Posted on Friday, July 8th, 2016 by Angie Han
Yesterday, John Cho dropped the bombshell that his Hikaru Sulu would be gay in Star Trek Beyond. While the actor said the film would “not make a big thing” out of the reveal, it was a big deal for plenty of fans. Star Trek has been famously progressive since its earliest days, and yet the franchise has had no prominent gay characters to date. A gay Sulu seemed like an exciting step forward.
But one who wasn’t so thrilled about the news? George Takei himself. The original Sulu actor says that while he’s “delighted that there’s a gay character,” he feels it’s “really unfortunate” it had to be Sulu. Meanwhile, Star Trek Beyond writer and star Simon Pegg, who helped make the decision in the first place, says he “respectfully disagree[s]” with Takei’s stance.
To back up a bit: yesterday, Cho revealed to that Sulu would be gay in the Kelvin timeline (where the films that started with 2009’s Star Trek take place), with a male partner and a daughter. The idea came from Pegg and Star Trek Beyond director Justin Lin, and was meant as a nod to Takei, who’s become a prominent LGBTQ activist since coming out in 2005. “I liked the approach, which was not to make a big thing out it, which is where I hope we are going as a species, to not politicize one’s personal orientations,” said Cho.
But hours later, Takei told The Hollywood Reporter that he was unhappy with the decision. “I’m delighted that there’s a gay character,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene [Roddenberry]’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.” Takei first heard the news from Cho last year, and had urged the Star Trek Beyond team to make Sulu straight and create a new gay character instead.
I said, ‘This movie is going to be coming out on the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the 50th anniversary of paying tribute to Gene Roddenberry, the man whose vision it was carried us through half a century. Honor him and create a new character. I urged them. [Lin] left me feeling that that was going to happen.
After Takei went on the record with his disappointment about the gay Sulu decision, Pegg spoke up to defend it to The Guardian. “I must respectfully disagree with him,” said Pegg.
He’s right, it is unfortunate, it’s unfortunate that the screen version of the most inclusive, tolerant universe in science fiction hasn’t featured an LGBT character until now. We could have introduced a new gay character, but he or she would have been primarily defined by their sexuality, seen as the ‘gay character’, rather than simply for who they are, and isn’t that tokenism?
The canon is neutral on the matter. Takei took issue with the notion of Sulu “suddenly being revealed as closeted,” but Pegg insisted that in the Kelvin timeline Sulu was never closeted — “it just hasn’t come up before.” In the Kelvin timeline, there’s no evidence in any direction about Sulu’s sexual orientation. And the original Star Trek series isn’t really much clearer. The character never had any love interests on the show, and the only reference to a tryst comes in a 1995 Star Trek novel where he has a one-night stand with a woman.
It’s a tricky needle to thread. Both Pegg and Takei seem to agree, generally, that an LGBTQ character in Star Trek would be a very good thing. But Takei’s lived with the character for many years, and has always seen him as straight. It’s easy to understand why he’d be unhappy that Sulu has suddenly changed, or frustrated that his concerns apparently went ignored by the cast and crew of Star Trek Beyond. (And it must be extra annoying that the choice was billed as a “nod” to Takei when he never wanted it in the first place.)
On the other hand, there’s no real canon reason that Star Trek Beyond‘s Sulu can’t be gay. Including an LGBTQ character does feel like it fits in with Star Trek‘s commitment to a more progressive future. Revealing an existing character to be gay may have seemed like an easier and more expedient way to establish an LGBTQ Star Trek lead than introducing a new character into a core cast that consists of familiar characters. In any case, the matter is already settled: Star Trek Beyond has a gay character now, and it’s Sulu.
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