Entertainment

George Takei: Gay Sulu in new Star Trek Beyond is 'really unfortunate'

Star Trek Beyond will portray Sulu as a gay character, a first for the franchise, but it's a move that actor George Takei, who played the character in the original 1960s series, isn't too happy about.

First time franchise has portrayed an openly gay character, but Takei prefers Sulu remain straight

Actor George Takei at the premiere of "Star Trek" at the Grauman's Chinese theatre in Hollywood, California April 30, 2009. The gay rights activist has said he's disappointed the new movie, Star Trek Beyond, will portray Sulu as a gay character. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

When the new movie Star Trek Beyond hits theatres July 22nd, it will portray Sulu as a gay character -- a move that pits original cast member George Takei from the 1960s TV series firmly against the creators of the current film reboot.

This will mark the first time the franchise has portrayed an openly gay character, but it's a move that actor George Takei, who played the character in the original television series, isn't actually happy about.

Takei revealed in 2005 that he is gay and despite his years of silence before that, he has been a vocal and popular LGBT rights activist ever since. 

It was actually with Takei in mind that the film's creators gave a new sexual orientation to the character of Sulu, played by actor John Cho, partly as a way to honour Takei, and also to get with the zeitgeist, and showcase diversity and tolerance in the franchise.

It was Cho who first told Takei that a scene had been included to show that Sulu was gay. 

Members of the "Star Trek" crew in 1988, from right in front: DeForest Kelley, William Shanter and Leonard Nimoy, and back row from right: James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei and Nichelle Nichols, toast the newest "Trek" film during a news conference at Paramount Studios. The series spent just three years on prime-time television but decades in syndication. (The Associated Press)

Takei suggested that introducing a new gay character, rather than having Sulu suddenly being revealed as gay would make more sense artistically in terms of a consistent depiction of the character.

When director Justin Lin and co-writer Simon Pegg both followed up with Takei directly to try to get him on board with their decision to show Sulu in a relationship with a male partner, Takei thought his objections had been heard.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Takei says that while he's "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."

It may seem odd at first blush to assume that Roddenberry, the creator of the TV series that famously broke social barriers in the 1960s, would be unhappy about the depiction of a gay character in the Star Trek franchise.

After all, this was the first American TV show to depict an interracial kiss, between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura, but even featuring a black actress in a lead role was met with outrage in 1968 when that episode aired.

Roddenberry was progressive in his attitude about the need for racial tolerance, publicly stating that the main theme of the series was the need for "tolerance for difference."

So while Roddenberry was willing to push boundaries in an era of real racial tension, his reluctance to be an advocate for gay rights as well, needs to be understood in context.

Takei told The Hollywood Reporter that he suggested to Roddenberry back in 1968 that they tackle the subject of sexual equality in the series, and that while Roddenberry was "a strong supporter of LGBT equality" he felt that if he "pushed too hard, the show would not be on the air."

That concern was prescient.

NBC affiliates declined to air Star Trek's 'interracial kiss' episode in the Southern U.S., resulting in unprecedented low ratings, and in fact, the series was cancelled outright the next season.

Flash forward to the present with Takei finding out just a month ago that the show would indeed go on, despite his objections, with a gay Sulu.

Simon Pegg responded to Takei's concerns on Friday, telling The Guardian newspaper in Britain, that while he has immense respect for the actor, he "must respectfully disagree" with him. 

He insists Roddenberry didn't take on gay themes because he couldn't, not because he didn't want to.

Pegg says introducing a new gay character would amount to tokenism, because "they would be defined by their sexuality, seen as the 'gay character', rather than simply for who they are."

And Star Trek Beyond star Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock, is standing by Pegg today, saying that "as a member of the LGBT community myself, I was disappointed"  with Takei's response.

Quinto told Pedestrian.TV he hopes George will be inspired by "this really tasteful and beautiful portrayal of something that I think is gaining acceptance and inclusion in our societies across the world, and should be."

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