Ahead of the U.S. cinematic release of Star trek Beyond this coming July 22, 2016, the latest instalment of the rebooted Star Trek franchise was recently previewed in Australia. As a result, one seemingly important, timely and cultural story element has been revealed centering around Lt. Hikaru Sulu as currently played by John Cho. Much to the surprise and delight of many Star Trek fans, Star Trek Beyond will feature Lt. Sulu as not only be a loving Father of a beautiful baby girl, but his co-parent and life partner will in fact be a same sex partner, making Lt. Sulu the first openly gay Star trek character.
Interestingly, this new twist on the beloved and cult favorite character Lt. Sulu was purposefully written into the Star Trek Beyond script by Simon Pegg and the film’s director Justin Lin as a way of including the kind of diversity long overdue and well deserved within the Star Trek franchise, while also paying homage to the original Sulu and openly gay George Takei.
In a recent interview with Australia’s The Herald Sun, John Cho had this to say about his character’s now canonized sexual orientation, “I liked the approach, which was not to make a big thing out of it … That is where I hope we are going as a species, to not politicize one’s personal orientations.”
While it is true that the Enterprise’s well known helmsman has never before been portrayed as openly gay, the character’s sexual orientation would seemingly be of little or no consequence in the futuristic and more mature vision of humanity envisioned by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Likewise news of Lt. Sulu now being the first openly gay Star Trek character has been generally met with support and well wishes from both the fans and many other well known Star Trek personalities with one very notable exception; the openly gay and original actor to first portray Lt. Hikaru Sulu, George Takei.
In a recent and exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter Takei did indeed indicate his support of an openly gay Star trek character saying, “I’m delighted that there’s a gay character.” Takei was apparently approached and informed of the decision to make Sulu openly gay while production on Star Trek Beyond was still ongoing at which point he seems to have lobbied for another character to be created who could be introduced as openly gay. In talking directly with John Cho at the time it is reported that Takei said, “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 who is an outspoken and staunch advocate of the LGBTQ Community went on to say, “Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.” It seems that what Takei expressly objects to with the updated Lt. Sulu being openly gay is the fact that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry originally envisioned Sulu as straight. His objection then would seem to be due to his respect for Gene Roddenberry’s creation rather than shunning what seemed to be a fitting and respectful homage to George Takei as the original Sulu along with his long and secret battle as a gay man in a biased Hollywood.
It is however worthwhile to point out that in the HR interview, Takei says that he approached Roddenberry while Star trek was still on the air about introducing a gay character on the show with the iconic and visionary Trek creator indicating that the time was not right for an openly gay character to be publicly accepted, with Takei adding, “. . . he has been pushing the envelope and walking a very tight rope [with Star Trek’s famed interracial kiss] – and if he pushed too hard, the show would not be on the air.”
Takei also went on to say that Roddenberry, “. . . was a strong supporter of LGBT equality,” a fact and perspective supported by screenwriter and science fiction author David Gerrold, who wrote episodes of the original series as well as the animated series, while also working as a story editor on Star trek: The Next Generation. In a recent Facebook post the writer had this to say on the subject of a now openly gay Sulu, “I was there when Gene Roddenberry promised to include gay people in Star Trek. I heard him say it to fans. I heard him say it to staff. It was a promise that he was never allowed to keep because of studio homophobia.”
So while the fans and Star Trek community will surely respect and accept George Takei’s perspective and disagreement with Star Trek Beyond’s introduction of Sulu as openly gay, it may possibly be that The Great Bird of the Galaxy as Gene Roddenberry was affectionately referred to, might actually approve of an updated version of Star Trek which proudly features a strong, versatile and openly gay Lt. Hikaru Sulu.
Either way, it seems that the time has indeed come for there to be an openly gay character within the Star Trek franchise which seems to be the consensus of those Trek personalities who were kind enough to share their thoughts for this article, as was the case with celeste yarnall, who played Martha Landon in the original series episode “The Apple“. The lovely and talented actress had this to say about a now openly gay Lt. Sulu, “I think being honest is always the best thing we can do as we are being true to ourselves….truth is powerful whether on screen or off and everyone should be free to love the gender of their choice in this life . . . so I say Sulu . . . Love openly and Live long and Prosper!”
