XLIX: Plato’s Stepchildren

It seems hard to believe that as late as the mid-1960s, interracial romantic relationships were still considered taboo in the United States. They definitely were not shown on television for fear of alienating more traditionally-minded (to put it nicely) audiences. But one science fiction television series was about to change all of that: Star Trek.

Star Trek: The Original Series, a short-lived sci-fi program that has gained a cult following in recent years, aired television’s first scripted interracial kiss on November 22, 1968. Episode #65, entitled “Plato’s Stepchildren,” was written by Meyer Dolinsky and follows Captain James T. Kirk and Science Officer Spock as they beam down from the U.S.S. Enterprise to investigate a distress call from an unexplored planet. They are greeted by a race of humanoids called “Platonians” in honor of the philosopher Plato who have adopted a lifestyle reminiscent of that of Ancient Greece and have telekinetic powers that they use for their own sadistic delight, mostly by tormenting an unfortunate dwarf named Alexander who has no such supernatural powers. The leader of the Platonians, Parmen, is in need of medical help and refuses to release Kirk and Spock until he is seen by the Enterprise‘s medical officer, Dr. Leonard McCoy. He then tries to force McCoy to remain on the planet permanently, and when Kirk objects, Parmen tortures Kirk and Spock with his telekinetic powers, forcing them to dance and make fools of themselves. Parmen then demands that women be sent down from the ship, and Nurse Christine Chapel and Communications Officer Lt. Nyota Uhura are beamed down. Kirk, Spock, Uhura, and Chapel are all dressed in Greek clothing and forced to perform a play for the Platonians, who use their telekinesis to control the crew’s actions. Parmen forces Kirk (played by Caucasian actor William Shatner) and Uhura (African-American actress Nichelle Nichols) to kiss. It was the first scripted interracial kiss in American history.

There had been other interracial kisses aired on television earlier — Robert Conrad (Caucasian) kissed Pilar Seurat (Asian) on The Wild Wild West in 1966 and Sammy Davis, Jr. kissed Nancy Sinatra on “Movin’ with Nancy” in 1967 — but Shatner and Nichols’ kiss was the first that had been written into the script of the show.

Producers, concerned about how the kiss would be received by audiences, wanted to film several alternate versions of the scene without Kirk and Uhura kissing, but during filming of the alternate scenes, Shatner crossed his eyes and made faces at the camera, ruining every take, meaning that the kiss was the only usable footage.

To the modern audience, that kiss is not big deal — we see interracial couples on screen all the time. But for the America of the late 1960s, it made history.

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