The Following Opinions Are My Own
The world of Star Trek ignited into controversy this week, hot off the heels of the tragic passing of Anton Yelchin, his fellow helmsman John Cho confirmed that in Star Trek Beyond, Hikaru Sulu would be out and proud!
Many fans and LGBT groups applauded the move, but there was an unexpected voice of dissension from his predecessor in the role George Takei.
Takei of course one of the most famous openly gay men in Hollywood and has parlayed his Trek success and infectious wit and charm into a hugely successful media career. Covering websites, TV shows, movies and even going into the jungle for the UK's I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here reality show and The Apprentice, George really is everywhere!
George, however, has become much more relevant as a campaigner, not only for LGBT rights and fighting unjust laws and helping to overturn them but also raising awareness of the Japanese-American internment issue, notably through his passion project, the Broadway musical Allegiance.
Set Phasers To Stunned!
When George talks, people around the world not only listen but agree in their droves, not out of any sycophancy but cos he talks a LOT of sense a lot of the time and uses his wicked sense of humor to cut down stupidity and intolerance. In short, this guy is pretty awesome.
When it comes to THIS issue however, he put out what could be seen as a very scathing view, something out of character for George when it comes to Star Trek. He has been a big supporter of the new crew and what they bring to the table and his somewhat damning of John Cho's characters arc and how it came about came as a shock to many fans not only for its severity, but also its timing.
With a cast member recently deceased and not long laid to rest, there were arguably better ways and means to air his concerns, but he has metaphorically fired a photon torpedo right into a press junket tour that was already going to be VERY difficult for the cast and Cho in particular.
To many, George is right and in his interview with The Hollywood Reporter George makes clear that he was consulted by Justin Lin, the film's director, Cho AND co-star/writer Simon Pegg about the decision. This wasn't a cheap ploy on the movie makers part, it was a thought out choice, unfortunately one that Takei openly disagreed with, going as far as to say.
Many Final Frontiers To Discover
George felt that the "new Sulu" goes against what original Gene Roddenberry created, calling it a "twisting" and that is indeed true, as the entire new timeline created for these new movies twists Roddenberry's creations!
While George's point is accurate from a real world perspective, there is one piece of storytelling from the first movie that renders it obsolete from a Trek fan's. It is made clear that when Nero returned an entire new chain of events was set in motion for everyone in the Star Trek universe.
George Kirk died rather than seeing his son graduate. Those ripples would continue to every member of the crew throughout their early lives and can be seen in both Star Trek and Into Darkness, Christopher Pike looked up to the late Kirk Sr. Enough to write about him and take his son under his wing. Pavel Chekov is now more of a boy genius than "rookie", Uhura entered into a relationship with Spock, which arguably is more against Roddenberry's vision and Hikaru Sulu turned out gay. Perhaps the woman who had his child was never born due to the damage caused by Nero? Perhaps he met someone as a result of the same events who happened to be the same gender and felt something for them?
George's version of Sulu is still out there in his timeline and heterosexual, but THIS version, the version that John Cho portrays is out and proud in his timeline and seemingly in a same sex marriage. That he doesn't talk about it often is exactly what George wants for everyone, that it's not an issue right? Sulu is a Starfleet Officer first, a good guy second and oh he happens to be gay. Surely that is what we all want George?
Not Cut And Dry
Some points Takei makes are valid, however, it could be seen by those not understanding the premise a rebooted universe that this is a "pinkwashing" of a character or at worst, done because of George himself as some kind of tribute. This more than anything is why I think he felt he had to speak out, by not endorsing it he makes clear this was not his idea, that anyone who is upset by it is not alone.
Where George has made a mistake in my opinion, is by his treatment of Cho in the interview and seemingly the process. Even if it was his idea, ultimately Cho is playing a role and does what a director tells him but felt it important to call George and tell him the news first, that is respect. They have allowed him the freedom to honour George and make Sulu his own at the same time, and this "wrinkle" on the character is what separates he and George's portrayal. That it happens to coincide with George's personal sexuality is at worst unfortunate and at best an unwelcome tribute. Sulu isn't gay because George Takei is, even if that's part of the original thinking, he's gay because it happened to turn out that way, just as a Vulcan managed to nab the hottest woman on the Enterprise.
Leonard Nimoy didn't say "Spock would NEVER bone Uhura", even if he disagreed with the logic of the decision, he accepted it and kept quiet. I am guessing Nimoy had no problem with it at all. All it needed from George was a public "I don't agree with the decision but I will support you as best I can" rather than what reads as a "Get on with it then kid..."
While George is right to have an opinion and has a right to express it, what is disappointing to a long time fan is that he ejected John Cho like a damaged warp core by NOT supporting the actor, even if he disagreed with the choice. Yes, the interview was very likely done before Anton Yelchin's death but he could have very easily come out and said something publicly once the story broke and he hasn't as of writing. The irony is that William Shatner and Takei have not gotten along for issues that now George seems to be inflicting on Cho.
Oh My...We Sill Love Takei...
I love George Takei as a person from what I have seen, he's a great force for good in the world, but for the first time I feel disappointed in something, we're human, it's a very close subject to his heart and I get that, but its a shame and ultimately counterproductive. This WILL blow over and I am sure George and John will mend fences rather than continue any disagreement, but in an already sour period due to tragedy, this was the last thing needed and doesn't help either George's cause or the movie and could hurt Cho in George's fan's eyes.
I'm not alone in disagreeing. Simon Pegg has released a statement in which he "respectfully disagrees" with Takei, taking note of the alternate universe theory in doing so saying "Whatever magic ingredient that determines sexuality was different for Sulu in our timeline..."
George will continue to be a great force for good and I am sure Cho's portrayal will be sensitive and appropriate. An openly gay Sulu is a GOOD thing for both Star Trek and movies in general, after all, it makes him the first gay Captain of the Enterprise. George feels that wasn't him and perhaps that is a sadness for him, but Sulu gets to not only be that guy, but defines Roddenberry's vision of equality.
Sources: Hollywood Reporter & The Guardian