Who says Americans don’t get irony? Following the news (see here) that Sulu will be revealed as Star Trek’s first ever LGBT character lead character in Star Trek Beyond – a move that writer Simon Pegg and director Justin Lin partly decided upon in honour of LGBT campaigner and original Sulu star George Takei – the very same George Takei has told The Hollywood Reporter that he’s disappointed with the move, and repeatedly asked the filmmakers to change their minds.
“I’m delighted that there’s a gay character,” he says. “Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of [Star Trek creator] Gene [Roddenberry]’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.”
Takei says that Roddenberry put a lot of thought into the creation of each of his main characters and believes that since Sulu was conceived as heterosexual he should remain so. He also says that Roddenberry only didn’t tackle homosexuality as an issue in the original series because the show was edgy enough already for the ’60s and the network would have baulked at it going that far.
“He was a strong supporter of LGBT equality,” argues Takei. “But he said he has been pushing the envelope and walking a very tight rope — and if he pushed too hard, the show would not be on the air.”
However, while Roddenberry may have created Sulu “straight” the character has hardly been a heterosexual Lothario on screen so you’d think Takei might with pleased with this new development. But apparently, immediately he was told it was going to happen a year ago, he begged the filmmakers to change their minds.
It was current Sulu actor who first contacted Takei with the news. “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.’” Although, you look back at Sulu over the years, and it’s very possible he was closeted.
Director Justin Lin then also contacted Takei about the matter. “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. Honour him and create a new character. I urged them. He left me feeling that that was going to happen.” It didn’t. Despite claiming to have received an email from the film’s writer Simon Pegg praising him for his LGBT campaigning work – which he assumed meant his issues had been addressed – the scene with Sulu and his male partner remained in the film.
“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.”
It’s a shame that news that was received so positively by most fans is now tinged with a note of sourness from a surprise source, but hopefully Takei will eventually change his mind. After all, if Roddenberry was the supported of LGBT rights that Takei claims, and the only reason he didn’t have a gay character in such a progressive show was network interference, then having Sulu come out is the best tribute to the show’s ethos in its 50th year, surely?