It's been a bit of a rollercoaster ride the last two days when it comes to the world of Star Trek, and with regard to Hikaru Sulu specifically. We reported yesterday that, according to current Sulu actor John Cho, the famous helmsman would be revealed to be a gay man with a husband and daughter in the forthcoming film, Star Trek Beyond. The assumption at the time was that this update was in direct acknowledgment of original-flavor Sulu George Takei's status as an out and married gay man.
Then we heard that Takei was disappointed in the change, that Takei felt Roddenberry's definition of the character of Sulu was being altered in a way the Trek creator never intended. Takei furthermore stated that, in speaking with the team behind Star Trek Beyond previous to this announcement, he expressed a desire for a new character to be created that would be part of the LGBT community.
It's a back-and-forth volley, one that might leave you, justifiably, wondering why it was decided for Sulu to be gay if the man who originated the role disagreed with the move. Fortunately, Simon Pegg, who co-scripted Star Trek Beyond, stepped in to clarify.
"I have huge love and respect for George Takei, his heart, courage and humour are an inspiration,” Pegg begins. “However, with regards to his thoughts on our Sulu, I must respectfully disagree with him."
Speaking specifically upon Takei's issue of wanting and preferring a new LGBT character for Trek, Pegg elaborated, saying, "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?”
Bringing in his collaborators, Pegg continued. "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."
As for Gene Roddenberry himself, Pegg refuted Takei's claim that Trek's creator wouldn't have approved or would have even had an all-straight cast to begin with, given the option. "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. 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."
Pegg concluded by talking about not just the nature of alternate timelines, but the nature of diverse sexuality. "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.
"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."
To Pegg's credit, even in our own world, it is true that identical twins can ultimately have not only different sexual attractions, but indeed different gender identities as well.
As for Takei, his concerns regarding the lack of new LGBT characters in modern media are well taken. One can only hope that both the drum he's been pounding over the last decade and this latest update to Cho's Sulu will inspire others (perhaps even Bryan Fuller whose new Star Trek series is due out next year) to increase queer representation to reflect the world we actually live in.
(via The Guardian)