Before he became one of Hollywood’s most visible LGBT activists, George Takei was Hikaru Sulu of the USS Enterprise, a character that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had written an extremely detailed backstory for. Nowhere in that backstory was the suggestion that Sulu was a closeted or openly gay man, but that didn’t stop Star Trek Beyond writer Simon Pegg and director Justin Lin from adding in that detail as a sort of tribute to Takei’s legacy. The problem? Takei never asked for such a tribute, and now he says it directly contradicts Roddenberry’s vision for the character.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Takei revealed that he was never on board with the plan to make Sulu gay. “Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought,” he said. “I think it’s really unfortunate.” Takei insists that he urged Pegg, Lin, and actor John Cho (who plays Sulu in the rebooted franchise) to make a different character gay instead. “I told [them], ‘Be imaginative and create a character who has a history of being gay, rather than Sulu, who had been straight all this time, suddenly being revealed as being closeted.'”
It seems as if his pleas have been met with deaf ears. A month ago, Cho emailed him to confirm that the character would still be gay and that Pegg had not rewritten the script as Takei had hoped. “I really tried to work with these people when at long last the issue of gay equality was going to be addressed,” the 79-year-old actor said.
Pegg responded to Takei in a statement emailed to the Guardian. “I have huge love and respect for George Takei, his heart, courage and humour are an inspiration,” he wrote. “However, with regards to his thoughts on our Sulu, I must respectfully disagree with him.”
“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?
“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.”
Whichever way he swings, may Sulu live long and prosper through this controversy.