George Takei as Capt. Hikaru Sulu in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991). He played the character in the original 1960s TV series and six feature films.
Reports of a disagreement between the screenwriters and director of “Star Trek Beyond” and George Takei over the decision to make the character Hikaru Sulu gay prompted the actor/activist to post the following clarification on Facebook on July 13.
Good morning from Montana! I’ve been here relaxing on vacation, but have noticed that many of you have been following the “gay Sulu” story and wanted to know why I’m being such a sourpuss. I’m writing to set the record “straight,” if you will.
When the news first broke, I gave a lengthy telephone interview, but the headlines have been misleading. Apparently, controversy makes for better sales! Let me be clear: I am not disappointed that there is a gay character in “Star Trek.” On the contrary, as I made clear, I am delighted that the “Star Trek” franchise has addressed this issue, which is truly one of diversity. It is thrilling to know that future generations will not see LGBTs go wholly unrepresented in the Trek universe.
On the specific question of Sulu being gay, when I was first approached with the concept, I responded that I hoped instead that Gene Roddenberry’s original characters and their backgrounds would be respected. How exciting it would be instead if a new hero might be created, whose story could be fleshed out from scratch, rather than reinvented. To me, this would have been even more impactful.
While I understand that we are in an alternate timeline with the new Trek movies, for me it seemed less than necessary to tinker with an existing character in order to fulfill Gene’s hope of a truly diverse Trek universe. And while I am flattered that the character of Sulu apparently was selected as an homage to me, this was never about me or what I wanted. It was about being true to Gene’s vision and storytelling.
Gene had wanted long ago to include LGBT characters, and we spoke personally and specifically about the lack of them. Gene understandably felt constrained by the sensitivities of the time. Some 50 years ago, even TV’s first interracial kiss, between Kirk and Uhura, caused our ratings to plummet as the show was censored across much of the South for that scene. Gene made a conscious decision to make the main characters heterosexual, and worked within those parameters to tell incredible stories that still challenged many cultural values of the time.
So the lack of gay characters was not some oversight by him; it was a conscious decision with which he grappled. I loved Gene as a friend, and I respected his decision and the context under which he created these stories. On this 50th-year anniversary of Star Trek, my hope was to honor his foresight and bravery, as well as his ability to create discussion and diversity despite these constraints.
But “Star Trek” has always pushed the boundaries and opened new opportunities for actors, including myself. I am eternally grateful to have been part of this incredible and continuing family. I wish John Cho well in the role I once played, and congratulate Simon Pegg on his daring and groundbreaking storytelling.
While I would have gone with the development of a new character in this instance, I do fully understand and appreciate what they are doing — as ever, boldly going where no one has gone before. “Star Trek” will live long and prosper.
John Cho as Lt. Hikaru Sulu in “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013). He is playing Sulu for the third time in “Star Trek Beyond,” which opened July 22.