Apr 30 2013 12:20pm

The Endurance of Lieutenant Uhura Means We’re Changing For the Better

Nichelle Nichols Uhura awesome

Where to begin? For quite some time, I have wanted to embark upon the tasking project of examining female characters across the science fiction and fantasy realms, to see what these genres have given us and how they have changed their portrayal of women over the years. But where on earth (or Middle-earth, or in the air, or the farthest reaches of space) was the right place to start? Suddenly, out of nowhere, a little voice sounded in my ear. I could distinctly hear the words—

“Hailing frequencies open, sir.”

How could I overlook something so obvious? There are not just one, but two distinct portrayals of Lieutenant Uhura to choose from, both of them a product of their respective times and the subject of a great deal of criticism. Clearly, she was the perfect place to begin.

In the interest of being perfectly frank—though perhaps a little harsh—Lieutenant Uhura of the original Star Trek series was a relatively disappointing female character in many aspects. She was subjected to an incredibly unrealistic and objectifying uniform (which included matching underwear that could be seen whenever she leaned over). She was anything but an action woman; the only time she was allowed to pull any fight choreography was against another lady and she held a phaser in her manicured hands maybe twice in the entire series.

Her job was not exactly riveting either. She was the communications officer, which can be counted as amusingly quaint in an incredibly sexist way—hey, look everyone! The woman is good at communicating! Because that’s what women like to do! Thank goodness we didn’t let her pilot, she might have stopped the ship to ask for directions! As highlighted in the above quoted line, her job on the ship mainly consisted of telling the captain that he was now able to talk to people on other ships.

Her frustrating lack of movement within the show was parodied brilliantly by the film Galaxy Quest. When Tony Shalhoub tries to recall what Sigourney Weaver’s character—a clear take-off on Uhura—did on the ship when they were filming the show, she snippily replies, “I repeated the computer, Fred.”

But once you step back and take in all the facts, it simply can’t be pared down that way. Those who know the history of Star Trek know that a strong female character just wasn’t in the cards. By certain accounts, the female first officer introduced in the original pilot “The Cage” was deemed a problem by studio executives because they decided no one would buy a woman in that position of power. When that tidbit is brought to light, one is simply grateful that a woman was placed on the Enterprise bridge at all. The female uniforms may seem sexist to a modern eye, but they were also a product of 1960s style. Nichelle Nichols, when interviewed, claimed that it never occurred to her to be upset about the uniform because she thought she looked so good in it, and because the fashion at the time dictated the miniskirt as an empowering piece of clothing.

Ultimately, Uhura cannot be cast aside as a loss for an even more important reason: she was, and has continued to be, an inspiration for African Americans and so many others for more than 40 years. Whoopi Goldberg credits her desire to become an actor with the appearance of Uhura. She has recalled on numerous occasions how she saw Nichols on the show and proceeded to tear through her house shouting, “I just saw a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!” When Nichols thought of leaving the show, she was confronted by none other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who informed her that she could not quit because of how important it was for everyone to see her. She instantly changed her mind and stayed on. Uhura’s continued presence through the rest of the show and six films is a legacy that has altered the perceptions of countless people across the world. She is, without a doubt, indispensable.

All the same, one would think that an update of the character would be welcome, and J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise promised just that. In 2009, Zoe Saldana offered up her own take on the communications officer. She was sassier, a bit demanding; also the difficulty of her position and the level of her expertise were finally brought to the forefront. The job of communications officer no longer seemed a throwaway title.

Then, for an extra surprise, we found out she was dating Spock.

Zoe Saldana Uhura Spock

The internet was instantly buzzing, and quite a few people were angry. It seemed that the decision to have Uhura relegated to the role of a “girlfriend” was bad form to many fans. The attempt to inject romance into a Star Trek plot was counted as clumsy and random, ultimately anti-feminist in the worst way.

Here is where I beg to differ. To begin with, the early stages of a relationship between the two characters can be seen clearly in the original series episode “Charlie X” when Uhura sings and Spock plays the Vulcan harp for her. They are making eyes and smiling coyly for several minutes straight, but it never moves beyond that episode. Why? Obviously every show evolves over time and not every character relationship ends the way it begins, but let’s not beat around the bush; in the 1960s, black women and white men definitely did not have relationships on television, regardless of whether or not the white man was in fact a green-blooded alien. With that in mind, the route of the new film seems to have an entirely different purpose: to show us the ways we have changed for the better as a society. Which is just the way creator Gene Roddenberry would have wanted it.

