Should Sulu Be Gay?

Yes, it’s another Star Trek post.

John Cho as Sulu

John Cho as Sulu

As you may or may not have heard, both regular and social media have been abuzz lately about the sexual preference of a certain, well-known Star Trek character. Specifically, last week the actor (John Cho) who plays Lt. Hikaru Sulu in the current Star Trek films announced that the upcoming Star Trek Beyond will reveal that the character is gay. However, Cho said the idea was “not to make a big thing out of it,” so a scene was written in which “Sulu is pictured with a male spouse raising their infant child.” I’m not sure if this means there is a photo/hologram of them together or a live scene.

Personally, I am socially conservative and not pushing or looking forward to any LGBT+ characters in Star Trek movies or the new TV series (which Bryan Fuller has already indicated would be the case). But, given the current “climate” and the influence of the LGBT lobby, I know it is inevitable. Assuming there is good characterization and a minimum of, er, physicality — this is a family-friendly franchise, after all –, I can deal with it.

The move was supposed to be in line with creator Gene Roddenberry’s “progressive” leanings, as often reflected in Star Trek TOS & TNG plots, as well as a tribute to the original Sulu actor, George Takei, who came out back in 2005 and is known as an LGBT+ activist. But — surprise, surprise! — Takei, while appreciating the spirit in which it was done, publicly decried the decision as being misguided. As he was quoted in The Hollywood Reporter,

“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.”

The actor knew that co-writer/”Scotty” Simon Pegg and director Justin Lin were talking about having an LGBT character, probably Sulu. Takei had said he would like to see a new LGBT character in the film. “Honor [Roddenberry] and create a new character. I urged them.” He thought they were in agreement; he was mistaken.

Not surprisingly, Pegg “respectfully disagree[s]” with Takei’s position and defended his choice in The Guardian.

“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? …[We] 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.”

Zachary Quinto, the current Spock, is also quite disappointed with Takei….

“As a member of the LGBT community myself, I was disappointed by the fact that George was disappointed. I get it that he has had his own personal journey and has his own personal relationship with this character, but… as we established in the first Star Trek film in 2009, we’ve created an alternate universe.”

George Takei

George Takei

I can see where Pegg and Quinto are coming from, especially with the added factor that the current films take place in the “Kelvin timeline”. But… Takei gets it. As I have been saying regarding reboots and adaptations of longstanding characters, respect the source material. That includes keeping a character — or, at least, a primary one — true as much as possible (at least, regarding major traits) to its original envisioning by the creator. Even if the creator is OK with some changes, respect the longtime fans. (Hear that, Lee Child?!) If you want a cool character to be a different race, religion, body type, personality, sexual preference, etc., then create one. Leave the established characters alone! Or, as Takei put it regarding this particular, iconic character,

“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.”

You tell ’em, George!



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