Since its inception in the '60s Star Trek has been on television for thirty seasons and on screen for thirteen motion pictures. Even though it's prided itself on its progressive and tolerant ideologies there has never been a character representing the LGBT community until now. Recently it was announced that the upcoming Star Trek Beyond would confirm Hikaru Sulu as a proud gay man. Actor John Cho, who portrays Hulu in the reboot series, stated to the Australia Herald:
“I liked the approach, which was not to make a big thing out [of] it, which is where I hope we are going as a species, to not politicize one’s personal orientations.”
It was confirmed that Sulu's character would appear on screen with his same-sex partner and their young daughter. Cho seemed excited about the concept and direction of his character, so it was odd when George Takei took the opposite stance.
George Takei is best known for his original portrayal of Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek show as well as its accompanying films. The last time he portrayed the character was in an episode of Star Trek Voyager in 1996, almost twenty years ago.
In 2005 Takei publicly came out as a gay man, and announced he'd been in a committed relationship with his partner Brad Altman for eighteen years. Since that time the two have been some of the most vocal supporters of LGBT rights and freedoms so it came as a huge shock that he was disappointed that his iconic character Sulu has been revealed as gay via The Hollywood Reporter.
"I’m delighted that there’s a 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."
Apparently Takei was even in the loop that Star Trek Beyond writer Simon Pegg and director Justin Lin were considering making Sulu gay, but he had begged them not to.
“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 closeted.’”
It's very surprising that with all of the work Takei and his husband have done to promote gay rights throughout the world, that he would actively oppose an LGBT character finally appearing in this long standing franchise, especially as it was intended as a tribute to Takei himself.
But today, Simon Pegg responded to George Takei's comments. Pegg is the writer of Star Trek Beyond and stars as Scotty in all three of the new Trek films.
"I have a huge love and respect for George Takei, his heart, courage and humor 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? Also, the audience would infer that there has been an LGBT presence in the Trek universe from the beginning, 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."
Pegg has a point! If they'd created a new gay character for this iteration of Star Trek they would have been primarily remembered, and labeled, as LGBT. In an ensemble cast, and especially with such established characters, it would have been hard to introduce a new character and give them enough screen time for the audience to connect with him/her. However, Takei also has a point that creating a new character as gay in Trek canon could be impactful. Turning established characters gay is something that Hollywood has done quite often lately. We've seen it in comic books, television shows and other forms of media.
And just a short while ago, Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock in the reboot, and who happens to be a member of the LGBT community himself, weighed in on Takei's comments along with his cast member Pegg.
"As a member of the LGBT community myself...I was disappointed by the fact that George was disappointed. I think any member of the LGBT community that takes issue with the normalized and positive portrayal of members of our community in Hollywood and in mainstream blockbuster cinema. I get it that he's had his own personal journey and has his own personal relationship with this character, but you know, as we established in the first Star Trek in 2009, we've created an alternate universe. My hope is that eventually, George 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."
With it all said and done, however, I, for one, am very happy to finally see the LGBT community represented and in such a natural way, and I do agree with Pegg and Quinto: hopefully our culture is heading in a way where these kinds of topics will stop being controversial!