A Discover Con Interview with Producer and Director Todd Thompson.
By Becca Gladden, Senior Writer.
Feb 12, 2021
In a scene from the new documentary “Woman in Motion,” Nichelle Nichols – known to the world as Lieutenant Uhura from the original Star Trek television series – is being interviewed for a 1989 documentary entitled Black Stars in Orbit.
Referring to Nichols’ post-Star Trek work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the interviewer says, “I’d love to hear how you went from Star Trek to NASA.” Her answer? “I guess it’s sort of like going from fantasy to fact, and then wondering which is the fantasy and which is the fact.”
That, in a nutshell, describes Nichols’ inspirational journey, from aspiring ballerina to actress to entrepreneur and activist. After playing a space voyager on an imaginary starship, she landed a real-life role with NASA, where she helped recruit the next generation of astronauts.
Her story is beautifully told through a combination of archival footage and fresh interviews in producer/director Todd Thompson’s film, Woman in Motion - a title derived from the name of the business enterprise Nichols founded in 1975, Women in Motion, Inc. The documentary seamlessly pieces together historical photos and videos with new material, including interviews with Nichols at her home in Los Angeles.
“I love the tapestry that we created editorially. It’s a compilation of news excerpts and interviews from different time periods throughout her career.”
“What I love about the story is that Nichelle tells her own story from important periods throughout her life,” said Thompson. “I love the tapestry that we created editorially. It’s a compilation of news excerpts and interviews from different time periods throughout her career.”
Woman in Motion also features interviews with a wide array of accomplished people whose lives were impacted by Nichols in some way. The list includes Neil deGrasse Tyson, Martin Luther King III, Pharrell Williams, Charles Bolden, several NASA astronauts, and a number of other entertainers and politicians. Walter Koenig and George Takei, castmates from the original Star Trek series, also appear.
While the film includes plenty of material to satisfy diehard Star Trek fans, it focuses primarily on Nichols’ extraordinary life and accomplishments -- including her pre-Star Trek days as a singer and dancer with jazz legend Duke Ellington, who taught a young Nichelle, “not to be like anybody [else]. To be yourself.”
The film was originally intended to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek, circa 2016, but scheduling and budgeting issues delayed the project’s release until this year. “That date came and went, and while we were disappointed at first, it really felt right to me. Had it come out during the Star Trek 50th, it would have been [just] another film that came out that year about Star Trek. But this film is clearly about Nichelle and her dedication, her determination, and her focus.”
“If this film has taught me one thing as an artist and a filmmaker, it taught me what faith really means and what it means to be humble. Things happen on God’s time or the universe’s time, not on our time. Everything happens when it’s supposed to."
Thompson notes that his team was able to locate and interview more people in the months and years following the original intended release date, who ultimately made a huge impact on the story being told. “If this film has taught me one thing as an artist and a filmmaker, it taught me what faith really means and what it means to be humble. Things happen on God’s time or the universe’s time, not on our time. Everything happens when it’s supposed to.
“When [the film] didn’t come out the year of the Star Trek anniversary, I was so at peace with that because something inside me told me this film is more important than that – it’s about something completely different than that. This is a film about the future of humankind and what we need to understand if we’re going to go back to the Moon and Mars. We need to fix our problems here on Earth and realize that we are one people.”
A pivotal moment in Women in Motion occurs when Nichols recalls (through archival footage) seeing a presentation about NASA’s accomplishments in space and feeling disenfranchised by the experience: “I did not see myself in the present space program. I didn’t see myself as a Black and I didn’t see myself as a woman. Here I was, involved in projecting a future of where our space program could take us, and I wanted to be there – not in fantasy, not 300 years from today – but now.”
The result of that experience – Nichols’ partnership with NASA and the critical role she played in recruiting a new, diverse generation of astronauts and specialists – is the inspiring story told in Woman in Motion.
"I really hope this film serves as a blueprint for how we need to treat each other and what we need to do in order to thrive on this planet Earth and beyond.”
“One of the best things about Star Trek that I took away from this project is their acronym for IDIC,” says Thompson. “It’s at the very end of the film if you watch the credits all the way through. It stands for Infinite Diversity, Infinite Combinations, and Nichelle talked about that during her Good Morning America interview. If you’re open to infinite diversity, your possibilities are endless. I really hope this film serves as a blueprint for how we need to treat each other and what we need to do in order to thrive on this planet Earth and beyond.”
While the film is about a Star Trek icon, Thompson hopes viewers will see Nichols’ impact on the space program and society at large in a broader light. “I find other people’s accomplishments – especially these types of accomplishments – really inspirational: the power that an individual has to make a change – a significant change or even a small change. You don’t need to be in the public eye. You can literally make a difference just being you.”
Woman in Motion will be available on February 16 On Demand and digitally to rent or buy. Thompson notes, “If you buy it, there are a whole bunch of cool bonus features and deleted scenes. For the Star Trek fan, it will be extra cool to actually own it and I hope a lot of people do decide to own it. It’s one thing to rent a movie, but this is the kind of film that you can go back and watch and re-watch over time, because it’s got such a great inspirational message to it. I want as many people as possible to see it, because I think we need this right now."
Todd Thompson is the founder of his production banner, STARS NORTH™. For more information, please visit starsnorth.com and ToddThompsonOnline.com. Learn more about Woman in Motion at www.womaninmotionmovie.com.