Promotion for Star Trek: Beyond took a left turn earlier this week when actor John Cho revealed that his character will be gay in the upcoming sci-fi blockbuster, provoking a range of responses from the cast and crew of the franchise.
Originally portrayed by George Takei in the first Star Trek show, Hikaru Sulu will be shown raising a child with his male partner in this summer's Star Trek: Beyond. Reactions online have varied from celebratory to condemnatory and even flat out nasty, but one negative reaction most of us didn't expect to see came from Takei himself, a LGBT activist who has worked tirelessly to support the community in the past.
Despite this move potentially raising the profile of LGBT people on a worldwide scale, Takei felt that portraying Sulu as gay is "really unfortunate" in that it betrays the original vision of franchise creator Gene Rodenberry. Takei argues that the team behind Star Trek: Beyond could have done far more for the LGBT cause by creating a new character instead, rather than changing the sexuality of a pre-existing member of the crew.
It appears that not everyone involved has taken too kindly to Takei's reaction, as Star Trek: Beyond star and writer Simon Pegg had a lot to say on the matter in an exclusive interview with the Guardian;
"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."
Pegg begins to address Takei's words by lamenting the general lack of LGBT characters in science fiction, stating that;
"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?"
Pegg continues by explaining why the writers decided to not introduce a new LGBT character, explaining that;
"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."
Drawing upon the history of the show, Pegg says;
"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."
Pegg continues to discuss the political environment that dominated during the show's inception, pointing out that;
"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."
Quite rightly, Pegg argues that the new Star Trek movies operate on an alternate timeline to the original show, explaining that;
"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."
Pegg ends his response with an appropriately universal message of love and equality that Takei will find hard to disagree with, suggesting that;
"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."
Despite it initially appearing as though Pegg and Takei are at odds with one another, their basic argument is in fact the same. Both men want to see the LGBT community represented more in science fiction and mainstream media as a whole, but their disagreement lies in how this should be best achieved.
We want to know what you think: Should Pegg and the rest of the team behind Star Trek: Beyond introduce a new gay character, change a pre-existing one or simply ignore the issue altogether? Let us know in the comments section below.
While we wait impatiently for Star Trek: Beyond to finally warp into our galaxy on July 22, watch the first official trailer, live long and prosper.
Source - Guardian