What we take in is what we put out; we might be able to imagine a lot, but our imaginations have to start somewhere. Which is one reason why representation in media is so important.
Dust’s new entry into their animated Afrofuturism series focuses on image and imagination. It takes us back to 1966, looking past the chaos, violence, inequality and disillusionment that plagued the globe, out into the dark of space.
With the incomparable Sun Ra as our guide and Little Simz as our narrator, we travel aboard the Starship Enterprise to meet Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols.
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As a later episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine illustrated, at the time, there was no place for blacks in science fiction narratives — and there was even active resistance against the idea of changing the status quo.
Despite black women helping the United States get into space as the show was on the air, having a black woman on the Enterprise was nothing short of revolutionary. And not only was Nichols on a prime time science fiction show, she wasn’t playing the sort of part that blacks were typically seen in. “You don’t have a black role,” Martin Luther King told Nichols as she considered quitting Star Trek, “You have an equal role.”
King also told her that through Uhura, “For the first time, we are seen as what we should be.”
And he was right.
Since 1966, only been three black women have gone to space; the fourth is set to head to orbit next year. We don’t yet live in Star Trek’s utopian world, but thanks to Nichols, we have a view into the possible. If we continue to work for equality and justice, we’ll find increasingly that what once seemed so extraordinary — a brave black woman aboard an interstellar starship — will at last become the ordinary.