UPDATE with Zachary Quinto comments: A rather unusual press narrative involving tolerance in deep space has taken center stage in the pre-release run-up to Paramount’s Star Trek Beyond. In the latest salvo, co-screenwriter and co-star Simon Pegg has weighed in on his decision to script the revelation that one of the franchise’s iconic original characters, USS Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu, acknowledges he’s gay. His remarks, along with those of fellow current Star Trek star Zachary Quinto, are the latest in the back-and-forth in the Trek universe and beyond since John Cho, who plays Sulu in the franchise reboot, said his character would have a same-sex partner in the latest movie, which bows in theaters July 22.
The news prompted surprising criticism yesterday from George Takei, the actor who originated Sulu in the ’60s TV series. While Takei now is openly gay, he hid his sexuality back when he played the role in the series and six feature films, and didn’t acknowledge he was gay until many years afterward. Despite that, he wasn’t cheering that the character he originated would bare his sexual preference, calling it “really unfortunate,” and saying that it wasn’t true to creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision for the character, and that the current filmmakers did not heed his concerns when he encouraged them to create a new character.
After Takei made that statement in THR, Pegg issued his own statement in the UK’s Guardian newspaper today. Pegg said he “respectfully disagreed” with Takei’s criticism and defended the move. Cho said the decision was partly to pay tribute to Takei, who came out publicly in 2005.
“[Director] Justin Lin, [co-writer] Doug Jung and I loved the idea of [the gay character] being someone we already knew because the audience have a pre-existing opinion of that character as a human being, unaffected by any prejudice,” he said. “Their sexual orientation is just one of many personal aspects, not the defining characteristic. Also, the audience would infer that there has been an LGBT presence in the Trek universe from the beginning (at least in the Kelvin timeline), that a gay hero isn’t something new or strange. 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.”
Takei said making Sulu gay after years of him being considered straight was something Roddenberry wouldn’t have considered for the character.
“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,” Pegg told the Guardian. “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?”
He added, “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.”
Quinto, who is openly gay and plays Mr Spock in the current films, defended the decision today in an interview with Pedestrian.TV, saying “As a member of the LGBT community myself, I was disappointed by the fact that George was disappointed.”
He added: “I get it. 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,” Quitno said. “And 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.”