Science Friction

After George Takei Protests, Zachary Quinto Defends Making Sulu Gay In New “Star Trek”

zachary quinto

It’s been a rollercoaster week for Trekkies everywhere following news that Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu — formerly played by George Takei and portrayed by John Cho in the latest reboot — is discovered to be gay and married in the upcoming Star Trek Beyond. 

Cho broke the news to Australia’s Daily Sunsaying, “I liked the approach, which was not to make a big thing out of it, which is where I hope we are going as a species, to not politicize one’s personal orientations.”

Related: 9 Film Franchises That Need Gay Characters Now

But Takei, to whom producers were giving a nod by turning his iconic character into a gay man, was surprisingly displeased by the news, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “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.”

Related: PHOTOS: “X-Men” Star Nicholas Hoult Reminds Audiences Of His Fine Assets

Following that, Star Trek writer and actor Simon Pegg, who plays chief engineer Montgomery Scott (known affectionately as “Scotty”), told The Hollywood Reporter that he “must respectfully disagree”:

I have huge love and respect for George Takei, his heart, courage and humor are an inspiration. However, with regards to his thoughts on our Sulu, I must respectfully disagree with him.

“He’s right, it is unfortunate, it’s unfortunate that the screen version of the most inclusive, tolerant universe in science fiction hasn’t featured an LGBT character until now. 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, and isn’t that tokenism?”

Now, openly gay actor Zachary Quinto, who portrays Spock in the reboot films, has let the world know that he’s 100% in favor of the plot choice , telling Pedestrian.TV:

As a member of the LGBT community myself, I was disappointed by the fact that George was disappointed.

“Any member of the LGBT community that takes issue with the normalised and positive portrayal of members of our community in Hollywood and in mainstream blockbuster cinema… I get it that he has had his own personal journey and has 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.

“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.”

Where do you stand on the executive decision to marry off Sulu to a man in the name of representation? Sound off in the comments below.

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35 Comments

  • Seattle Silver

    George Takei is right! He makes an excellent point…His character on the series (as played by him) was straight. He fathered a child by some Amazonian-type alien, as per one of the Star Trek series’ books. At the very least, he’s not outwardly gay.

    Now, with a representation of his character much earlier in the character’s life, he’s “coming out” as gay? So, first he’s straight (adolescent), then he’s gay (young adult), then he’s back in the closet (as the older adult represented by George Takei).

    George was right. Yeah-rah for representing the LGBT community; just do it with a new character.

  • Bob LaBlah

    And to think I thought the “romance” between Spock and Uhura was silly.

  • SamDixon3972

    I am pleased that the character called Sulu, comes out as a gay man in the newest Star Trek movie. Gay fans of Star Trek and others have argued for years about the non-inclusion of visible gay characters. There were arguments about how to portray a gay character without making that issue the central focus of the episode, and rather just a normal part of someone’s life. Adding in issues of syndication, marketing, time-slots, audience readiness – these arguments raged on for a long while. There were plenty of opinions all about this issue – and then there’s the reality of good story telling.

    There’s the canon – the work that has been produced and shown on-screen as the bible, and there’s the “built-up” history of work in books, magazines and alternative productions. Sulu as a character was not completely defined, except for having a daughter, and liking tea.

    The old show seemed to say that there were no women captains of star-ships, and definitely no Black high-ranking officers or captains. The later television series and movies changed that, and showed repeatedly the inclusiveness of Star Trek. That tradition continues with the inclusion of gay characters, especially where being gay is just a regular part of the person.

    I was dis-heartened that George Takei was not pleased with this turn of events. I understand his reasons – as he understood the character Sulu from its earliest creation, and the thinking of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the series. After the original series, 10 movies, and 5 separate complete television series, and hundreds of books and stories – the thinking was that the legend that turned into a kind of straight-jacket with very few original brand new ideas left to tell science fiction stories.

