In a recent interview, George Takei, original portrayer of Hikaru Sulu, expresses his dismay that John Cho's Sulu will be revealed as gay in Star Trek Beyond, in theaters a few weeks from now. Read about Takei's thoughts here.
I don't get it, because Takei came out of the closet more than a decade ago. You'd think he'd be thrilled that the new movie pays tribute to his legacy like that. Yet he steadfastly insists that this decision instead flies in the face of everything Gene Roddenberry sought to accomplish. I just don't get it.
Star Trek's legacy of tackling the issue of the LGBT community is a spotty one. Various episodes have done analogies about it over the years ("The Host" and "The Outcast" from The Next Generation, "Rejoined" from Deep Space Nine, for instance), but famously, the franchise has never touched on it directly. "Trouble with Tribbles" screenwriter David Gerrold pitched such a script to Next Generation, but it was rejected. Advocates have suggested it could be as simple as showing background actors engaged in same-sex relationships, without ever having to draw direct attention to it. To have a main character, especially one as well-known, in either incarnation, as Sulu, is groundbreaking in a way that at one time seemed impossible.
It's all the more baffling because, as pointed out, Takei himself is gay. You'd think he would be thrilled. But Star Trek can sometimes be overly protective of its own legacy. Gene Roddenberry famously nixed the idea of having Saavik, who appeared in prominent roles in Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock, being revealed as a Federation traitor in Undiscovered Country, because he thought she'd reached "beloved character status." I guess the same didn't go for Cartwright, who wasn't nearly as lucky. He appeared as a good guy in Voyage Home, and as a bad guy in Undiscovered Country.
I have to assume that's the kind of logic at play here. Leonard Nimoy nixed an appearance in Generations because he felt the script didn't give enough justification for Spock to be there. (Scotty and Chekov more or less got the material intended for the famous Vulcan.) He didn't want to appear in the would-be '70s TV show, and requested Spock's death in Wrath of Khan because he still didn't want to continue in the franchise. Takei, meanwhile, has been advocating nearly as hard as Shatner to make further appearances in the franchise. One gets the impression, based on his further remarks, that if a gay character finally appeared in Star Trek, it would have to be Takei playing the part. Just not as Sulu. For whatever reason.
Maybe it's the psychology of being a gay man who spent more than half his life having to hide who he was, I don't know. But it just doesn't make sense to me. As the article points out, Sulu by far had the least character definition from his generation. Uhura, at least, got to sing and dance. Chekov had his Russian heritage. Sulu? He fenced that one time, and liked antique pistols. That's basically the extent of the Sulu biography, from three seasons and six movies.
There's also the matter of the promotion. Sulu was supposed to be a captain in Wrath of Khan. One of the reasons Takei in particular is bitter to this day toward Shatner is because that didn't happen. I can't really say what Sulu had done, particularly, to that point in Star Trek lore, that would have justified such a rank, other than for the mere sake of doing it. Chekov was the only character who'd been reassigned to another ship as of that film. There was another character moment lost in the filming of Voyage Home, in which Sulu would have met his own ancestor, if the little kid they chose had been a committed actor of any extraction. And anyway, he did become captain, the only character to be anywhere besides the bridge of the Enterprise during Undiscovered Country, besides the imperiled Kirk and Bones.
His daughter appears in Generations. According to the non-canon novel Captain's Daughter, I guess Sulu has a one-night fling with some kind of goddess? Definitely an air-tight case for heterosexuality, right there...There's literally nothing preventing Sulu from always having been gay, from Takei's era to Cho's. Into Darkness had already given Takei's Sulu a direct nod in a deliberate sequence where Sulu's command ability is proven, just like the combat training joke from Star Trek. It's entirely within the character of the new Star Trek movies to continue making direct nods to Takei's Sulu, both in front of and behind the camera. He should be flattered beyond all measure at this point.
So again, I say it just doesn't make sense to me. There are ways to explain it, but they're all incredibly weak. Cho's Sulu is gay. End of story. This is a good thing, George Takei.