Lieutenant Uhura may not be a flawless example of liberated female characterization, but she has withstood decades of criticism and analysis and still come out as a key figure in the history of television and the science fiction genre. I am more than happy that she continues to endure, no matter whom she makes out with on screen. To be honest, I can’t help but cheer a little in her corner. You have to give props to a classy, intelligent lady like that—

After all, she is dating Spock.

Emily Asher-Perrin had a horrible crush on Spock when she was twelve. She tweets and her favorite captain is Kirk, and no, you can’t change her mind about that.

This article originally appeared on Tor.com in December 2010.

Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
1. Lisamarie
Count me as one who was never that a fan of the dating Spock aspect in the newer movie (as well as some other things in that movie) mostly because it just seemed gratutious to me (I really am not a huge fan of the original series so I didn't have as much invested in the characters themselves). But I like your take on it :)

I did enjoy the idea that being a communications officer is more than just what was shown on the original show though.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
2. Lisamarie
By the way, if this is going to be a series, I'd love to see one on Princess Leia and how she is, on one hand, portrayed as this totally kickass senator/rebel, and on the other we get Slave Leia. But maybe that is overdone. Or, we could also talk about how Padme and Ahsoka are just not quite as cool as Leia was (at least not to me) even though they both try to be the 'strong female character'.
Emily Asher-Perrin
3. EmilyAP
@1 Lisamarie - It's a shame that Uhura didn't just get more screentime in the Original Series, honestly. There are a few gem moments where she absolutely puts people in their place, but they were so few and far between. in fact, there was an episode where she had to repair the communcations station by herself, and basically tells Spock off for asking her to hurry up. If we'd had more of that, there would have been nothing to complain about! :)
Dave Robinson
4. DaveRobinson
I think it's also important to mention that she was addressed as "Lieutenant Uhura," which made it clear she had rank and position.

As for the relationship in the new movies, I think it's important to note that she's the one in chage there, not Spock. (At least in the first movie.)
Kit Case
5. wiredog
In the various novels, especially bu Diane Duane, Uhura is a very important, competent, and professional officer.
Christopher Bennett
6. ChristopherLBennett
According to the book Inside Star Trek by Herb Solow (the Desilu VP who bought and oversaw the series) and Bob Justman (the associate producer), NBC actually loved the idea of a female first officer -- they just didn't like Roddenberry casting his then-mistress Majel Barrett in the role, feeling it was potentially scandalous and that nepotism wasn't the best way to cast a part. They would've been fine with keeping the Number One character if Roddenberry had just recast her. But of course Roddenberry wasn't about to admit that, so he invented the story that it was network sexism that forced him to eliminate the character.

And there certainly were strong female characters on other contemporary shows: Cinnamon Carter on Mission: Impossible, Emma Peel on The Avengers, Agent 99 on Get Smart, Batgirl on Batman. For all that we hold TOS up as a paragon of gender and racial progressiveness, it was actually a step or two behind the vanguard. So I wouldn't say a strong female character was never in the cards. It could've happened, but Roddenberry's progressiveness only went so far. (The fact that he co-wrote "Turnabout Intruder" certainly demonstrates that.)

As for the miniskirts, I believe it was Grace Lee Whitney (the effective female lead in the early part of the show, before personal issues with addiction required her to leave) who pushed for them, not wanting to dress in a unisex style. And yes, miniskirts were seen as empowering at the time. Before, women had been expected to be demure and passive about anything sexual, which left men with all the power and control in sexual interactions. Women choosing to acknowledge and express their own sexuality was a way of gaining a degree of control over it that they hadn't had before.
Xena Catolica
7. Xena Catolica
The scene that stands out for me from the TOS is when some horrendous singing is being broadcast through the ship & Kirk snaps at her, she snaps right back, and he says he's sorry. It's not like Kirk spent a lot of time saying that to anyone! And I suspect--though I'm not quite old enough to remember--that an Anglo man apologizing to a Black woman was pretty much unheard of.

I'd much prefer the new Uhura to be competent and self-assured without dating Spock. My suspicion is that Abrams & crew are planning for love-triangle stuff with Chapel later, and we SO do not need more soap-opera-in-space.
Xena Catolica
8. DavidA
Credit for the endurance of Uhura as a character has to go almost entirely to Nichelle Nichols. Her performance consistently made the most of the slim pickings the script gave her, and you always knew Uhura was a smart, capable woman who had more to offer than we'd had a chance to see. The "gems" mentioned in #3 above were made possible because her performance laid the groundwork, moment by moment, over the long haul.

