On Wednesday, it was revealed that Hikaru Sulu would be portrayed as openly gay by actor John Cho in the forthcoming film Star Trek: Beyond. Then George Takei, the actor who originated the role of Sulu in Star Trek: The Original Series, expressed his disagreement with the choice, saying it’s “really unfortunate” that Sulu will be gay because it is a “twisting of Gene [Roddenberry]’s creation” and that this revelation must mean Sulu was “closeted” up until now. Simon Pegg, one of the co-writers and actors on Star Trek: Beyond, has responded, saying, “I must respectfully disagree.”
In comments made to The Guardian, Pegg went on to say, “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 expressed sympathy for Takei, but disagreed with his interpretation of Sulu and the his idea that a new gay character should have been created. Pegg said:
[Takei]’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? [Director] Justin Lin, [Co-Writer] 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 [current films’] 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.
Pegg went onto to say that the choice to depict Sulu as gay isn’t a “twisting of Gene [Roddenberry]’s creation,” as Takei argues, but rather a welcome expansion of it:
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 U.S. television, but “Plato’s Stepchildren” [the episode featuring the kiss] was the lowest rated episode ever.
In fact, that episode was actually banned in the U.K., and wasn’t shown there until 1994.
Pegg goes on, reasoning:
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 [Takei], he no doubt would have. Roddenberry was a visionary and a pioneer but we choose our battles carefully.
Characters change with each new interpretations. From myths like Hercules to superheroes like Captain America, characters frequently transcend their origins, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. The portrayal of Sulu as gay just makes the Star Trek universe ever more inclusive of its diverse fan base. There are people for whom seeing an openly gay Asian man piloting the U.S.S. Enterprise will be incredibly important. Everyone deserves to see meaningful representations of people like them.
“Our Trek is an alternate timeline with alternate details,” Pegg said. “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 closed his comments by saying, “Live long and prosper.”