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William Shatner Explains How ‘Star Trek’ Almost Didn’t Air the Historic Interracial Kiss

Photo Credit: CBS / Getty Images
Photo Credit: CBS / Getty Images

Captain Kirk is actor William Shatner‘s most recognizable and iconic role played throughout his seven-decade career. In StarTrek, he starred alongside Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura, and the pair shared one of the greatest moments in television history: one of the first interracial kisses aired on American television. The episode was titled “Plato’s Stepchildren,” but in a recent interview, Shatner explained how the kiss almost didn’t happen.

The network didn’t want it

William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols as Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura in 'Star Trek'
The network was originally against the interracial kiss. (Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / NBC / Carlito / MovieStillsDb)

At the time of filming for the episode, struggles with racism and civil rights were rampant in America, so the network was concerned about the interracial kiss. Specifically, they worried that the kiss would upset television stations in the Deep South, and they didn’t want to turn off their conservative audience down there. As such, they tried to come up with a different solution.

They suggested having Spock, the half-Vulcan character in the series, kiss Uhura instead of Kirk. However, Shatner insisted that the production stick with the original script. As they continued filming, Shatner and Nichols were told to use a technique that saw their heads turn away from the camera, suggesting that they were kissing but not actually locking lips. That wasn’t going to work for the two actors.

Shatner and Nichols were sneaky about it

William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols kissing.
Nichelle Nichols and William Shatner kissing in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.” (Photo Credit: CBS / Getty Images)

When it came to filming the scene, the network opted to have two versions of the same scene: one where the kiss took place on-screen and another where it was assumed to have taken place off-screen. While Shatner and Nichols participated in the latter version of the episode, they deliberately messed up their lines so that that version of the scene was unusable.

In her autobiography, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, Nichols explained that “The only alternative was to cut out the scene altogether, but that was impossible to do without ruining the entire episode. Finally, the guys in charge relented: ‘To hell with it. Let’s go with the kiss.’ I guess they figured we were going to be canceled in a few months anyway. And so the kiss stayed.”

The episode went down in history

Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura in 'Star Trek'
Had Shatner not insisted, he says the scene never would have happened. (Photo Credit: CBS / Getty Images)

The Star Trek episode, including the interracial kiss, first aired on November 22, 1968. It made history, becoming what most believe to be one of the first interracial kisses aired on American television. Despite the concerns of the network, the episode was not met with much backlash. However, decades later, Shatner was asked if the scene would have happened if not for his insistence, to which he replied, “It would have not got done.”

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Star Trek was already applauded by audiences for its multiracial crew that worked together to explore space. It is no surprise then that it served as the series to feature Nichols as one of the first black women to star in a major television series. She died on July 30, 2022, at the age of 89 years old. Shatner, discussing the kiss, said that she was a beautiful woman “in her lifetime.”

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Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!