    The new Star Trek movies was a “re-boot” of the iconic series – to breath some new life into the legends, and to travel in different but interesting new directions. Events and characters that had appeared in “the old show” did not “have to” occur in exactly the same ways as before. Things changed! In the old show Uhura and Spock definitely did not ever kiss! The character Sulu being gay and having a daughter – be-fits this long time loved character is a plus in my book. Sulu as a character does not “just belong” to George Takei, the actor who for a long time played the character, but to the millions of Star Trek fans – straight, gay and everything else.

    It was and remains an honor that George Takei has provided us with his intellect, wit and humanity to play the Sulu character, and the other roles he has taken on. He remains in my book an inspiration to living life as a gay man, proud and free. I view having the character Sulu being a gay character is also a tribute to George Takei, and the character he gave life to. Now there’s a new set of stories to tell because of new or different ways of thinking. There are so many stories to tell within the Star Trek universe about gay folk, straight folk, every thing and every one in between! Infinite variety in infinite forms!

  • tham

    Wow, talk about that old saying “You can never please an old Queen”.

    I was alway offended by the back talk on Kirk and Spock being secret lovers (two males can have a close friendship and not be gay…thank you very much). It was a classic case of guy shaming (you know, if you hang out too much with your guys friends, you’re a homo).

    As for Sulu, regardless of the actor, the character itself is a natural for being the gay character. In fact I believe Gene secretly planned that…as a character, he was the only one who never had a fling with a women or express feelings of affection during the tv shows or movies. Chekhov had Irina, Kirk had Carol Marcus, Spock had Christine Chapel, Leila Kalomi, T’Pring, Droxine, Zarabeth and then Uhura and Scotty had Carolyn Palamas.

    Sulu…no one…he had a daughter in one of the movies and only later it was revealed in a book (which isn’t cannon) that it was a one night stand with a big giant extremely masculine man-she alien….which joked in the book that it looked like a man from a distance.

    So yeah, Sulu being gay is a big fat Duh.

  • Shofixti

    They are both right.

    Takei is right because he’s talking about his decades long relationship with the vision of Roddenberry.

    But the whole concept of a reboot is that there is departure from the original vision, the vision is refashioned.

    So, Quinto is also right. The utopia of the Federation has never made any sense as a society that is uniformly heteronormative. If Roddenberry was writing anew in this generation, how could he create such an omission?

  • Bob LaBlah

    George Takei, I am with you on this one. The first thing every one thinks when you say gay is SEX and I, just as you, don’t think it necessary to advertise whom and where you sleep.

  • Paco

    The only way the alternate timeline excuse would be plausible, would be for Sulu to be bisexual and settling into a gay relationship. To say that an altered timeline of events can also alter a person’s sexuality, is pretty much saying that our sexual orientation is based entirely on our environment.

    The character Sulu may not have had any on screen romances, but I would say that had more to do with Hollywood always being reluctant to sexualize Asian males. There were instances where the character Sulu showed attraction for the opposite sex on the television series and also in the first movie where he got flustered by the Deltan navigator Ilia.

    Personally I don’t care if they make the character gay. I will reserve judgement about it until I see how it plays out. My only real concern are with the comments –

    “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, and isn’t that tokenism?”

    If being gay isn’t a big deal and is normal in the 23rd century, then why would it be tokenism for a new character to be introduced that just happened to be gay? The only way for a character to be primarily defined by their sexuality, would be if you lacked the creativity to write them with some depth. Why is it the heterosexual characters aren’t defined by their sexuality, but a new gay character would just be looked at as “the gay character”?

    Anyway, looking forward to seeing Star Trek: Fast & Furious.

  • Baba Booey Fafa Fooey

    @Bob LaBlah: Unlike heterosexuals who flaunt who they sleep with, with their wedding rings. Or, the overt, in-your-face heterosexuality that is shoved in our faces everywhere: by the media, in real life, etc. But, I understand, some gay men, which I’m assuming you are, prefer the “never seen and never heard” mantra amongst gay men.

  • Black Pegasus

    @Shofixti: Agreed! The Star Trek universe exists in the 24th century. Where the heck are the gays? I watch Star Trek: Generations, Voyager, Deep Space 9 and Enterprise on Netflix and I have to put up with some of the boring heterosexual relationships within those shows yet gay storylines are unheard of.. It’s embarrassing for the show’s writers and insulting to the viewers.

