A couple of days back, Star Trek fans were provided with the information that in the newest film, Star Trek Beyond, Hikaru Sulu (played by John Cho in the rebooted series) would be revealed to have a husband and daughter waiting at home for him. While many fans of the series applauded the decision, the one person who seemed to be most vocal with his displeasure of the treatment was none other than the original Sulu himself, George Takei. Considering the fact that the decision to reveal Sulu’s sexuality was almost a tribute to Takei, who revealed his sexuality years back and has since been a very vocal activist for the LGBT community, it came as rather a shock when Takei publicly voiced his displeasure with Sulu’s new characteristic. Now, Simon Pegg, who will be taking his third outing as Scotty in the new Trek film, has a few words for Takei.
Now, keep in mind, this is not a squabble; this is not one of those Hollywood beefs that is going to wind up going back and forth. The fact is that Pegg, while speaking his mind, does so in a respectful, calm manner, and makes many good points. Many people were surprised at Takei’s reaction and, really, rightfully so. Most of Takei’s issues seem to stem from his belief that revealing the sexuality of the character does a disservice to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, who never revealed the character to be homosexual. Fans of the series, however, argue that this new information doesn’t tarnish the character but, in fact, adds to the Star Trek legacy. Sulu’s sexuality was never addressed in any way during the original series, so a peek into the character’s background can only enhance the understanding of the character. You can read Pegg’s comments in their entirety below.
“I have huge love and respect for George Takei, his heart, courage and humour 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.
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.
Whether or not the new information will have any sort of material impact on the film is still to be seen but audiences will find out for sure when the film hits screens on July 22, 2016. Or, for those attending San Diego Comic Con, a few days sooner.
How do you feel about the change to Sulu? Do you think it tarnishes the legacy or do you feel it only gives more depth to the character?