Yesterday, we reported that Paramount's upcoming sci-fi sequel Star Trek Beyond will make history by revealing John Cho's Hikaru Sulu as the first gay character in franchise history. In the original Star Trek TV series, Sulu was played by George Takei, who had to keep his homosexuality a secret while working on the show, before coming out in 2005. Shortly after it was revealed that this new big-screen Sulu was gay, George Takei spoke out about this revelation, calling it "unfortunate."
"I'm delighted that there's a gay character. Unfortunately, it's a twisting of Gene's creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it's really unfortunate."
The actor went on to add that he first learned about Sulu's new sexual orientation from John Cho himself, but he wanted the filmmakers to create a new gay character, instead of turning a character that had already been established as straight, into a gay character. While Sulu never had an on-screen love interest throughout the original series, he did have a daughter named Demora, who appeared in the 1994 movie Star Trek: Generations, played by Jacqueline Kim. After John Cho's conversation with George Takei, director Justin Lin reached out to George Takei. Here's what George Takei had to say about that conversation.
"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. He left me feeling that that was going to happen."
After George Takei spoke out against Sulu's homosexuality, Simon Pegg responded in a statement he made to The Guardian. It was, in fact, Simon Pegg's idea in the first place to turn Sulu into a homosexual character, which is briefly covered in the movie. Here's what Simon Pegg had to say in response to George Takei's statements, rejecting the idea that a new gay character needed to be created.
"I have huge love and respect for George Takei, his heart, courage and humor are an inspiration. However, with regards to his thoughts on our Sulu, I must respectfully disagree with him. 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? Justin Lin, Doug Jung and I loved the idea of it being someone we already knew because the audience have a pre-existing opinion of that character as a human being, unaffected by any prejudice. Their sexual orientation is just one of many personal aspects, not the defining characteristic. Also, the audience would infer that there has been an LGBT presence in the Trek Universe from the beginning (at least in the Kelvin timeline), that a gay hero isn't something new or strange. It's also important to note that at no point do we suggest that our Sulu was ever closeted, why would he need to be? It's just hasn't come up before."
The decision to make Sulu gay was applauded by many but it is just part of Star Trek's rich tradition of pushing the boundaries. The show was the first ever to feature an interracial kiss, but as Simon Pegg pointed out, that particular episode, entitled Plato's Stepchildren was the show's lowest-rated ever. While the audience may not have been ready for moments like that then, Simon Pegg added his thoughts about Gene Roddenberry's vision for the original show.
"I don't believe Gene Roddenberry's decision to make the prime timeline's Enterprise crew straight was an artistic one, more a necessity of the time. Trek rightly gets a lot of love for featuring the first interracial kiss on US television, but Plato's Stepchildren was the lowest rated episode ever. The viewing audience weren't open minded enough at the time and it must have forced Roddenberry to modulate his innovation. His mantra was always 'infinite diversity in infinite combinations'. If he could have explored Sulu's sexuality with George, he no doubt would have. Roddenberry was a visionary and a pioneer but we choose our battles carefully. Our Trek is an alternate timeline with alternate details. Whatever magic ingredient determines our sexuality was different for Sulu in our timeline. I like this idea because it suggests that in a hypothetical multiverse, across an infinite matrix of alternate realities, we are all LGBT somewhere. Whatever dimension we inhabit, we all just want to be loved by those we love (and I love George Takei). I can't speak for every reality but that must surely true of this one. Live long and prosper."
Simon Pegg took over the scripting duties on Star Trek Beyond, working alongside Doug Jung, after Paramount dismissed the previous draft by Roberto Orci, J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay. With Star Trek Beyond hitting theaters on July 22, we'll have to wait and see how audiences around the world respond to a gay Sulu. Stay tuned for more on this sci-fi sequel as we get closer to the release date.