Contrast Uhura with Yeoman Rand, for example. It would have been inconceivable to reboot Star Trek without a clear vision for Uruha. On the other hand, I have a hard time imagining -- or caring -- how they plan to reboot Rand for the next Star Trek movie, as they apparently plan to do.
Xena Catolica
9. Yet Another Geek
The female officer in 'The Cage' is important because it showed that Rodenberry knew where he wanted to go, it was just getting there that was difficult.
There is one story though where so many of the bridge crew are off-ship that a hitherto unknown engineering officer takes command. It is painfully obvious that this character exists only to keep Uhura out of the big chair. But it also shows how important it was for her to hang in there.
Christopher Bennett
10. ChristopherLBennett
@8: Rand has already appeared in the Abramsverse comics from IDW.
Xena Catolica
11. hapax
Her performance consistently made the most of the slim pickings the
script gave her, and you always knew Uhura was a smart, capable woman
who had more to offer than we'd had a chance to see.

The bit I always think of was in CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER, when the landing party was apparently stranded alone in the galaxy, and the sole woman was given the line, "I'm frightened, Captain."

Anyone else would have sounded like a damsel in distress. But Nichols' absolutely flat and cool delivery made the line a simple observation of fact, like she was stating the obvious on behalf of the entire cast, so they could acknowledge and get beyond their fear and start solving the problem.
Matt Stoumbaugh
12. LazerWulf
Apparrently, the famous inter-racial kiss between Uhura and Kirk was originally supposed to be between Uhura and Spock, but Shatner basically said, "Nuh-uh! If there's going to be any kissing on the show, I'm gonna be the one to do it."

So perhaps there was supposed to be more to the Uhura/Spock relationship in TOS.
Christopher Bennett
13. ChristopherLBennett
The "Charlie X" scene was cited above, but the most blatant Uhura-Spock flirtation was in "The Man Trap," the "Vulcan has no moon" scene. She was coming onto him blatantly, but he was unresponsive. His more relaxed attitude toward it in the later "Charlie X" suggests that she'd actually made some headway at wearing down his defenses. But after that, the thread was dropped.
Xena Catolica
13. Laura Matthews2
Re: original Uhura:
She did pull a knife on Evil Sulu in Mirror, Mirror. Always loved that scene.
Shelly wb
14. shellywb
I always loved how Uhura grew in the novels, especially the earlier ones. They laid a good foundation for her in the series, but I always think of her as the strong, complex woman of the books.
Christopher Bennett
15. ChristopherLBennett
@14: And I think the books' take on Uhura has influenced her portrayal in the Abrams movies, particularly in her characterization there as an expert linguist.
Xena Catolica
16. Cool Bev
I wasn't much of a Next Generation fan but was very surprised to see that when Geordie (whose character is human with features and skin tone indicating African ancestry) was dating an alien, she had the same features and skin tone. Alien of African ancestry? Dating between species was acceptable if they are the same race?

Yes, we've come a long way...
Alan Brown
17. AlanBrown
Back then, not only was it unthinkable to have a woman serving on the bridge of a ship, it was almost as farfetched even to portray it in fiction. We've come a long way...
Christopher Bennett
18. ChristopherLBennett
@16: Why is an "alien of African ancestry" any more strange than an "alien of European ancestry?" And remember, Geordi also had romantic subplots (or at least frustrated attempts at romance) with characters played by Caucasian actresses Susan Gibney and Julie Warner -- and in "The Naked Now" there was a bit of "shipping" between Geordi and Tasha, though that was never developed further. Aquiel was the only one of Geordi's romantic interests to be played by an African-American actress.
Xena Catolica
19. Dianthus
Why not aliens with melanin? We got Tuvok in Voyager, and no mention was made of him being anything but pure Vulcan (IIRC).
I'm a big fan of Star Trek TOS, and a fan of Uhura. She may not have been kicking ass or tomcatting around like Kirk, but she was important to the show, and important to the cause.
Xena Catolica
20. Erik Dercf
Cool article! Uhura is historic. She and the actress who played her have a place in history with people like Rosa Parks. Is she important? Yes, and the fact that her job and roll doesn't seem so important serves her well because she is underestimated.
Joseph Newton
21. crzydroid
I think the role of Hoshi Sato on Enterprise also shows that the communications officer can have a bit more difficult job--though there it was because the Universal Translator wasn't as perfected yet.
Chris Nelly
22. Aeryl
I love her scene in Search for Spock, where she helps the team steal the ship.

