Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura’s kiss in the 1968 episode of Star Trek —“Plato’s Stepchildren” — is commonly cited as the first interracial kiss on television, and while that’s not quite true, the smooch was still a major television milestone. And, as actress Nichelle Nichols has explained, it almost didn’t happen. Only the quick-thinking actions of William Shatner, Kirk himself, saved the day.
Nichols revealed what happened when they were filming the iconic scene in a 2010 interview that’s currently making the rounds again on Reddit, and for good reason, because it’s a great story. Nichols, who also told the tale in her 1994 autobiography Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, explains that they were supposed to film the scene in two ways, so that there was a version where Kirk and Uhura kissed under the influence of mind-control and another where they didn’t.
Shatner, though, wouldn’t have it the second way. After filming a kiss and dealing with some tacitly racist members of the crew who talked around Nichols, the actor proceeded to waste time with every take, making the shots more and more ridiculous as the pair were forced (against their will, in the show’s fiction) to kiss. He ran out the clock and utterly blew the one non-kissing take they managed to get in to the point where it was unusable. CBS was forced to go with the explicit version, and history was made.
It’s worth noting, however, that although Kirk and Uhura’s kiss was certainly the most high-profile interracial smooch, it wasn’t the first. A UK broadcast of the play Hot Summer Night featured an interracial kiss in 1959, and a 1966 episode of the old show The Wild Wild West saw the white main character kiss an Asian actress. That show even aired on CBS, same as Trek, so it’s a bit of a wonder this kiss is so overlooked.
There are other examples, but regardless, Kirk and Uhura’s kiss was for sure the first interracial kiss ~in space~ and we owe Shatner and his hammy ways for that.