During an interview posted Thursday, John Cho revealed his character Sulu is gay in the upcoming film Star Trek Beyond. While Cho praised the casual approach taken by the Star Trek Beyond team in showing Sulu’s sexuality, original Sulu actor George Takei wasn’t happy about the news. The openly gay actor, who originated the role in Gene Roddenberry’s TV series, called the Sulu revelation “unfortunate” and argued for the franchise to develop a new LGBTQ character for the screen.
In a written statement obtained by EW, Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty and worked on the script for Star Trek Beyond, explained why he disagrees with that assessment. “I have huge love and respect for George Takei, his heart, courage and humor are an inspiration. However, with regards to his thoughts on our Sulu, I must respectfully disagree with him,” he wrote.
“He’s right, it is unfortunate; it’s unfortunate that the screen version of the most inclusive, tolerant universe in science-fiction hasn’t featured an LGBT character until now. 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?”
Pegg continued, “[Beyond director] Justin Lin, [screenwriter] 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.”
Takei’s main grievance, which he told The Hollywood Reporter, was over Roddenberry’s original vision for Star Trek. “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,” he said. “I think it’s really unfortunate.”
To that, Pegg argued, “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.”
Cho reprises his role of Sulu alongside Chris Pine’s Kirk, Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, Zachary Quinto’s Spock, Karl Urban’s Bones, and Anton Yelchin’s Chekhov for Star Trek Beyond, out in theaters on July 22. It’s the third Star Trek film with that cast, and Pegg further reiterated that Beyond is part of “an alternate timeline with alternate details.”
“Whatever magic ingredient determines our sexuality was different for Sulu in our timeline,” he wrote. “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. I can’t speak for every reality but that must surely true of this one. Live long and prosper.”
In a footnote, Pegg reaffirmed his love for Takei. “And I [love] George Takei,” Pegg wrote, with a heart emoji.