McCoy: I'm glad you're on our side!

Christopher Bennett
23. ChristopherLBennett
@21: Hoshi Sato was also a character who was, I suspect, influenced by the novels' portrayal of Uhura. Not only was she a master linguist like book Uhura, but "Hoshi" and "Nyota" (Uhura's fan-created first name which was used in the books for decades before the 2009 movie canonized it) both mean "Star."
Xena Catolica
24. TribblesandBits
Communications officers are also typically responsible for the entire communication system on the ship. That would extend beyond linguistics to network engineering, frequency management, and comunication security. It may not be a glamorous, job, but it is highly technical and in demand.

Part of the problem is that they chose to depict her as a telephone switchboard operator (a roll in which the 60's audiance would easily accept seeing a woman) and not like the guy in Crimson Tide who had to get communications up to keep them from launching the missiles. I suppose that kind of depiction would seem redundant with Scotty's role from a dramatic sense.
Christopher Bennett
25. ChristopherLBennett
@24: No, we did see Uhura show her technical skills repairing the communications system once or twice.
Xena Catolica
26. TribblesandBits
@25 She also took over the navigator's station at least once that I remember. I'd still say that she was mainly presented to look more like a switchboard operator than anything, even if there were exceptions. From a reasonable sample of episodes someone who did not go through the entire series could easily get the idea that she was just there to take and place Kirk's calls on the space phone.

I'm not trying to belittle Uhura in any way. Her character had to be very skilled to get the job, she just was not presented that way as often as she should have been. Heck, she is doing the Starfleet equivilant of the job that I volunteered to do when I joined the Marine Corps.

I did not think about it till just now, but we have not seen a communications officer or crewman since the 23rd century...I guess that is why they had to hand deliver tablets PCs to each other from TNG on.
Xena Catolica
27. TribblesandBits
Didn't Star Trek V suggest that Uhura had become involved with Scotty?
Joseph Newton
28. crzydroid
@26: There were probably a lot of missed opportunities in the way her position was detailed. However, she was still a black woman who was at least presented as a switchboard operator rather than a maid AND was a commissioned officer. She also had more lines than simply, "yessir." So I think there was some progress there. And this is focusing a little too much on her job. The fact that there were scenes with her singing in the crew lounge and interacting with other characters showed that she was actually a character with a personality, and not just a background token black worker.

It is kind of sad that we don't see communications officers in the 24th century. It seems that bridge handling of communications channels was handled by the tactical officer and computer. One might reason that there was still a Communications department and the head might be the Communications Officer, and they handled all the other stuff. But the role of the communications officer on the bridge was diminished. But a tactical officer is something that we see, which was NOT seen on the original series. Tactical was handled by Sulu (flying and targeting), and actually, the commands weren't as automated. When Sulu would push a button to fire on the bridge, the ship didn't fire--instead, the command to fire was sent down to Phaser Control, and they would handle the technical aspects of it. Again, a change in the 24th century, where Worf would do whatever technical things needed to be done right on the bridge, and the rest was handled by computer.

