In an homage to George Takei, Star Trek Beyond is set to reveal that the character Takei originated, Hikaru Sulu, is gay. Given Takei’s years of LGBTQ advocacy, the move should come as a thoughtful gesture to his legacy. The only problem: It’s one that Takei actively lobbied against. Per Takei’s argument to The Hollywood Reporter, while the franchise is absolutely right to introduce gay characters, Star Trek Beyond ought to have done so by creating an original gay character, while Sulu — who Takei says is canonically straight — should have remained faithful to the design of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. He explained: “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. I think it’s really unfortunate.” Takei is additionally frustrated by the revelation because he believes it reads as Sulu coming out of the closet, when someone in the 23rd century should never have been in one. On this note, it’s iffy as to whether the canon supports Takei: Since the new movies take place before the original series, Sulu would have to have been an out gay man who later lives as a heterosexual. And while Takei is adamant that Roddenberry conceived Sulu as straight, Sulu’s lack of love interests in the original series makes that claim difficult to prove beyond Sulu having a daughter who, according to a Star Trek novel, was conceived during a one-night stand with a woman.
Takei’s case may lack technical strength (and may be short-sighted for sacrificing progressive representation to canon absolutism), but it’s not exactly heartening that Takei brought his concerns to the Star Trek Beyond creative team — the people supposedly honoring him — and was ignored.
When John Cho (the film’s Sulu) shared the news with Takei, Takei says he told Cho, “Be imaginative and create a character who has a history of being gay, rather than Sulu, who had been straight all this time, suddenly being revealed as being closeted.” He also repeated his plea to the film’s director, Justin Lin. “Honor [Roddenberry] and create a new character. I urged them. He left me feeling that that was going to happen,” Takei said. But despite Lin’s seeming receptiveness, the decision to reveal Sulu as gay remained; Star Trek Beyond features a scene of Sulu with husband and child, and Takei says he’s “not going to change” his mind on the matter. Tricky press tour: Commence.
Update: Takei still hasn’t changed his mind, but he may have softened it a little. The Star Trek actor’s initial disapproval of a gay Sulu sparked a wave of disappointment from fans and the Star Trek Beyond team alike, and it’s in that aftermath that Takei has taken to Facebook to, as he says, “set the record ‘straight.’” First off, Takei insists, while he may disagree with the particular method used, he is “delighted that the Star Trek franchise has addressed this issue, which is truly one of diversity.” Takei also acknowledges that because of the films’ alternate timeline, his fear of retroactively closeting Sulu doesn’t really hold water — but, to Takei, the technicality is not the point. He wrote: “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.”
He also explained that although he is touched by the Star Trek Beyond team’s attempt to honor him, he doesn’t see himself as the one in needed of said attention. “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,” he said. Ultimately, though Takei admits to being a “sourpuss” about the route Star Trek Beyond has taken to achieve progress, he still wishes the film well: “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.” Read his full post below.