Friday, July 8, 2016

New Sulu Revealed as Gay, Called Unfortunate By Original Sulu (Updated)

In an interview promoting Star Trek Beyond in Australia, John Cho revealed to the Herald Sun that his character of Sulu is gay. Cho said “I liked the approach, which was not to make a big thing out it, which is where I hope we are going as a species, to not politicise one’s personal orientations". The previous movie revealed the character had a daughter in a brief scene so wouldn't be surprised if handled in a similar blink or you will miss it manner. The choice to make the character gay was made by Beyond co-writer Simon Pegg and director Justin Lin as a nod of respect to George Takai who originated the character of Sulu. However it seems the effort somewhat backfired as the actor was not pleased. Takai told The Hollywood Reporter, "I’m delighted that there’s a gay character. Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate."
Takei first learned of Sulu's recent same-sex leanings last year, when Cho called him to reveal the big news. Takei tried to convince him to make a new character gay instead. "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.'" (Takei had enough negative experiences inside the Hollywood closet, he says, and strongly feels a character who came of age in the 23rd century would never find his way inside one.)

"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. Honor him and create a new character. I urged them. He left me feeling that that was going to happen," Takei says.

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."
I have a feeling Simon Pegg and company are going to be hurt by his words since they were approaching this with good intentions and were attempting to honor him. While I appreciate his honestly, it would have probably been best if Takai had done the verbal equivalent of nodding along and pretending to agree. Ultimately from a "Star Trek" perspective the concept of IDIC (Infinite Diveristy in Infinite Combinations) means the average Trekker embraces the differences so gay or not gay he is still Sulu.

Update: Simon Pegg responded to George Takai's statements:
“I have huge love and respect for George Takei, his heart, courage and humour are an inspiration. However, with regards to his thoughts on our Sulu, I must respectfully disagree with him.”

“Justin Lin, Doug Jung and I loved the idea of it being someone we already knew because the audience have a pre-existing opinion of that character as a human being, unaffected by any prejudice. Their sexual orientation is just one of many personal aspects, not the defining characteristic. Also, the audience would infer that there has been an LGBT presence in the Trek Universe from the beginning (at least in the Kelvin timeline), that a gay hero isn’t something new or strange. It’s also important to note that at no point do we suggest that our Sulu was ever closeted, why would he need to be? It’s just hasn’t come up before.”

“I don’t believe Gene Roddenberry’s decision to make the prime timeline’s Enterprise crew straight was an artistic one, more a necessity of the time. Trek rightly gets a lot of love for featuring the first interracial kiss on US television, but Plato’s Stepchildren was the lowest rated episode ever."

“The viewing audience weren’t open minded enough at the time and it must have forced Roddenberry to modulate his innovation. His mantra was always ‘infinite diversity in infinite combinations’. If he could have explored Sulu’s sexuality with George, he no doubt would have. Roddenberry was a visionary and a pioneer but we choose our battles carefully.”

“Our Trek is an alternate timeline with alternate details,” he wrote. “Whatever magic ingredient determines our sexuality was different for Sulu in our timeline. I like this idea because it suggests that in a hypothetical multiverse, across an infinite matrix of alternate realities, we are all LGBT somewhere. Whatever dimension we inhabit, we all just want to be loved by those we love (and I love George Takei). I can’t speak for every reality but that must surely true of this one. Live long and prosper.”
I am tickled that a mainstream actor made use of "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations." That phrase does not get nearly the attention it deserves. It summarizes everything Star Trek represents and what humanity should strive for in five simple words. That its not part of our mainstream pop culture is an area where Trekkies dropped the ball.

My take on the issue is essentially identical with Simon Pegg's. As far as impact, taking a known character and making him gay has much more of an impact than a new one off character would. Per IDIC, my feeling is the average Trekker doesn't really care about his sexuality beyond the usual geekfan fandom of debating the minutia of continuity and the like which is part of the fun of any universe building. Like for me it is a shame the character wasn't known to be gay in the first movie so John Cho could have acted some moments just a touch more differently so when it was "officially" revealed in the third movie, those scenes could be looked at in a new light. I suspect Takai will come around, he was just protecting the vision of a friend named Gene Roddenberry.

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