STAR TREK: George Takei vs. Gay Sulu

George Takei — again — is criticizing Sulu’s Coming-out, but he is pushing the discussion in the right direction.


George Takei „has a new gripe with Sulu being gay” according to Karen Brill from VULTURE. While the title is somewhat misleading, it is correct. But Takei, who embodied Sulu in STAR TREK: The Original Series (1966), is absolutely right about it.

Earlier this year, the actor caught some attention for his remarks about his former character being ‚revealed‘ gay in the latest franchise movie STAR TREK: Beyond (2016). But let me get something out of the way real quick, that might pop into your mind just now: After his Coming-out in 2005, and being an LGBT activist for who knows how long, the same-sex orientation itself cannot be the issue here.

It’s Unfortunate

In an interview with Seth Abramovitch from The Hollywood Reporter in July, Mr. Takei said:

“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.“

Considering Sulu was never portrayed gay in STAR TREK: TOS or any one of the movies with Mr. Takei playing the character this is a valid argument. And while I am inclined to follow Mr. Takei’s reasoning, which is to a great deal based on his personal experiences with Star Trek’s creator Gene Roddenberry, I — and Mr. Takei probably neither — do not take the absence of Sulu’s sexuality as proof of Sulu being hetero. Nor does Sulu’s daughter proof that he was a heterosexual man. [reality check]

Being left with only what can be seen and what cannot, it is also possible to imagine that Mr. Roddenberry left the matter untouched on purpose. So that in a better future somebody would fill the page he left blank for a good reason. However that may be, this blank page brings Simon Pegg to the table.

Mr. Pegg being (also) the co-writer of the script for STAR TREK: Beyond, revealed to be the source of Sulu’s confusion. And with very good reasoning, I might add:

“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?” (Source)

Exploring Characters with Courage

If you know Star Trek like I do, having started to watch it in the 90s. If you are in love with it from the very first moment like I am, for its imagination, and its glorious utopia, you might check the following three questions.

Is this the future in which it does not matter what the color of your skin is?

YES, SIR!

Is this the future in which it does not matter what your sex is?

YES, SIR!

Is this the future in which it does not matter what your sexual orientation is

YES, SIR!

But does the gay Sulu in STAR TREK: Beyond offer such a future? Does he follow Roddenberry’s mantra of ‚infinite diversity in infinite combinations‘? To put it in Simon Pegg’s words: Do we „explore Sulu“? The answer to all of the questions in unfortunately ‘NO’.

STAR TREK’s story telling traditionally neglected Sulu’s personal history, although he has been a key member of the crew from the beginning. He was already flying maneuvers like a Pro, while Pavel Chekov still figured out how to wear his hair in STAR TREK: TOS.

While the character received some long earned honors in STAR TREK: The Undiscovered Country (1991) with Sulu as Captain of the USS Excelsior, the latest reboot of the franchise adds nothing to his biography, but rather — ONCE AGAIN — only a glorious moment of SILENCE.

In STAR TREK: Generations (1994) we learn that Sulu has managed to built a family. His daughter Demora Sulu is of course the helmsman of the new USS Enterprise-B. Wow! How did he manage to built a family? I was surprised! (Kirk, too!)

Now, with STAR TREK: Beyond, Sulu is a young father, and gay. The latter fact I did not know. I was surprised. (You probably, too.) And it seems to stay that way. No questions asked, so many questions remain.

Missing the courage to rewrite the character, Mr. Pegg and his colleagues escape into the Kelvin timeline. Causing my eyes to role over the parallel universes that we do not need — we need advancement into the next century. (Still looking forward to STAR TREK: Discovery)

Rewriting Characters

Rewriting characters is not only possible, it can be quite refreshing:
In STAR TREK: First Contact (1996), one of the best movies in the franchise, the character of Zefram Cochrane, who made the first contact with the Vulkans (live long and prosper 🖖), received a massive rewrite by the Braga•Berman•Moore-connection.

Meaning, the character went from a 1960s role model in STAR TREK: TOS (S02/E09) to a hardly motivated, liquor thirsty alcoholic from the 1990s that needed a great deal of persuasion from Riker and La Forge to follow his plan for the maiden flight.

Given the nature of the topic, yes, rewriting Sulu as a gay character is a bigger challenge, especially with regard to prejudices and preconceptions the audience might have. But isn’t that the very core of STAR TREK?

The Roddenberry Mantra

George Takei recently said:

„[Gene Roddenberry] would’ve created a gay character who has his own history in this kind of society and explored what kind of issues he would have to deal with, and how he would’ve expressed himself, and how society would’ve dealt with him. All those potentials are there — and yet…“

That is the Roddenberry mantra! Citing it, is not enough, at least not in the 21st century. And isn’t a hug and a shy kiss just tokenism?

So, there it is. That is what all the fuss is about. It is a criticism, but more than that, it is a reminder of what could have been explored by boldly going were no one has gone before. The glimpse we catch of the new Sulu offers only the slightest idea of who he might be. It represents only a shy step forward into an utopia that is all about diversity and equality, from its humble beginnings.

… I know. We need to talk about short skirts, and Voyager!