Simon Pegg "Respectfully Disagrees" with George Takei's Criticism of Making Sulu Gay

Friday, 08 July 2016 - 10:55AM
Star Trek
Star Trek Beyond
Friday, 08 July 2016 - 10:55AM
Simon Pegg "Respectfully Disagrees" with George Takei's Criticism of Making Sulu Gay
It's been quite an emotional rollercoaster since the announcement yesterday that Sulu is gay in Star Trek Beyond, making him the first openly gay character in the Star Trek universe. According to the original report, writer Simon Pegg chose to make Sulu gay partially as a nod to George Takei, who played the role in the original series and has since become a celebrated LGBT activist. But Takei himself wasn't pleased with the decision, stating that he would rather Star Trek add a new gay character. 

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"I'm delighted that there's a gay character," Takei told THR in response to the news. "Unfortunately, it's a twisting of Gene [Roddenberry]'s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it's really unfortunate."
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Takei claims that making Sulu gay hurts Roddenberry's legacy, since he conceived the character as straight. Further, he was receptive to Takei asking him to add an LGBT character, but since Plato's Stepchildren, the episode that famously showed the first high-profile interracial kiss on television, had extremely low ratings, Roddenberry simply wasn't in a position to break down that particular barrier.

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"He was a strong supporter of LGBT equality," Takei said. "But he said he has been pushing the envelope and walking a very tight rope - and if he pushed too hard, the show would not be on the air."
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As a result, there was never a gay character on the original Star Trek, so Takei was supportive of adding an LGBT character to the universe. However, he felt that changing Sulu's orientation wasn't the way to go, and strongly urged Justin Lin not to go down that route.

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"I told him, '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.' I said, 'This movie is going to be coming out on the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the 50th anniversary of paying tribute to Gene Roddenberry, the man whose vision it was carried us through half a century. Honor him and create a new character. I urged them. He left me feeling that that was going to happen."
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Today, Simon Pegg has responded to Takei, whom he calls an "inspiration" and says he has "huge love and respect" for the fellow actor and activist. In an interview with The Guardian, he says he "respectfully disagrees" with the claim that it would have been more progressive to add a new gay character, because then that character would have been viewed by audiences as "the gay character":

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"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?

Justin Lin, Doug Jung and I loved the idea of it being someone we already knew because the audience have a pre-existing opinion of that character as a human being, unaffected by any prejudice. 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."
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It might have been a little disrespectful to call this decision a "nod to George Takei" when he had made it known he was against it. But beyond that, I tend to agree with Pegg. Maybe it shouldn't be this way, but adding a new gay character would have felt like tokenism, and wouldn't have won the cause any converts. And regarding Roddenberry's legacy, both men acknowledge that he would have added a gay character if the network and audience would have allowed for it.

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"The viewing audience weren't open minded enough at the time and it must have forced Roddenberry to modulate his innovation. His mantra was always 'infinite diversity in infinite combinations'. If he could have explored Sulu's sexuality with George, he no doubt would have. Roddenberry was a visionary and a pioneer but we choose our battles carefully."
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And finally, in regards to the claim that the new development implies Sulu was "closeted" (which Takei insists would never happen for someone born in the 23rd century), Pegg says that the timeline/dimension wonkiness allows for Sulu to be gay without directly changing the canon or making him closeted all this time.

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"Our Trek is an alternate timeline with alternate details. Whatever magic ingredient determines our sexuality was different for Sulu in our timeline. I like this idea because it suggests that in a hypothetical multiverse, across an infinite matrix of alternate realities, we are all LGBT somewhere."
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