Published July 11, 2016
Six TV series and 13 feature films later, Star Trek has been taking on issues from the Civil Rights movement to the Vietnam War. The latest development in Star Trek Beyond has Hikaru Sulu coming out of the closet.
“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,” John Cho, who is the third actor to play the part of Sulu, said
In the latest installment, Sulu and his same-sex partner will be raising a daughter.
Director Justin Lin and Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty in the new films and wrote the Beyond screenplay, decided to make Sulu gay as a nod to George Takei, who originally played Sulu and, after coming out in 2005, is an outspoken LGBT activist.
However, Takei wasn’t excited.
“I’m delighted that there’s a gay character,” Takei, 79, said
. “Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.”
Recently, the show had it’s lowest ratings every with an episode featuring an interracial kiss that NBC affiliates in the South refused to air.
Takei said that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry has always been a strong supporter of LGBT equality, though he didn’t take Takei’s pitch about exploring the LGBT topic in the series when he spoke with Roddenberry a few years ago.
“He said he has been pushing the envelope and walking a very tight rope – and if he pushed too hard, the show would not be on the air,” Takei said.
The show was canceled anyway.
Takei said that Roddenberry was “exhaustive in conceiving his Star Trek characters.”
When Cho told him a year ago that Sulu was going to be gay, Takei tried to get him to make a new character gay instead.
“I told him, ‘Be imaginative and create a character who has a history of being gay, rather than Sulu, who had been straight all this time, suddenly being revealed as being closeted,” Takei said.
He said that he had so many negative experiences being closeted that he thinks a character that lives in the 23rd century would never have been in the closet.
Not long after Cho’s call, Lin called to confirm Sulu would be gay.
“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,” Takei said. “He left me feeling that was going to happen.”
Takei received an email from Pegg later praying him for his LGBT advocacy so Takei assumed Lin spoke to him and Sulu would be portrayed as straight.
A month ago, Cho emailed Takei and confirmed that Sulu would definitely be gay.
Takei said that he won’t change his mind on the matter.
Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock in Star Trek Beyond, was not pleased with Takei’s reaction.
“As a member of the LGBT community myself, I was disappointed by the fact George was disappointed,” he said
. “I get it that he’s had is own personal relationship with the character, but, you know, as we established in the first ‘Star Trek’ film in 2009, we’ve created an alternate universe.”
Quinto hopes Takei “can be strengthened by the enormously positive response from especially young people, who are heartened by and inspired by this really tasteful and beautiful portrayal of something that I think is gaining acceptance and inclusion in our societies across the world – and should be.”
Pegg also “respectfully disagrees” with Takei’s stance.
“I have a huge love and respect for George Takei, his heart, courage and humor are inspiration,” he said. “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?”
Star Trek Beyond comes to theaters July 22.