George Takei clarifies criticism of gay Sulu role in new ‘Star Trek’ film

Actor John Cho announced the news of character's sexuality ahead of 'Star Trek Beyond'

Star Trek legend George Takei has clarified comments he previously made about the decision to reveal that character Mr Sulu is gay in the next instalment of the sci-fi franchise.

Actor John Cho, who plays Sulu in the reboot films, recently confirmed that the character will be revealed to be gay in Star Trek Beyond.

The development in Sulu’s character is believed to be a nod to Takei by director Justin Lin and writer/star Simon Pegg. Takei came out as gay in 2005, and later claimed that he would have struggled to find work as a gay Asian-American if he had revealed his sexuality while filming the show during the 1960’s.

Takei initially responded to the news by saying that while he’s “delighted” that there will be a gay character in the film, he feels that the decision instead not to simply introduce a new LGBT character is “really unfortunate”.

Simon Pegg later responded to Takei’s comments, saying, “We could have introduced a new gay character, but he or she would have been primarily defined by their sexuality, seen as the ‘gay character’, rather than simply for who they are, and isn’t that tokenism?”

Takei has now written a lengthy Facebook post about the furore, stating that he wanted to set the record straight about “why I’m being such a sourpuss”.

“When the news first broke, I gave a lengthy telephone interview, but the headlines have been misleading,” Takei writes. “Apparently, controversy makes for better sales! Let me be clear: I am not disappointed that there is a gay character in Star Trek. On the contrary, as I made clear, I am delighted that the Star Trek franchise has addressed this issue, which is truly one of diversity. It is thrilling to know that future generations will not see LGBTs go wholly unrepresented in the Trek universe.”

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He continues, “On the specific question of Sulu being gay, when I was first approached with the concept, I responded that I hoped instead that Gene Roddenberry’s original characters and their backgrounds would be respected. How exciting it would be instead if a new hero might be created, whose story could be fleshed out from scratch, rather than reinvented. To me, this would have been even more impactful. While I understand that we are in an alternate timeline with the new Trek movies, for me it seemed less than necessary to tinker with an existing character in order to fulfill Gene’s hope of a truly diverse Trek universe. And while I am flattered that the character of Sulu apparently was selected as an homage to me, this was never about me or what I wanted. It was about being true to Gene’s vision and storytelling.”

“Gene had wanted long ago to include LGBT characters, and we spoke personally and specifically about the lack of them. Gene understandably felt constrained by the sensitivities of the time. Some fifty years ago, even TV’s first interracial kiss, between Kirk and Uhura, caused our ratings to plummet as the show was censored across much of the South for that scene. Gene made a conscious decision to make the main characters heterosexual, and worked within those parameters to tell incredible stories that still challenged many cultural values of the time. So the lack of gay characters was not some oversight by him; it was a conscious decision with which he grappled. I loved Gene as a friend, and I respected his decision and the context under which he created these stories. On this 50th year anniversary of Star Trek, my hope was to honour his foresight and bravery, as well as his ability to create discussion and diversity despite these constraints.”

“But Star Trek has always pushed the boundaries and opened new opportunities for actors, including myself. I am eternally grateful to have been part of this incredible and continuing family. I wish John Cho well in the role I once played, and congratulate Simon Pegg on his daring and groundbreaking storytelling. While I would have gone with the development of a new character in this instance, I do fully understand and appreciate what they are doing—as ever, boldly going where no one has gone before. Star Trek will live long and prosper.”

Speaking to Australian paper The Herald Sun during press duties for the third instalment in the sci-fi franchise, John Cho said that the film will reveal that Mr Sulu is a father with a same-sex partner and daughter.

He also praised the film for presenting the new development in a casual and nuanced fashion. Cho said, “I liked the approach, which was to not make a big thing out of it. [That] is where I hope we are going as a species, to not politicise one’s personal orientations.”