Woman in Motion

Movie review by
JK Sooja, Common Sense Media
Woman in Motion Movie Poster Image
Docu about role model Nichelle Nichols inspires, delights.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 105 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Nichols and her company, "Women in Motion," are credited by many as a significant precedent to STEM. Traces Nichols's incredibly positive impact on equal opportunity, education, and outreach for "women and racial minorities" and especially as these pertain to science, technological, engineering, and mathematic fields, careers, and pursuits. Covers Nichols's influence on astronauts, scientists, and researchers. Nichols's work is a shining example of how much one person can do in terms of social justice, civil rights, and women's rights.

Positive Messages

Stand up to bigotry, sexism, and racism. Break open barriers and ceilings. Confront unjust regimes and creatively challenge them. Be bold and proud of who you are. It's important to fight for what is right. You are much more important than you think. Don't be crippled by tragedy. Cherish the memories of those lost by continuing on their beliefs and wishes. There's opportunity in pursuing STEM education and programs.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nichelle Nichols is a genuine hero and should be much more widely recognized for her impact. She's brave, courageous, and a woman constantly in motion, as the title of the film suggests. Her visibility and presence on Star Trek: The Original Series inspired many people. For instance, Martin Luther King Jr. told Nichols directly that she inspired him and his kids (and that Star Trek was the only television show that he allowed his family to watch). After Star Trek, Nichols's work with NASA and her company, "Women in Motion," led to unprecedented number and diversity of applications for NASA's space pilot training program.

Violence & Scariness

Covers the Challenger VII space shuttle tragedy that claimed the lives of 7 people, including the first civilian to lift off, Christa McAuliffe, a teacher. Nichols personally recruited 3 of the crew and mourned their loss like family. The event was captured live on television; we see the launch and explosion. Scenes of people stunned and crying.

Sexy Stuff

Many men interviewed comment on Nichols's beauty. Some discussion about the sexualization of Uhura on Star Trek: The Original Series. Duke Ellington wants Nichols to wear a particularly sexy dress. The NASA Director of Science in 1977 wants to know if "Captain Uhura in person has the most beautiful legs in the world?" Covers the reaction to Star Trek: The Original Series showing a romantic kiss between Uhura and Captain Kirk (kiss shown).

Language
Consumerism

One third of the documentary features and discusses Star Trek: The Original Series. The show is credited favorably for being so radically diverse for its time. The show is also criticized for limiting the roles of characters like Uhura.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some old photos that show adults smoking cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Woman in Motion is an inspiring documentary about the life and influence of Nichelle Nichols. Briefly covering her role in Star Trek as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, the film primarily focuses on Nichols's work with NASA and her impact on social justice, equal rights, and equal opportunities. The documentary covers the Challenger VII space shuttle tragedy that claimed the lives of 7 people, including the first civilian to lift off, Christa McAuliffe, a teacher. The event was captured live on television; we see the launch and explosion. Scenes of people stunned and crying. Many women and people of color show their admiration for Nichols, like celebrities and friends George Takei and Michael Dorn, but also astronauts, scientists, engineers, and technicians. Nichols almost single-handedly changed the game for women, people of color, NASA, and recruitment policies everywhere. Nichols is a hero, fantastic role model, and should be celebrated. Despite a handful of comments about her beauty, the film primarily focuses on Nichols as a powerful and effective speaker and voice.

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What's the story?

WOMAN IN MOTION is a biography of Nichelle Nichols that begins with her early career as a dancer and singer for Duke Ellington. From then, she famously played Lieutenant Nyota Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series. The majority of the film, however, covers Nichols's work as a recruiter for NASA for their start of the "Space Shuttle Program" that would last from 1981-2011. Prior to her work, NASA had no women or people of color in their pilot classes or programs. The first women, Black, and Asian American astronauts applied to NASA's space shuttle pilot training program as a result of Nichols' recruitment.

Is it any good?

The life of Nichelle Nichols is incredible and inspiring. Woman in Motion serves as a wonderful example of how one person can change the world. Nichols wanted to be the first Black American ballerina, but ended up dancing and singing jazz and briefly for Duke Ellington's band after he requested her specifically. Next, after Nichols worked for Gene Roddenberry's The Lieutenant (1963), in which she plays the wife of a Black marine, Roddenberry wanted to cast Nichols in a new show he was working on that would "feature all races," having to come up with an idea for a show that would have reason for such a diverse cast (to get it past the network executives). After all, NBC decided to not air the episode of The Lieutenant that features Nichols because they deemed it too incendiary. Roddenberry's new show was called Star Trek. Soon, Nichols's role on the show was quickly diminished. Nichols was going to quit, but Martin Luther King Jr. told her that Star Trek was the only television show he allowed his kids to watch. He told her how influential and important it was for her to even just be on television in a powerful role, even if the role wasn't the strongest. After that, Nichols decided to continue and did so until the show's cancellation in 1969.

The film then launches into the incredible work Nichols did for and with NASA, beginning in 1977. Upon visiting the National Institute of Sciences and wondering "where are my people?" Nichols set about to change things. Nichols convinced NASA (and the U.S. military that historically funneled pilots into NASA) to change their recruitment and acceptance policies, even threatening lawsuits if they didn't begin training women and people of color. NASA's new Space Shuttle Program (which would last from 1981-2011) would begin training their initial pilot class in 1978, but in 8 months of recruitment, they had only received 1,500 applications total, and only 100 were from women, and only 35 from people of color. NASA thought they had specifically publicized that they were open to women and people of color applying, but Nichols told them that it didn't work because "none of us believe you." After NASA hired Nichols's company, "Women in Motion," to recruit for the Space Shuttle Program, in 4 months NASA received over 8,000 applications, 1,650 from women, 1,000 from people of color. Many credit Nichols for their careers, including Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, and the first Black woman astronaut and Black woman in space, Mae Jemison. Nichols continued working for NASA over the years and still remains deeply close with the organization. Further, Nichols is acknowledged for creating the first STEM education company with "Women in Motion." Woman in Motion is an inspiring documentary full of positivity, triumph, and great role models.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about race representation in U.S. late '60s television. As Woman in Motion argues, the origin of Star Trek was more about coming up for a reason to get "people of all races" on television than pioneering a space opera with aliens genre. Since then, would you say race representation has gotten better? Why or why not?

  • How do you think companies, organizations, and governments today would react to a single Black woman threatening lawsuits if they don't make changes to their recruitment and application rules and processes? How would the Nichelle Nichols of today achieve similar results? Is it possible?

  • If Martin Luther King Jr. told you to change your mind about quitting a job because it inspired his kids and himself, would you? In Nichols's shoes in that moment, would you have done the same? Why or why not?

Movie details

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