Yesterday, we learned that John Cho’s Hikaru Sulu would be openly gay in the upcoming Star Trek Beyond. At first glance, one would assume that George Takei, the actor who originated the role and an outspoken advocate for gay rights, would be pleased with the decision. However, it turns out that Takei has a reasonable disagreement with the decision to make Sulu gay.
Takei explained to THR that he felt the decision was “really unfortunate” because he felt that rather than make Sulu gay, they should introduce a new 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,” said Takei. He went on to say, “I told [John Cho], ‘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.'”
The question is whether or not Sulu, in the new alternative universe, has ever been closeted. Nothing in 2009’s Star Trek or Into Darkness hints at his sexuality either way. Granted, it’s a bit bizarre that the destruction of the Kelvin and the new timeline would reverberate to the point of changing a character’s sexuality.
Takei also spoke to director Justin Lin, saying, “’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.”
So Takei’s disappointment is understandable. Homosexuality isn’t just a switch that’s flipped, and Takei, who played the character since the 1960s, should be taken as a reasonable barometer on what to do with the character. Keep in mind that Takei isn’t saying that homosexuality is wrong; he’s saying that it’s wrong for Sulu, a character who had been defined as heterosexual.
Now Simon Pegg, who co-wrote and stars in Star Trek Beyond, has responded. He tells The Guardian, “I have huge love and respect for George Takei, his heart, courage and humour are an inspiration,” he wrote. “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.”
With regards to how this alternate timeline would affect sexuality, Pegg concluded:
“Our Trek is an alternate timeline with alternate details,” he wrote. “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.”
It’s a fascinating argument, with worthy points on both sides. I also admire Pegg and Takei for being able to have this disagreement in a classy, respectful manner. This isn’t something that needs to get heated, and I like reading intelligent disagreement from smart people.
Where do you fall on this argument? Do you agree with Takei or Pegg? Sound off in the comments section.