Since Star Trek first aired fifty years ago, it has always gone where no one else has gone before. It has redefined science-fiction for many people, pushed for gender equality and even featured the first interracial kiss between Kirk and Uhura back in 1968. And now the series looks set to enter a new frontier of representation in Star Trek Beyond!
Beyond reunites the crew after the events of Into Darkness, pitting Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) et al against the mysterious Krall (Idris Elba) - a villain unseen before in the franchise. A character in a same-sex relationship has also been unseen in the franchise...but Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) looks set to change all of that!
Speaking to The Herald Sun on the movie's promotional tour, Cho confirmed that his iteration of Sulu in Star Trek Beyond, is both gay and the father of a very young Demora Sulu. The Harold and Kumar actor was full of praise for the way that Sulu's orientation was handled in the upcoming film:
You've got to hand it to Simon Pegg and Justin Lin. The writer and director have treated the new Sulu's homosexuality as an everyday occurrence, as it should be. This treatment is similar to how nonchalantly JK Rowling revealed that the supreme sorcerer Albus Dumbledore was gay, much to the pleasant surprise of many fans.
Indeed, some fans may be taken aback by the news, since the character hasn't shown any such inclinations before. Though Takei himself is gay, Sulu was shown to have an interest in women, and even flirted with Uhura (the sly dog) in some mirror-verse shenanigans.
Cho's Sulu appeared in both the 2009 reboot and Into Darkness. Whilst we recognized that he was a brave and committed member of the Enterprise's crew, we didn't get to find out too much about his personal life. Both of those movies tended to focus more on the Kirk-Spock relationship; however, as Cho was quick to state that he was glad that Sulu's sexuality wasn't - and won't be - a major part in the story:
"I hope we are going [that way] as a species, to not politicise one’s personal orientations...”
I think we'll all (well, mostly) agree that these are very admirable sentiments, and hopeful wishes for our future society. However, as part of the first on-screen same-sex couple in a pop-culture behemoth like Star Trek, it is undoubtedly an important benchmark in cinema, and it's going to cause quite a stir among the more conservative fans.
This move from Pegg and Lin is also a reference to George Takei, who came out in 2005, and has been one of the LGBT movement's most vocal supporters. He spoke to News Corp last year, explaining why he wasn't open about his sexuality when he was filming the original series and movies of Star Trek:
“If I wanted to work as an actor I had to keep it a secret...Back then I couldn’t marry a white person..."
This is really saddening to hear from such a prolific talent in the industry, especially since Takei was part of such a groundbreaking phenomenon. However, there is a silver lining to the story which he acknowledged himself:
"But now I am married to a white dude so we have changed.”
I, for one, am very glad that things are better now for him and I think that, as a frequent commentator on the controversies of Hollywood's representation, I'm sure he'll be very pleased with the direction that Sulu, and Star Trek, is going in.
Will we see the young Demora Sulu in the flesh? Will we meet Hikaru's partner? Alas, we won't know until the film's release come the 22nd of July. However, until then, we can be content in the knowledge that we are experiencing a new wave of diversity in mainstream cinema, and that Star Trek is resolutely part of it.
With the cast of Spider-Man: Homecoming shaping up nicely and the latest additions to the Academy Awards panel, films seem to be gradually opening up to encompass and represent all who live in our society. And Sulu's depiction is surely part of that.
A person's sexual identity is an obviously important part of who they are, but it is not their only defining attribute. Cho's Sulu has shown that he is a brilliant part of the crew first and foremost. He is loyal, and in possession of formidable fighting skills, and has nerves of steel...
...he just happens to be a gay man as well.
Surely, it is this inclusive, Utopian vision that will make Star Trek live long and prosper! Marvel! DC! Star Wars?! Your move!
Exciting for Star Trek Beyond? Want to experience the awesomeness again? Check out the trailer below!