John Cho was excited to share the newly revealed sexuality of his “Star Trek: Beyond” character Hikaru Sulu. But George Takei, who portrayed Sulu the first — and the longest — called outing Sulu an “unfortunate” event that should’ve been done to a new character, not an existing one.
However, “Beyond” co-writer Simon Pegg is defending the decision to make Sulu gay in an eloquent statement he released early Friday. There, he said that while he has “huge love and respect for George Takei” and that his “heart, courage and humor” are inspirational, he also has to “respectfully disagree.”
“He’s right, it is unfortunate,” said Pegg, who also plays Scotty in the new film. “It’s unfortunate that the screen version of the most inclusive, tolerant universe in science-fiction hasn’t featured an LGBT character until now.”
Pegg, of course, is referring to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, a community that has been under-represented or completely non-existent in the Star Trek world for the past 50 years.
Takei had suggested to both Cho and “Beyond” director Justin Lin they introduce a new character, but that just would not have worked, Pegg said.
“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,” Pegg said. “And isn’t that tokenism?”
Pegg said he worked with co-writer Doug Jung and Lin to develop the idea of having a gay character, and settled on it being someone audiences already knew “because the audience has a pre-existing opinion of that character as a human being, unaffected by prejudice. Their sexual orientation is just one of many personal aspects, not the defining characteristic.”
And Sulu doesn’t suddenly become gay in the movie. It’s something that would infer an LGBT presence in the Trek universe from the beginning, Pegg said, since Sulu is there from the beginning.
Takei felt it was wrong to have Sulu closeted all these years and now finally allowed to come out, but Pegg maintains the character was never closeted. “Why would he need to be? It just hasn’t come up before.”
The 79-year-old actor told The Hollywood Reporter Cho first informed him of the sexuality reveal last year, and that Takei was immediately discouraging of it. Takei later heard from Lin, who reinforced why they had decided to take this approach with “Beyond.”
When Takei learned they were moving forward with the change despite his objections, he said he wasn’t “heard.” The actor maintains that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry never intended for Sulu to be gay, and that this move would go against his vision. However, if Roddenberry did have a ironclad rule about Sulu’s sexuality, it was never expressed in episodes of “Star Trek” or even the later movies.
Zachary Quinto, the only other openly gay major Star Trek cast member, said he was “disappointed by the fact that George was disappointed.”
“I get it that he’s had his own personal relationship with this character, but you know, as we established in the first Star Trek film in 2009, we’ve created an alternate universe,” Quinto told Pedestrian.tv, according to Entertainment Weekly. “And my hope is that eventually George can be strengthened by by the enormously positive response from especially young people, who are heartened by and 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 it should be.”
Quinto added that it was important to see “normalized and positive portrayals of members of our community in Hollywood and in mainstream blockbuster cinema.”
“Star Trek: Beyond” hits theaters July 22.
UDPDATE: 4:55 p.m. ET to include comments from Zachary Quinto.