  • Black Pegasus

    @Paco: No, I’m not looking forward to Star Trek: ‘FastandTheFuriousGuardianOfTheGalaxy’ Beyond. But I will be there on opening weekend.

    Btw: I think this may be the last film within the Kelvin timeline before it sees another reboot. Unless of course Beyond performs exceedingly well at the box office.

  • joeyty

    In this case George Takei is right, but generally-speaking he has too much of an ego. That’s probably because some people hang on his every word like he’s the greatest Asian-produced mind since Confucius.

  • Paco

    @Black Pegasus: Doesn’t matter if they reboot again. Paramount has decided that the Star Trek movies are no longer being made for Star Trek fans in favor of the popcorn guzzling audiences that want more explosions. I’ve accepted that.

    I’m hoping the new television series will be for the fans and won’t shy away from the stories with social commentary similar to what was deeply rooted in the original series. Maybe the new series won’t be afraid to give us an openly gay character, rather than use the same old tired line that gay characters are defined solely by their sexuality and are a political statement. That excuse has been used to keep gay characters out of Star Trek for years.

  • SumSay

    @Black Pegasus:

    In the Next Generation, there’s sort of a half-assed gay storyline where an androgynous character has a relationship with Commander Riker. It’s pretty lame, cause the character is actually played by a woman, but it’s as close to a gay storyline as you’ll get in the Star Trek universe (well, in the Gene Roddenberry imagining anyway). I’m glad that Johnathan Frakes said he would have preferred a more masculine character for the episode as opposed to some weak attempt to make everyone happy with that woman-boy character. I fell in love with him almost instantly for that :)

  • martinbakman

    I hope they give John Cho a total hunk of a boyfriend. A large Klingon would be nice. wink wink.

  • Brian

    There is no such thing as “gay” in outer space. “Gay” is an invention of earthbound identity politics. It would not make sense to have a gay character in outer space.

    On the other hand, a man who espouses male homosexual desire is common everywhere. It’s just another facet of all men. All men have a homosexual side that varies in size.

    Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

  • Dave Downunder

    Wow why do people care so much. It’s just a fictional show and because it is fiction that means they can take it anywhere they want. Things that happened in the original series don’t need to be true for the reboot.

    Just be happy that such a huge block buster is portraying a normative gay relationship without it being the main identifier for the character. A friend of mine went to the Australian premier for the movie this week and said it was really well done.

  • Josh447

    Brian,

    Do you think you could drop your drivel about gay identity politics. If you don’t like labels don’t wear one. Your constant belly aching about your gay identity issue is beyond boring. Get help if you need it but please stop stinking up the room with your boring self absorbed labeling issues. We could care less and it’s way off topic. Maybe you could go start your own blog and leave the general public alone.

  • Tobi

    @Brian: “There is no such thing as “gay” in outer space… Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.” You mean Nog lied to me?! Oh. :(

  • martinbakman

    @Tobi: Brian is worried that Hollyweird will migrate the gay agenda into outer space. Just because two guys get lonely and need to stick into the dumpster now and then does not magically turn their man play into something that it isn’t. His point being, if Data found countless unique and explosive ways to pleasure Worf over and over and over and over, that doesn’t mean they’re hijinks have anything gay about it. If Scotty plied Checkov with Romulan ale before roughly plowing him behind the matter-anti matter generators, that’s merely normal-guy comradery. :-)

  • ngblog

    Seems to me George Takei is now having regrets that he did not take a stand and make history when he was involved in the original franchise and is taking his frustrations out on the actor now playing Sulu.

    And what should we care what he thinks? For the past several years this man seems to think he played a Vulcan on the original series, doing the V thing with his hand as if.

  • dean089

    @Shofixti: Good point! There are a lot of things to this ‘reboot’ that are different. Sulu being gay is hardly the first.

    Meanwhile, I’m inclined to agree with Simon Pegg. Creating a brand new character just so he/she can be gay is tokenism and doesn’t advance our cause at all.

