Sulu is Gay, But That’s Not The Story
Star Trek Beyond promises to be a Star Trek movie like none other. Helmed by the director of the first paintball episode of Community, as well as the Fast and Furious series, one of the highest grossing film franchises of all time and noted for its diversity, there will be action, drama, and plenty of Chris Pine falling. It will also be the first movie in the franchise featuring a LGBTQ character, Hikaru Sulu.
The character development was announced by current Sulu actor, John Cho, in an interview with Australian outlet the Herald Sun. It was decided Sulu would be the series’ first LGBTQ character out of respect for the role’s originator, George Takei, a renowned LGBTQ rights activist himself. In the new film Sulu will be married and, in keeping with existing canon, will have a young daughter.
Inclusion and exposure of an LGBTQ character seems to be a great fit for the spirit of the series, which has never steered away from social issues. However, upon hearing the news, George Takei spoke with Hollywood Reporter. He called the news “really unfortunate” for a number of reasons. Takei took issue with adding the sexuality change in a sequel, giving the appearance that sexuality can be ‘retrofitted’. He was happy to see a gay character in the series, but pleaded for a new character to take the part. Sulu, as Takei states, is a creation of Gene Rodenberry and changing the character would be counter to the creator’s vision.
Following Takei’s response to Cho’s announcement, Star Trek Beyond writer Simon Pegg voiced disagreement with Takei’s take on the situation. In regard to retrofitting Sulu’s sexuality, Pegg told The Guardian, “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 went on to address Takei’s issue with Rodenberry’s intent stating, “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.”
And there’s the story. Does the creator’s intent for a character mean more than the creator’s intent for the series? Star Trek is a beacon of sci-fi idealism. The crew of the original series was comprised of the best of the best regardless of race, gender, age, or species. Rodenberry created a story fit for the 60s, but would he have wanted it to adapt for later generations or would new characters have better fit his vision?
Takei and Pegg agree that LGBTQ characters need to be seen in the Star Trek universe, that is not the point of contention, but approaching the topic with new or existing characters is the sticking point. Neither position is incorrect, neither position flawless; it comes down to a discussion on interpreting a creator’s intent for their characters.
In true Star Trek universe fashion though, the controversy is about the art, not the addition of an LGBTQ character. That is beyond wonderful.
Star Trek Beyond opens July 22.