Yesterday, it seemed Star Trek had finally made huge progress with the announcement that forthcoming film, Star Trek Beyond, will finally include gay characters in its diverse fictional universe. John Cho’s Sulu will now be gay, as not only a reflection of real LGBTQ Trek fans, but also as a tribute to the original Sulu, George Takei. But, suddenly, Takei fired back, telling the Hollywood Reporter that the decision to make the new Sulu gay was “unfortunate.” Feeling defensive of the new film he co-wrote, Simon Pegg (the incumbent Scotty) told the Guardian that while he loves Takei, he “respectfully must disagree with him.” So who is right? Well, it seems they both are.
Judging by his Hollywood Reporter comments, it appears George Takei is a little concerned that John Cho’s Sulu being gay smacks a bit of tokenism and retroactive continuity for the sake of making a statement. Takei’s criticism here is threefold. First, that he asked Justin Lin (Beyond’s director) not to do this. Second, that it suddenly paints Sulu as “closeted.,” And third, that this is “twisting” what Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry intended for Sulu to begin with. It’s easy to see where Takei is coming from. Tokenism in big pop-culture narratives is tricky, particularly when the writer (in this case, Pegg) is not of the minority that is being represented. Further, if Takei asked the creative team on Beyond to create a new character, rather than retroactively make Cho’s Sulu gay, it’s easy to see why this announcement would be frustrating, and even as he put it, “unfortunate.”
On the other hand, Simon Pegg and Justin Lin both made this bold decision with the intention of reversing one of the most glaring omissions from Star Trek’s otherwise inclusive history: the utter lack of any LGBTQ characters in any of the existing 12 feature films or six television series. Simon Pegg’s concern was that if they introduced a new character, then that character would be “primarily defined by their sexuality,” which would possibly lead to immediate criticisms of “tokenism,” since the character would have been portrayed as “the gay character.” Pegg’s aim, then, it seems, was to not present homosexuality in Star Trek as something that has been there all along, rather than something brand new. Plus, even if Gene Roddenberry did intend for the original Sulu to be straight, these films take place in an alternate dimension, so why couldn’t Sulu be gay in this particular universe?
Both Simon Pegg and George Takei probably agree more than they disagree on this issue, and this could be a situation where quotes are being taken out of context immediately after a piece of big news has broken. What’s important here to remember is that both of these men love and respect Star Trek, are invested in forwarding an agenda of tolerance and love, and at the end of the day, clearly aspire to the ideal of a future in which none of these discussions will even be necessary.