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When Nyota Uhura, portrayed by Nichelle Nichols, stepped onto the Star Trek cast, dripped in cherry fabric and melanin, a young Jacqueline Patterson clung to her. She clung to her like honey, never letting the shine of her skin leave the corners of her mind. Patterson marveled as Uhura surveyed the ships to take off. There she was, a Black girl in the slew of white characters that Patterson would watch as Saturday morning shows rolled on. Patterson loved “the Incredible Hulk” and “Superman” when they’d come on but her favorite show? Star Trek. 

Patterson had never expected to be seen. For the few Black characters on 70’s era television, they were in comedic roles. Lieutenant Uhura became her character. 

Representation has been almost cast aside as this dirty word when people discuss film and television. A vocal minority who spread right-wing ideology and suppress efforts to expand who’s seen in media, also known as dudebros, have been fighting against feminist media way before Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel hit theaters. 

Lieutenant Uhura was the first Black female character to have a more expanded role in a science fiction show. This was monumental politically, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. even persuaded Nichols to stay on the show to represent Black people in a positive light. 

Representation can positively affect the minds of children on a psychological level. Children are vulnerable to internalizing bigoted microaggressions about race and gender because of their developing brains. Research done by the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media found that a lack of representation can lead to negative perceptions about oneself. Children wouldn’t feel seen, wouldn’t feel like their unique experiences being a minority is worthy enough to put on television. 

Patterson’s experience disagrees with that narrative. 

“I was ten. It never bothered me. I was gonna be a superhero,” said Patterson.

And be a superhero she may. 

After the adolescent days of Star Trek and 70’s greatest hits, Marvel Studios is releasing its first Black female lead superhero movie, Wakanda Forever.  Patterson is ecstatic. 

“I really liked Wakanda because it gave us all different variations of brown,” said Patterson. 

70’s and 80’s media didn’t allow her that luxury. They didn’t show girls with skin as rich as the evening’s twilight as the apple of the public’s eye. No. To her, the Black girls with lighter complexion and loosely curled hair that draped to their backs were seen as beautiful back in that era. This movie is covered head to toe with dark skin Black women as symbols of strength, resilience and beauty. It used to be only one Black girl, stashed away on the Star Enterprise bridge, now there’s an army of them. Now a dark skin Black woman is the face of the film, no matter how many people try to look away. 

Pattison has two daughters, and they grew up in a world that didn’t try to hide them away in comedies and housemaid roles. Those girls were able to see themselves, maybe not all the time, and maybe not with the same level of care and tack as the white characters, but they were able to see themselves nonetheless. A luxury that their mother didn’t get to have. 

But Patterson’s getting it now, to an extent. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) will be a central character in the film. Patterson may not be able to see herself in the characters of Shuri and Riri, but the presence of an older Black woman in a comic book movie heals. For all those older Black nerds like Patterson who only saw one shade of brown in a sea of apricot. For the mothers of Black nerds who get to see the movie that they wish they had as a child. For every single older Black nerd out there that needed a movie that says “I see you, I feel your pain, you matter.” 

For my mother, who deserved to see every Black girl who graced my television as a child, who never was told “I see you, I feel your pain, you matter,” in her favorite comic book shows. 

Toni Odejimi is a journalism major with a concentration in multimedia reporting. She analyzes pop culture and fandom culture with a sociopolitical edge. Also a fan of rap, she occasionally writes about the issues within the rap community. You can catch her either nose deep in a book, scribbling down an article, or lifting weights at the gym.