The decision to reveal that John Cho’s character Hikaru Sulu is gay in Star Trek Beyond has led to a disagreement between George Takei, who played Sulu in the original series, and Zachary Quinto and Simon Pegg, who star in the new films. The disagreement resembles the kind of argument you might find in a class on constitutional law. On the one hand, Takei, a gay man himself, has said that the revelation is “a twisting of [creator Gene Roddenberry]’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.” On the other, Pegg, who co-wrote Beyond, has argued in a statement via Entertainment Weekly for a broader interpretation, saying that, if not constrained by the political pressures of his time, Roddenberry would have featured queer characters in the Star Trek universe. Quinto, who is gay himself, spoke with Australian news outlet Pedestrian.tv about how he was “disappointed by the fact that George was disappointed.”
“My hope is that eventually George can be strengthened 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 should be,” Quinto said.
In his statement, Pegg stresses that he, director Justin Lin, and screenwriter Doug Jung do not imagine this decision as a coming out for Sulu. “The audience would infer that there has been an LGBT presence in the Trek universe from the beginning (at least in the Kelvin timeline [the timeline of the films]), that a gay hero isn’t something new or strange,” he writes. “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.”
The Star Trek universe was built on inclusion, with a cast far more diverse than most other programs at the time, and Pegg believes that the new films should reflect those intentions. “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,” Pegg wrote, noting that the original series pushed boundaries by including the first interracial kiss on TV, but received significant pushback for doing so. “If he could have explored Sulu’s sexuality with George,” Pegg writes, “he no doubt would have. Roddenberry was a visionary and a pioneer but we choose our battles carefully.”
Then, of course, there is always the argument that Star Trek Beyond and Takei’s Star Trek exist in alternate universes. “Whatever magic ingredient determines our sexuality was different for Sulu in our timeline,” Pegg concludes. “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 be true of this one. Live long and prosper.”