George Takei and Simon Pegg disagree on Sulu sexuality in Star Trek Beyond

When news broke yesterday that the character of Sulu (John Cho) would be revelaed as gay in the new STAR TREK BEYOND movie in honor of original series actor George Takei, many cheered it as a bold, progressive move. Homosexual characters, especially in big budget movies, are rarer than a unicorn made out of mint-condition Charizard Pokemon cards, and it's fantastic the crew behind STAR TREK was ready to take that leap. However, not everyone is pleased, and the most outspoken critic has been, to manys surprise, is Takei himself.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Takei had some less than approving words on the decision to reveal the character as gay, and having him been in the closet until this film.

"I’m delighted that there’s a gay character," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s [Roddenberry] creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate."

In this newest TREK film, the character will be shown raising a daughter with his partner, while the Reporter makes a point that series creator Roddenberry had always meant Sulu (Takei) in the show to be straight. But although he does have a daughter in the show named Demora, we never see Sulu with a wife or love interest.

"It was, to put it crudely, a one-night stand with a glamazon," Takei explains. "A very athletic, powerful and stunningly gorgeous woman. That’s Demora’s mother."

Takei had been contacted by Cho within the last year informing him on the change. Takei had never really been supportive.

"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.'"

Takei would go on to say that, being in the 23rd century, Sulu would never have to worry about coming out as gay, something Takei kept hidden about himself until 2005. Later, he was contacted by BEYOND director Justin Lin who told him the character would remain gay in the film, and was even contacted via email by writer/actor Simon Pegg, who used the email to praise Takei's work in the LGBTQ community.

"I said, '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," Takei says.
"I really tried to work with these people when at long last the issue of gay equality was going to be addressed," Takei says. "I thought after that conversation with Justin that was going to happen. Months later, when I got that email from Simon Pegg, I was kind of confused. He thinks I’m a great guy? Wonderful. But what was the point of that letter? I interpreted that as my words having been heard."

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum is Pegg who responded to Takei in an interview with 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.”

The only real way in which Pegg agrees with Takei is on the word "unfortunate":

“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 would add that he feels that in the TREK universe a gay hero "isn’t something new or strange," and that Sulu's character was never meant to be portrayed as closeted, but that "It’s just hasn’t come up before.”

But I think Pegg's best defense is the time period when the original series was released. He makes a thoughtful observation when it comes to Roddenberry's ability to make one of his characters gay during a time when such a thing would've been frowned upon, to put it lightly:

“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.”

So yeah, Takei's not happy. I see his point that it seems contrary to Roddenberry's original vision for the character to make him gay, but ultimately I feel he would approve and agree with Pegg. STAR TREK has always been about transcending social boundaries, as well and planetary ones. This move to make the character gay supports that ideal and proves that TREK has the ability to make great leaps in social progression. Though the character may not have always been gay in TREK, I think this change still honors Roddenberry's overall philosophy, which was: We all live in a shared universe and make up many creeds, orientations and species, but that doesn't mean we all shouldn't be accepted.

STAR TREK BEYOND comes out July 22



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