Fandoms take their characters seriously. Regardless of whether or not a reboot is trying to make a preexisting world fit a current climate, there's sure to be resistance. For a franchise with 50 years of world building under its belt, Star Trek is, once again, shaking things up. The series wasted no time jumping ahead of the curve with its multi-racial cast, and it really ruffled some feathers with the first interracial kiss (between Kirk and Uhura) on network television in 1968 -- near the tail end of the Civil Rights Movement in the US.
Diversity on screen is an important form of representation, but so is diversity behind the scenes. Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock, the role that catapulted Leonard Nimoy to fame, came out in 2011; just two years after the release of the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot. George Takei, who made Helmsman Hikaru Sulu a household name in the late 1960s, came out in 2005 at the age of 68. When current Sulu actor, John Cho, said Star Trek Beyond will reveal that Sulu is gay, Takei was both delighted and dismayed.
Speaking to THR, Takei said:
"I’m delighted that there’s a gay character. Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate. [Roddenberry] was a strong supporter of LGBT equality [at the time]. But he said he [had] been pushing the envelope and walking a very tight rope — and if he pushed too hard, the show would not be on the air."
The change to Sulu's sexual orientation for the upcoming film was an ode to Takei himself; an idea that came from screenwriter and Star Trek actor, Simon Pegg, and current director Justin Lin. Takei has known of the plans for Sulu to be openly gay for about a year, and even tried to convince Cho to talk the powers-that-be out of the change:
"I told him, '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. This movie is going to be coming out on the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the 50th anniversary of paying tribute to Gene Roddenberry, the man whose vision it was carried us through half a century. Honor him and create a new character.' I urged them. He left me feeling that that was going to happen."
As for Star Trek's current Sulu, Cho likes the new film's approach, "which was not to make a big thing out it. Which is where I hope we are going as a species -- to not politicize one’s personal orientations." Fans will be quick to point out that Star Trek Beyond takes place in an alternate timeline than the previous iterations of Star Trek, which lends itself to more creative freedom from cannon. There is still a chance for more changes as we wait and see what sort of additions will appear in the Star Trek revival series slated to premiere on CBS in 2017.
Star Trek Beyond will premiere at San Diego Comic Con and in theaters on July 22nd. The franchise's 50th anniversary panel will be moderated by new TV series producer, Bryan Fuller, and original Captain James T. Kirk, William Shatner.