiss. While it could be easy to miss the significance of this in something as banal as Star Trek, Nichols recalls that when she was thinking of quitting the show, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told her, “[Uhura] is not a black role or a female role. You have the first non-stereotypical role on television. You have broken ground…We look on that screen and we know where we’re going.”

Read the rest of Matthew Harrison Tedford’s profile of Ballroom alumna Leigh at Art Practical. Leigh will speak on May 1, 2013, at 7:00 p.m. at Nahl Hall at the California College of the Arts Oakland campus.