John Cho, star of Star Trek: Beyond, announced today that Sulu is gay, shacking up with a dude, and raising a kid with him in the new movie. About fucking time, right? I mean, socially conscious Star Trek’s got it’s first officially gay character only 10 years after Will and Grace went off the air. Hell, All in the Family had a Very Special Gay Episode nearly 40 years ago. But who’s counting? This is a mitzvah. Hooray, Gay Sulu!
But there’s one person not at all happy with the change: LGBTQ über-mensch, George Takei. I’ll give you a second to sip some coffee and then proceed to spit it on your screen. Yes, George apparently wanted director Justin Lin to create a brand new gay character and lobbied against this change for several reasons. First of all, he didn’t want it to seem like his character, which he claims was straight (though the only evidence of that that I can think of is Sulu going on about how hot Lee Meriwether was while she was trying to kill him in That Which Survives) and if he’s shown as gay in Beyond that means his character was closeted all those years.
George’s other main issue is that Gene created a character that was straight (again, little evidence for this) and we should respect the intentions of The Creator. I can see George’s perspective on the first issue somewhat as it is his character and he played it a certain way. Closeted Sulu is bad. But the second issue – that Roddenberry’s wishes should be honored – is not only insane, but sets a bad precedent in a world of continual remakes and reboots.
Let’s talk about Gene Wesley Roddenberry for a second, shall we? He was a homophobe. He said so himself in one of his last interviews and he apologized for it along with being a lecherous womanizer. Here’s the quote:
My attitude toward homosexuality has changed. I came to the conclusion that I was wrong. I was never someone who hunted down “fags” as we used to call them on the street. I would, sometimes, say something anti-homosexual off the top of my head because it was thought, in those days, to be funny.
Man, I hate to have been George, William Ware Theiss, or David Gerrold in those days. There is no reason why we should abide by the intentions of 1960’s era Gene. If we did that then any gay character at all would be out of the question. I’m going to take Gene at his word that he changed in his old age and assume he’d be OK with a gay Sulu.
Now, let’s deal with the idea that characters are sacred icons that cannot be revamped in later incarnations. Considering how little original material Hollywood gives us it would be impossible for us to ever get any representation beyond what 1930s-1980’s American politics allowed. That would mean the same straight, white, male protagonists again and again and again in reboot after reboot forever. This is the reasoning that keeps Donald Glover from playing Peter Parker (Don’t give me that Miles Morales crap. No one in the general public knows who that is). This is also an argument used in the gaming world where even changing a character’s gender in an unofficial ROM hack is reason to have a tantrum (read the comments). So to hear it from Takei is kind of disheartening. Chucking this mentality gave us a Hispanic Adama, and a lady Starbuck and Boomer in the new Battlestar Galactica. That show was much better for it. So why wouldn’t Star Trek be better off with a little change up as well?
If Hollywood won’t make any new properties and the old properties it remakes have to keep their original cast’s demographics then we will never see people of color, women, or LGBTQ characters in places of prominence let alone leading rolls in genre properties. It just won’t happen. So hooray, lady Starbuck! Hooray, Black Spiderman! And three cheers for gay Sulu! Hell, where’s my omnisexual Kirk? It’s the 21st century. What kind of boring character only sleeps with women these days?