@27: But in Star Trek V everyone was acting kookoo because of Sybok's weird mindmeld. So I don't think we can take that as any indication of anything, and besides, they were all much older then so it was later in their lives.
Chris Nelly
29. Aeryl
@28, That was at the beginning of the movie, before Sybok even showed up, she brought him food and they flirted about it. I remember it specifically because I was totally on board, but my mom, who introduced me to TOS and helped turn me into the crazy little liberal I am today, was a little bothered by it, the interracial thing. She'd have been happier if she could've written it off to Sybok's influence. I was just happy somebody other than Kirk was getting some interest, and I always loved Scotty.
Christopher Bennett
30. ChristopherLBennett
@29: The problem with Scotty/Uhura isn't about any sort of "racial" issue, which of course should not be an issue at all, but just the way it was tacked on without any setup or justification. It's like Chakotay/Seven -- it came out of nowhere, felt like an afterthought, and didn't really contribute anything to the story.
Chris Nelly
31. Aeryl
I agree, but not the point I was making with that story.
Xena Catolica
32. KellieKellie
I'm not a big Trek fan, but I was a watching an episode with a friend a dozen yrs ago. There's a discussion on the bridge (I think) and Uhura says, "I'll get the coffee." My friend said, "What? That's her job because she's the communications officer?" Good point, but I always liked Uhura when I saw the show as a kid.
Christopher Bennett
33. ChristopherLBennett
@32: I've just searched for "Uhura" and "coffee" on a website that has transcripts of all Trek episodes, and I could find no instances where Uhura offered to get coffee for anyone. Delivering coffee on the bridge was routinely depicted as the job of yeomen -- which is certainly a traditional portrayal of feminine roles, since the yeomen were always female, but it never applied to Uhura. The only time Uhura ever spoke the word "coffee" in the entire series was in "Wink of an Eye," when she reported that Kirk had just drunk his coffee (delivered by a yeoman) before disappearing. The only other female character to mention coffee in a bridge scene was Yeoman Rand in "The Corbomite Maneuver," who explained that she'd used a hand phaser to heat coffee when the power was off in the galley. Besides those two, the only other female Enterprise crewperson to mention coffee in any context was Lt. Charlene Masters in "The Alternative Factor," when she and another woman were having coffee together in the rec room and she invited a male engineer to join them. (He asked "Is that an order, Lieutenant?" and she took a sip, grimaced, and said "I know what you mean.")
Xena Catolica
34. Sidney the Cat
I LOVE Uhura and Spock romance. I always thought there was something fire like in their eyes. In the orginal Star Trek movie- Jim Kirk wanted Uhura but Uhura was very firm abou NO. Then we found out she preferred SPOCK! I saw the smoldering embers ready to burst into flames. In the TV series and yes I did see the vry first episode, I thought in the back of my mind there was something goingon with Spock and Uhura. That was one mystery cleared up for me. Funny how Uhura and Spock did not have a "partner" in the end? Both single and engulfed into their careers.
Xena Catolica
35. Kit
I'm not a fan of the Spock/Uhura relationship in the new movies, not just because of the relegating of Uhura to a love interest, but for a number of other reasons as well. First off, she's dating Spock while she's a student and he's a teacher, which is generally frowned upon. That's less of an issue later on, but still. The second is that by occupying this somewhat-love-triangle with Kirk and Spock, she knocks McCoy out of the "holy trinity," which is my very favorite relationship in the Trek universe.

However, I would like to grow up and be Nichelle Nichols. That would be awesome.
Xena Catolica
36. Devyn
LOVE Uhura. Both the Zoe and Nichelle portrayals. She is confident and takes no crap and I'm always happy to see her get more screen time. That being said, Spock and Uhura dating?? No. I just don't feel it. I'm sorry to say but I'm on the side that would be happy to see them end. It would be a nice set up for a meaningful and close friendship, but I could certainly do without seeing them make out on the transporter.
Hugh McGuinness
37. hughm
Uhura _did_ take the con in one episode. As usual all senior staff beamed down to the planet and took Sulu with them (not sure if Chekov was in by that stage) and Kirk (I think) ordered her to take the con. No fuss, no snide comments from the fellas, she just did it. At least it was a change from answering the phone.
Christopher Bennett
38. ChristopherLBennett
@37: As far as I can tell, the only time Uhura took the conn was in the animated episode "The Lorelei Signal," when all the male officers were incapacitated by the alien women's siren song. She also seems to be more or less in command of the bridge for a portion of "Bem" when Kirk, Spock, Scott, and Sulu are all on the landing party, although she's not actually shown sitting in the command chair at any point, and the main order she gives is for Scott and Sulu to beam back up so Scotty can take charge.
Xena Catolica
40. filkferengi
In Leslie Fish's classic "Banned From Argo," the TOS crew have adventures on shore leave, and Uhura shows more than linguistic expertise. Her verse is about 2:40 in; there're several videos on youtube.
Xena Catolica
41. RubyNye
Since many people have shown up to say that they hate the Spock/Uhura romance, I thought I would 1) say that I'm personally a fan and 2) post a link to a wiser person's essay about why that romance means something and isn't just "relegating Uhura to being a girlfriend":

"Nyota Uhura is not a White girl"

