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Objection to ‘Gay Sulu’ Comes From Unexpected Source

The latest ‘Star Trek’ film depicts a familiar character in a same-sex relationship, but everyone isn’t happy about gay Sulu.

In the original Star Trek, Lt. Hikaru Sulu was the helmsman of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

We didn’t get a great deal of information about Sulu’s personal life, although at one point, in an alternate universe, he was definitely making the moves on communications officer Uhura. Later, in the final Star Trek film to feature any members of the original series cast, we learn that Sulu has a daughter who is the new helmsman of a new version of the starship Enterprise.

By all accounts, Sulu was heterosexual. But then again, considering the times, that’s hardly a surprise. In the late 1960s, having a multi-racial cast and even television’s first interracial kiss on screen managed to survive any viewer objections.

A homosexual character in that time probably wouldn’t have, certainly not if that character or his being in a same-sex relationship was portrayed as being “not a big deal.”

The actor who portrayed Sulu, George Takei, who has built an incredible social media and pop culture following over the years, is gay, though he did not “come out” until 2005, nearly 40 years after he first appeared on television as Sulu.

The latest Star Trek film, the third in a reboot of the series that cast new, younger actors in the same iconic roles, is called Star Trek: Beyond. In this particular film, we’re told that Sulu is being depicted as being in a same-sex relationship.

Sulu, in this version of ‘Trek,’ is gay.

The person you’d most expect to be supportive of the idea might just be the actor who originally portrayed the role, the man who said he felt the pressure to conceal his sexuality for decades.

But you’d be wrong.

Takei said he was “disappointed” with the decision, and called the change “really unfortunate,” according to Time magazine. Takei said he would have preferred they create a new character to introduce the same-sex angle rather than “twisting” one of the late Gene Roddenberry’s original creations.

Zachary Quinto, who portrays Mr. Spock in the reboot, is gay in real life, though his character is not. Quinto told reporters he was “disappointed” that Takei was disappointed:

I get it that he’s had 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. 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.

I get the desire to portray gay characters in a positive light. It doesn’t bother me one way or the other that Sulu will be gay in this third excursion into that “alternate” universe.

My problem is the notion of taking well-established characters and throwing them into an “alternate universe” as an excuse to throw out all of the rules and just tamper with things just for the point of throwing curveballs.

So I do see Takei’s point.

I’d have preferred all new characters: an entirely new cast and an entirely new set of characters.

While I have come to accept the new version (for the most part), I can’t help but feel that instead of actors portraying characters, I’m watching actors portraying other actors who portrayed those characters.

The most glaring example of this is actor Karl Urban who plays the ship’s chief medical officer, Leonard “Bones” McCoy. McCoy was played to the delight of fans by the late DeForest Kelley, who gave the doctor a curmudgeonly quality. Urban’s portrayal has always felt to me like he’s imitating Kelley, not portraying McCoy.

Maybe, since it’s the same characters, there’s no other way for it to be done, I acknowledge.

I just wish I didn’t feel so aware of the portrayal of the “portrayals.”

Should it matter, in the grand scheme of things, that a fictional character is in a gay or straight relationship? No.

But when you go back and tamper with characters who’ve been around for 50 years and change major parts of their identity or backstory, there’s going to be ruffled feathers.

Sometimes, from the last places you’d expect.

How do you feel about the notion of the new ‘alternate universe’ Sulu?

1 Comment

  1. I haven’t seen the movie yet so perhaps my perspective on this will change, but I would prefer as little character delineation as possible. I get that it’s the “alternate universe”, but in the original series the characters’ counterparts in an alternate universe didn’t suddenly change races or genders; what changed was primarily their culture, ethics, and morals, and their actions reflected those differences. In this age of “Born This Way”, such a radical delineation simply feels like it’s another lame Hollywood attempt at pushing a contemporary g-spot of social change in an effort to, not actually influence or advocate that social change, but simply promote the picture with controversy, or try and make one of the characters suddenly “more likable” to a new audience.

    On the other hand, homosexuality was something that was largely missing from previous Star Trek incarnations, a fact which has become more noticeable to me as time has gone on and I have been re-watching the old shows. It is appropriate to include in the Star Trek universe of embraced social behavior, yet like you I cannot help but wish they had created entirely new characters for that purpose.

    Then again, I feel no love for the new Star Trek movies – aside from Nimoy’s cameos – and cannot sit through them more than once anyway, so what they do with them does not bother me all that much. I don’t even think of them as being canon.

    Also, I totally feel you on Urban’s performance. I am glad I wasn’t the only one who saw it that way.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.