I have good news and bad news. The good news: the main Star Trek franchise is, after 50 years of coughing and looking in the other direction, finally getting a major gay character. The bad news: nobody can agree on whether it’s being done in the right way for the right reasons. If you haven’t been following the whole kerfuffle, here’s the gist: George Takei is disappointed, Simon Pegg and Zachary Quinto are disappointed that George Takei is disappointed, John Cho wants everyone to chill, and Gene Roddenberry is still dead. And that’s not even factoring in the outpouring of Twitter whining that always follows hints that maybe people other than straight white men belong in sci-fi:
The news that’s making Nick Hay’s head explode is that the new Star Trek film will show the Enterprise’s sword-wielding, plant-loving helmsman, Hikaru Sulu, with his husband and daughter. Sulu’s daughter is not a new character – she appeared in Star Trek: Generations – but her other parent has never been included on screen before.
John Cho, who plays Sulu, told the Herald Sun that he “liked the approach, which was not to make a big thing out of it, which is where I hope we are going as a species, to not politicize one’s personal orientations.”
The original Sulu, George Takei, is married to a man and is known for gay and trans rights activism. Many have assumed that the decision to make Sulu the franchise’s first onscreen gay or bisexual character is at least partially a tribute to Takei – Vulture called the decision “a clear homage” to him. It turns out, however, that this is one honor Takei doesn’t want.
While Takei is “delighted that there’s a gay character,” he told the Hollywood Reporter that the decision to make that character Sulu is “a twisting of Gene [Roddenberry’s] creation” and “really unfortunate.”
As Uncle George himself would say, oh my. That’s a big name in the “no” column. What makes Takei so opposed to the choice?
Well, it turns out that he would have preferred the writers create a new gay character, because, he says, he doesn’t like the idea that the Sulu of the original series was closeted. Wait a minute, Mr. Takei. I went to the movies in 2009; I saw Old Man Leonard Nimoy talk about rebooting the entire universe. All bets are off as far as the original canon is concerned, right?
In a statement that appeared in the Guardian, new writer (and current Scotty) Simon Pegg said just that. He “respectfully disagree[d]” with Takei and mentioned the flexibility that comes with the new timeline. Because this new series takes place in an alternate reality, the writers are free to make whatever changes they want to details from the original series without conflicting with the old canon. Voilà. A closet-free Sulu at the helm.
Besides, “The viewing audience weren’t open minded enough at the time and it must have forced Roddenberry to modulate his innovation,” Pegg said. “[…] If he could have explored Sulu’s sexuality with George, no doubt he would have.”
Zachary Quinto (Spock) also weighed in: “As a member of the LGBT community myself, I was disappointed in the fact that George was disappointed.”
Takei and Rodenberry actually discussed the possibility of gay and bisexual people on the Enterprise way back in the 1960s. According to Takei, Roddenberry felt the risk of cancellation was too high and cited the backlash surrounding Kirk and Uhura’s interracial kiss.
“I’m treading a fine tight wire here,” Takei remembers him saying.
Decades later, we’re finally getting two married dudes in a Trek film, and everybody’s too busy disagreeing about timelines and continuity and whether Gene Roddenberry would have really wanted it this way to appreciate it. Well, except the Twitter whiners. They wouldn’t be appreciating it anyway. Roddenberry himself is still unavailable for comment, seeing as he’s been dead since 1991. That’s the thing about handling someone’s legacy – you don’t have them there to tell you how to move forward. And Star Trek is ideally always moving forward.
We’ve come a long way from the “fine tight wire” that Gene Roddenberry had to walk. Technicalities and infighting aside, there’s a gay person at the helm of the Enterprise. A few weeks ago, I could only see myself in Star Trek in allegories and suggestion and conveniently androgynous aliens. This week, I’m in the stars with everybody else. Hopefully, Sulu will be just the first, rather than the only.
The Star Trek reboot has already had ups and downs – I’m still baffled by how anybody could think the best answer to “Who should play Ricardo Montalbán’s part?” would ever be “Benedict Cumberbatch” – but we’re going forward. Maybe not as boldly as we should be, and maybe with some bumps along the way, but forward all the same. And that’s the Star Trek spirit. Everything else is details.