As Star Trek fans gear up for the premiere of this summer’s Star Trek Beyond, a new detail about the latest installment made headlines. John Cho, who plays Enterprise pilot Hikaru Sulu, revealed that the character would become the franchise’s first homosexual. Co-writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung thought this would be a nice way to honor actor George Takei (who played Sulu in the Original Series), a gay man and a strong proponent of LGBT rights. And while Takei was “delighted” that the progressive Star Trek would finally tackle the hot button issue of sexual orientation, he wasn’t necessarily a fan of how the Beyond team went about it.
In a response to the Sulu revelation, Takei stated that he would have preferred a new character be created to break this ground, as opposed to altering one of Gene Roddenberry’s creations. The actor felt that since Beyond coincides with the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, Roddenberry’s original vision (in which Sulu was straight) should be maintained. Now, Pegg has offered a detailed explanation for why he went in this direction.
According to The Guardian, Pegg feels that this was the right move, since Sulu is a pre-existing character that audiences are already familiar with. He feared that if they created a new character, it would be viewed as “tokenism”:
“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. 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 makes an excellent point here. Sulu has been a part of the property from the beginning, and has 50 years of history that define who he is. Even Cho’s take in the Kelvin Timeline had two complete films before this revelation. As Pegg indicated, the fan base has a “pre-existing opinion of that character as a human being, unaffected by prejudice.” The decision to make Sulu gay merely adds a layer to him, becoming just one of many traits. It’s a smart and classy way to illustrate that there is an LGBT community in the Star Trek universe from the beginning without drawing large amounts of attention to a brand new character viewers have no knowledge of.
Pegg also disagreed with the notion that Sulu being straight was an artistic decision made by Roddenberry, suggesting that it was a necessary one to get the program on the air during a more intolerant time:
“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.”
With that mantra in mind, it’s worth remembering that the modern Star Trek films take place in an alternate timeline, where certain aspects can be changed. Pegg used this as a launching point for his controversial move, saying that it represents the sci-fi notion of a multiverse where “we are all LGBT somewhere.” Obviously, not everyone is going to agree with Pegg’s take on the issue, but this is a well-thought-out defense that shows a lot of care was put into the decision. The Beyond filmmakers deserve some credit for exploring this topic, and ideally it will encourage other Hollywood blockbusters to follow suit.
Star Trek Beyond hits U.S. theaters July 22, 2016.
Source: The Guardian