And (found while looking up the first link) on Uhura "knocking McCoy out of the trinity":
"Uhura, McCoy, and Fannish double standards"
Xena Catolica
42. Jinn-Jinn
I love Uhura, both of them, and I am a full supporter of Spock/Uhura relationship. It's a mature, intelligent relationship filled with its ups and downs. How many women of color are portrayed to be intelligent, brave, beautiful and in a solid relationship? This is what creates a content person who has decided to be professional and loving in a resposible way.
Xena Catolica
43. PenA
A sort of side note regarding the importance of Lt.. Uhura's position on the ship, and the evolution thereof -- the prequel series "Star Trek: Enterprise" depicted the first Earth crew to explore the galaxy on a long-range warp ship, before all the protocols and procedures had really been hashed out. The show makes a point of showing how crucial and often difficult the duties of their first communications officer turn out to be (deciphering new languages when the UT can't; convincing unfriendly aliens not to shoot them; that kind of thing). By extension, I think the writers were trying to say the same thing about Lt. Uhura's duties. Sort of an indirect retcon, implying that this was what went on behind at Lt. Uhura's terminal when the camera wasn't rolling. It's kind of an interesting way of revamping (or reaffirming) her status without openly addressing the fact that when we meet Ensign Sato, most of us are thinking of Lt. Uhura.
Christopher Bennett
44. ChristopherLBennett
@43: Indeed, I remarked on the Hoshi/Uhura similarities in comment #23. So I'm inclined to agree.
Xena Catolica
45. White guy
Uhura in the orginal series First 3 seasons, is the sexiest lady I've ever seen. Look at those eyes!
Xena Catolica
46. Jannisar
I am a little puzzled about how "liberating for women" nichelle nichols was, considering the reason she got the job was her affair with roddenberry, which was well known amongst the production crew, the actors and the executives. in fact one of the execs claimed that roddenbery was such a sex freak that he had liasons with all but 3 of the women that guest starred in the original series. so, i am not sure that sleeping your way into a position can be considered liberating for women, i would consider it the opposite in fact.
Christopher Bennett
47. ChristopherLBennett
@46: But the viewing audience would've been unaware of those factors. What matters is the character and her role onscreen, which is a separate question from what went on behind the scenes. Seeing a woman included in the command crew of a military vessel was symbolically very powerful.
Xena Catolica
49. VampireGal
frankly most of the anti Uhura folks especially in the reboot are mainly from two categories of people:
- Kirk/Spock fans
- Kirk & Spock fans
The first are the slash shippers that see her as a threat to their ship
The second are the fanboys that see her as a threat to a "men only" show so any girl interefering with this idea is a problem ... and let's be honest, the original show from the 60s only fueled the sexism of these people because everything was about the guys and women had absolutely no chance to be equal to them and that important to them.
It's not a wonder that even in 2014 people have a hard time reconciling with the fact that while they claim to be pro feminist and want a proper representation for women, they actually fall in the ever present 'mysoginy' trap that gives to this kind of fandoms such a bad reputation when it comes to their treatment of the female characters.
There is a lot of sexism and bias in some fans reducing Uhura to the "girlfriend" only turning a blind eye to anything else she did in the movies and even going against logic when it comes to simple knovelenge of how movies are made and what it means being a secondary character, regardless the gender (e.g, Uhura is much more developed than some of her male companions like Sulu, Chekov and Scotty. She's pretty equal to McCoy in terms of character development. Yet, she gets more criticism simply because she dates Spock) There are evident double standards when it comes to female characters, all disguised behind some pro-feminist advocacy.
Uhura is not one of those ladies Kirk made flirty eyes in every episode nor she's Chapel who could pine for Spock without getting any from him (and she was still hated back then, still perceived as a threat). She's more intimidating. Much of the distain for the Spock/Uhura relationship itself is due to the fact that they are an item. She loves him but he loves her too, it's far from being one of the insignificant flings that Kirk had in the series: it's a relationship. Thus they might hurt some "sensibilities".
I just think that for many K/S fans (slash shippers and not) it's quite hard to reconcile with the idea that Kirk isn't the only protagonist anymore. Some fans may not be ready to deal with a Spock who has his own life and stories to tell that won't tie back to Kirk in some way. Some fans might claim to love Spock as a character and yet, it never crossed their mind that his character was wasted in many ways and never truly explored to his full potential because of the friendship with Kirk too. That Spock actually was reduced to "best friend of hero" , and unlike with Uhura now, few seem to have a problem with it and coincidentally the ones who did have a problem with it might be many of those that appreciate his relationship with Uhura now, in the same way - and for similar reasons - many of the Uhura fans like the reboot take on these characters and relationships.

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