  • ngblog

    @Paco: The new Star Trek franchise is on a destination for trouble. It started with old Spock more or less fucking up,immensely, er, committing a human error, and then trying to make things right again for himself and his former ship mates. Now that Leonard Nimoy is dead, I don’t know how if ever they plan to restore the timeline again, if at all unless Nimoy filmed scenes prior to his death or they just go about recreating scenes from the older films.

    And then there is Anton Yelchin who accidentally killed himself in a freak accident. Are they going to CGI him into future Star Trek films?

  • Paco

    @dean089: “Tokenism” has been the excuse for years when the subject of a new gay character has been asked about of the show runners. It is completely beyond their understanding that a character who is gay should be no different than the straight characters that have romances. They have no problem writing fully developed straight characters that have romances with the opposite sex. Why would a new gay character be any different?

    They made sure to tie Sulu down with a family so he can be neutered and they won’t ever have to treat him the same as the straight characters that flirt and suck face. That is tokenism.

  • Pete

    Takei’s absolutely right! It’s great that they want to have a gay character, but since Gene Rodenberry didn’t conceive of Sulu as gay, make a new one! Using Takei’s personal life as a rationale for making the character he played gay is just cheap!

    If you’re going to make something that isn’t consistent with Gene Rodenberry’s original vision, you’re making something that really isn’t Star Trek. Consider how revolutionary the show was for its time (1966-68). The crew consisted of all races, former Cold War adversaries, not to mention an alien. And it addressed issues like racism: Spock tell how dark-skinned Vulcans used to oppress light-skinned ones. And then of course the frisson between Kirk and Uhura!

    So seeing how open and confrontational Rodenberry was with his casting and scripts, I’m certain that had the show lasted into the 70s, he’d have introduced gay characters. The man was so ahead of his time, which may be why the original show had such short run and cast such a long shadow.

  • slinky49

    It’s a movie, people…get a grip.

  • paradigmq

    Initially I was with GT. But ZQ bring up a strong point about tokenism. If there were a token gay character many people would be upset and feel trivialized, and would ask why couldn’t a main character be gay. After all it is just the movies and one set in an alternate universe.

    Think back to when Battlestar Galactica was rebooted and fans were up in arms over Starbuck being cast by Katie Sackhoff – a woman! Only to have fans turn face and praise her. John Cho is a fine actor and has already portrayed Sulu wonderfully. This background added to his character just goes to show you what a wonderful alternate future Star Trek is set in.

  • Transiteer

    Bit of hysteria here. I agree with Quinto. It is a positive. I’m sorry that George doesn’t see it that way, but I do. And what gay character could there better be, than Mr Sulu? I applaud the move.

  • BitterOldQueen

    I’m confused by why this is a discussion: George Takei doesn’t own the Sulu character, and no one needed or should have sought his approval to do anything at all to that character. Takei has managed to cleverly leverage a lifetime career from the role, so good for him, but he didn’t create it, Gene Roddenberry did. In the late 1960s, neither Roddenberry (even whose famous liberality of spirit was significantly tainted by an astonishing–and culturally-accepted–Mad Men-esque misogyny) nor the TV-viewing public would have been culturally or socially or intellectually equipped to have a vision of an out gay character with a husband and child, so it’s pointless to argue about how this does or does not fit his vision; it’s a vision he could not have had. I detect more than a hint of sour grapes in Takei’s objections (he didn’t get to play Sulu as a character true to the actor’s nature, and no one respected his self-assumed authority), and way more than a hint of his usual flawless sense of managing to make virtually anything about himself. If Abrams & Co want Sulu to be gay in the perfectly amusing if not profound Kelvin Timeline, they are welcome to go that way.As a gay man myself, I’m delighted to see this decision–it’s far better and more interesting than introducing a New Gay Character, which would be tokenism of the most laughable sort, and subject JJ & Co to loud cultural criticism (including, most likely, from Takei). GT is welcome to his opinion, but in this case it carries no more weight than anyone else’s, imho.

  • CurlyMop

    We wanted Spirk not this. Well I wanted it.

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