Manu Intiraymi who portrayed the Borg drone icheb on Star trek Voyager had this to say about Star Trek Beyond’s Lt. Sulu, “We here at “The Circuit” are ecstatic that “Star Trek” has made this decision FINALLY to have an openly gay character. Hats off to the franchise, to George Takei and to John Cho and to each and every person that made this decision.”
Likewise, James Cawley who is best known as the senior executive producer and Cpt. Kirk of the fan made internet series Star Trek: Phase II, added his thoughts on Lt. Sulu saying, “I think its a good idea. We all know Sulu was a straight man in the prime universe, and they have altered the character for this new universe. So in my opinion it is a fitting tribute to George, who I count as a friend and legend.”
SciFiPulse also reached out to Larry Nemecek who is a noted Star Trek author, editor, archivist, consultant, and producer who interestingly referred to Lt. Sulu being reintroduced as openly gay as ‘the retcon of all retcons’ in his recent Trekland internet article which can be read in full at:http://larrynemecek.blogspot.com/2016/07/the-retcon-of-all-retconsor-was-it-sulu.html.
In his article, Nemecek refers to the idea of Sulu being gay as, “. . . the ‘retcon’ that was there all along.” Retcon referring to a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on a previously described event or detail. The author even touched on the possibility of a gay character being introduced in the future on the small screen, “Who cares if they’ve stolen a little thunder from Bryan Fuller’s onrushing new CBS All-Access Trek series, where I’m sure—knowing Bryan, and the annoying time-lag in getting an LGBTQ character finally to onscreen Trek—it is in the offing somehow.”
Michael Okuda who was the scenic art supervisor for every live-action Star Trek show with the exception of the original series and the first three Trek films was concise and to the point saying simply, “Why not? It’s about time.” Along the same lines Michael’s wife Denise Okuda who was a scenic artist on Star trek Deep Space Nine and Star Trek Enterprise as well as on several Trek films, while also acting as the computer and video supervisor on Star Trek Voyager also summed up her thoughts quite succinctly saying, “Sulu Gay? Why not. I think Gene would be pleased.”
Last but certainly not least, Emmy and Academy Award winner Doug Drexler, who served in multiple roles within the Star Trek universe including makeup artist, scenic artist, production illustrator, special and visual effects staffer, TNG and ENT performer, Star Trek author, Star Trek reference and publication artist offered perhaps the most eloquent thoughts on Sulu’s LGBTQ role in the upcoming Star Trek Beyond.
Drexler, “Star Trek is about inclusion for everybody. There are no walls in Star Trek. The very core of the Trek philosophy is IDIC. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.Our very strength lies in our differences. Some people call that tolerance. But tolerance suggests tolerating something. The Star Trek philosophy isn’t about that, it’s not about tolerating differences, it’s about embracing them. Sulu being gay, as a matter of course, is one of the best things I’ve heard about Star Trek Beyond.
The highly respected artist went on to say, “I like my Star Trek to make a stand for human rights. That makes me proud. Star Trek is about ideas. It’s about surprising people with new ways to look at things… sometimes really big things. God, petty nationalism, the waste of war. The idea that love is not black or white but comes in many shades.”
Drexler then ended his insightful thoughts by saying, “You know, Star Trek was saying those things long before it was fashionable, and for Star Trek to remain as smart as it has been, it needs to continue to ask uncomfortable questions. Because that is where the best Star Trek comes from. It’s encouraging to get this news about Beyond.“
At the end of the solor day, it would in fact seem that many Star Trek fans along with a number of notableTrek personalities as referred to within this article, have expressed strong support for the introduction of Sulu as an openly gay character in the rebooted Star Trek franchise. And while some may find it somewhat disappointing that everyone’s ‘Favorite Gay Uncle George’ as Takei is fond of being called does not agree with an openly gay Lt. Sulu at the helm of the U.S.S. Enterprise, we can still respectfully and lovingly allow for Mr. Takei’s perspective. At the same time however, we can still proudly and loudly join him in being supportive of the idea of a more inclusive and diverse Star Trek that speaks to a better tomorrow filled with hope, love, vision, diversity and inclusion for all humanity, if only we have the strength to continue to believe in and work towards a brighter human future as envisioned by Gene Roddenberry.
A special thanks to all those who contributed their time and thoughts to this article and may we all Live Long and Prosper.