The inclusion of a brief moment in the upcoming “Star Trek Beyond” which shows the regular character of Sulu to be gay became the unexpected focal point for a back-and-forth in the press last week.
What initially seemed a very well-received character moment became awkward when actor George Takei, who played Sulu on the original 1960s TV series, spoke out publicly about his unhappiness with the creative direction taken by those involved including co-writer Simon Pegg. Pegg responded quite eloquently and has now followed that up with two more lengthy quotes about the issue in a new posting.
First up, Pegg has a lengthy explanation for how Sulu can be gay in the new canon despite Takei’s insistence that the character is conceived as straight – and has all to do with the new ‘alternate timeline’ of the films:
“With the Kelvin timeline, we are not entirely beholden to existing canon, this is an alternate reality and, as such is full of new and alternate possibilities. ‘BUT WAIT!’ I hear you brilliant and beautiful super Trekkies cry, ‘Canon tells us, Hikaru Sulu was born before the Kelvin incident, so how could his fundamental humanity be altered? Well, the explanation comes down to something very Star Treky; theoretical, quantum physics and the less than simple fact that time is not linear.
Sure, we experience time as a contiguous series of cascading events but perception and reality aren’t always the same thing. Spock’s incursion from the Prime Universe created a multidimensional reality shift. The rift in space/time created an entirely new reality in all directions, top to bottom, from the Big Bang to the end of everything. As such this reality was, is and always will be subtly different from the Prime Universe. I don’t believe for one second that Gene Roddenberry wouldn’t have loved the idea of an alternate reality (Mirror, Mirror anyone?).
This means, and this is absolutely key, the Kelvin universe can evolve and change in ways that don’t necessarily have to follow the Prime Universe at any point in history, before or after the events of Star Trek ’09, it can mutate and subvert, it is a playground for the new and the progressive and I know in my heart, that Gene Roddenberry would be proud of us for keeping his ideals alive. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations, this was his dream, that is our dream, it should be everybody’s.”
Pegg also spoke about why he and director Justin Lin wanted an established character to be gay, rather than a new one. He explained, bluntly, that Sulu was chosen because of Takei:
“The main thrust for those who aren’t keen on our LGBT Sulu, seems to come down to two things. Firstly, why Sulu? It’s a good point, I mean it could have been anybody: Kirk is a pansexual fun seeker; who knows why Bones got divorced? Nobody said Spock and Uhura were exclusive; Chekov is just permanently horny and let’s face it, there’s more to Scotty and Keenser than meets the eye.
The fact is, we chose Sulu because of George, there was something sweet and poetic about it. Introducing a new gay character had its own set of problems, as I mentioned before, the sexuality of that character would have to be addressed immediately and pointedly and the new characters in Star Trek Beyond have enough on their plate, without stopping to give us the intimate details of their personal lives. We were concerned it might seem clumsy, tokenistic or worse, too little too late, raising and exasperated, “finally!” from those who’ve been waiting for representation for the last 50 years.
So why persist when George Takei wasn’t keen? The thinking behind embracing an existing character was that it felt as though it retroactively put right something that had long been wrong. By the time, we mentioned it to GT, the idea had taken shape, it felt good, interesting and worthy of thought and conversation.
We were disappointed that George didn’t see it that way but, truth be told, Sulu Prime seemed to be missing a very important point. With galaxies of respect to the great man, this is not his Sulu. John Cho does not play a young George Takei, nor does he play the same character George Takei played in the original series. He is a different Sulu.
However you feel about the issue, you’ll be able to make up your own mind when the film opens next Friday around much of the world. Also check out the first official clip from the film below: