The upcoming sequel Star Trek Beyond has gained some serious publicity lately, but not all of it has to do with the film itself. Last week, we learned that in Star Trek Beyond it is revealed that John Cho’s Sulu is gay, marking a progressive change for a franchise that has always been forward thinking. Writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, along with director Justin Lin, thought this would be a great way to honor the original Sulu, George Takei, who is gay in real life and has been a vocal advocate for same-sex rights. However, when the Beyond revelation came to light, Takei was actually displeased with the change, arguing it was not canon and therefore against Star Trek creator George Roddenberry’s wishes.
Pegg responded by respectfully disagreeing with Takei’s reaction, and now Pegg has taken to his blog to offer a lengthier rebuttal to the two main arguments against making Sulu gay: that it’s not canon, and that it should’ve been a character other than Sulu.
Now normally with this kind of story we’d pick select quotes and link to the original source, but I think it’s important to read Pegg’s statement in its entirety for context’s sake. So check it out below (titled “A Word About Canon”), via Pegg’s official website, followed by my thoughts on the matter.
Well, this has been interesting. What was initially intended as a moment of progressive affection has drawn comment and debate from the unlikeliest corners. What is heartening is that the vast majority of comments have never questioned the decision to include an LGBT character in Star Trek, just whether or not it should be existing characters or new ones. Those who have whined about the secret agenda of the liberal left, spreading ungodly perversions, through the evil mouthpiece of homosexual Hollywood, can go fuck themselves (apologies to serial masturbators if you find that offensive, we get so little support from the mainstream media).
The main thrust for those who aren’t keen on our LGBT Sulu, seems to come down to two things. Firstly, why Sulu? It’s a good point, I mean it could have been anybody: Kirk is a pansexual fun seeker; who knows why Bones got divorced? Nobody said Spock and Uhura were exclusive; Chekov is just permanently horny and let’s face it, there’s more to Scotty and Keenser than meets the eye. The fact is, we chose Sulu because of George, there was something sweet and poetic about it. Introducing a new gay character had its own set of problems, as I mentioned before, the sexuality of that character would have to be addressed immediately and pointedly and the new characters in Star Trek Beyond have enough on their plate, without stopping to give us the intimate details of their personal lives. We were concerned it might seem clumsy, tokenistic or worse, too little too late, raising and exasperated, “finally!” from those who’ve been waiting for representation for the last 50 years.
So why persist when George Takei wasn’t keen? The thinking behind embracing an existing character was that it felt as though it retroactively put right something that had long been wrong. By the time, we mentioned it to GT, the idea had taken shape, it felt good, interesting and worthy of thought and conversation. We were disappointed that George didn’t see it that way but, truth be told, Sulu Prime seemed to be missing a very important point. With galaxies of respect to the great man, this is not his Sulu. John Cho does not play a young George Takei, nor does he play the same character George Takei played in the original series. He is a different Sulu. This brings me to the second point of contention, Canon.
With the Kelvin timeline, we are not entirely beholden to existing canon, this is an alternate reality and, as such is full of new and alternate possibilities. “BUT WAIT!” I hear you brilliant and beautiful super Trekkies cry, “Canon tells us, Hikaru Sulu was born before the Kelvin incident, so how could his fundamental humanity be altered? Well, the explanation comes down to something very Star Treky; theoretical, quantum physics and the less than simple fact that time is not linear. Sure, we experience time as a contiguous series of cascading events but perception and reality aren’t always the same thing. Spock’s incursion from the Prime Universe created a multidimensional reality shift. The rift in space/time created an entirely new reality in all directions, top to bottom, from the Big Bang to the end of everything. As such this reality was, is and always will be subtly different from the Prime Universe. I don’t believe for one second that Gene Roddenberry wouldn’t have loved the idea of an alternate reality (Mirror, Mirror anyone?). This means, and this is absolutely key, the Kelvin universe can evolve and change in ways that don’t necessarily have to follow the Prime Universe at any point in history, before or after the events of Star Trek ‘09, it can mutate and subvert, it is a playground for the new and the progressive and I know in my heart, that Gene Roddenberry would be proud of us for keeping his ideals alive. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations, this was his dream, that is our dream, it should be everybody’s.
Ultimately, if we love Star Trek, we are all on the same page, we all want Gene’s idea of a tolerant inclusive, diplomatic and loving Universe to become a reality. For those who have joined this debate in the spirit of discussion and forward momentum, it’s been a pleasure to see your reactions. For those who have seen it has an opportunity to sling abuse, or be rude and presumptuous, please take a long hard look in the mirror and remember we are discussing the personal details of a fictional spaceman. In the words of Martin Blank, who are you mad at? Because it’s not me.
I am so excited for you all to see Star Trek Beyond, whether you’re a 50 year veteran or this is your first time around. We made it with love and we made it for everyone.
I think Pegg is spot on here. Star Trek is and always has been progressive, and it’s really all about representation. Films like Star Trek Beyond are going to be shown all over the world in the biggest multiplexes for a variety of different people. How often do we see gay characters in massive blockbuster films? I think it’s commendable that Pegg, Jung, and Lin made a concerted effort here, and I hope this is the beginning of a trend toward a wider range of representation in Hollywood blockbusters.
Star Trek Beyond opens in theaters on July 22nd.