Star Trek: Beyond

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Title Star Trek: Beyond
Premiere 2016
Purchase Available on Amazon

Star Trek: Beyond is a 2016 film in the Star Trek franchise.

LGBT Representation

John Cho as Hikaru Sulu in a promotional poster for Star Trek:Beyond.

In July 2016, actor John Cho announced that his character, Hikaru Sulu, would be portrayed as gay in Star Trek: Beyond as a tribute to George Takei, the original Sulu, who is openly gay himself. The move would make Sulu the first openly LGBT human character to be portrayed in the Star Trek films or television series, and one of the first LGBT characters of any species.

The Melbourne Herald Sun broke the news, reporting:

Helmsman of the USS Enterprise, Hikaru Sulu, played by John Cho, is shown in Star Trek Beyond as the loving father of a daughter with a same sex partner. And in typical trailblazing Trek fashion — it’s just not a big deal. [...]

[Cho] said the decision by writer Simon Pegg and director Justin Lin to make Sulu gay was a nod to George Takei, who played the character in the original 1960s series, and was a sign of what he hoped were changing times.

"I liked the approach, which was not to make a big thing out it, which is where I hope we are going as a species, to not politicise one's personal orientations," said Cho.[1]

Takei was not happy with the decision to make Sulu gay, however. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he stated "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."[2]

Both actor Zachary Quinto (who is also openly gay and who plays Spock in the reboot series) and writer/actor Simon Pegg responded to Takei's comments.

Quinto stated:

I get it. [Takei] 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, 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.[3]

Pegg added:

I have huge love and respect for George Takei, his heart, courage and humour 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?

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.

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.

Whatever dimension we inhabit, we all just want to be loved by those we love (and I love George Takei). I can’t speak for every reality but that must surely true of this one. Live long and prosper.[4]

John Cho later elaborated on his feelings about making Sulu gay in an interview with The A.V. Club:

AVC: Could you walk people through how Simon [Pegg], Doug [Jung], and Justin [Lin] first told you that Sulu would have a husband? What was your reaction? How did you first learn it?

JC: I learned it first from Justin. Simon had pitched it. I heard from Justin early on in preproduction. I was concerned for a few reasons. I was concerned that George wouldn’t like it, and it turned out to be true. But I was actually concerned that he wouldn’t like it for a different reason. I thought that George would object because he’s a gay actor who was playing straight. I know that was difficult, that he couldn’t come out and that he had crafted a straight character. Then, now, because he’s an activist and he’s out of the closet—clearly, this is an homage a little bit to him—[I worried] he would object to us taking that from his life and say, “Hey, I was a gay actor who created a straight character, and now you’re making him gay because I’ve come out of the closet?,” that we were just seeing him for his sexual orientation. So I thought that would be where he would object. It turns out not to be his objection. But that’s what I was worried about.

And secondly, I was concerned that Asians and Asian Americans might see it as a sort of continuing feminization of Asian men. Asian American men, Asian men have been basically eunuchs in American cinema and television, and I thought maybe it would be seen as a continuation of that.

Thirdly, I was concerned that because this is the same genetic Sulu—although we’re in an alternate timeline—that we would be inadvertently implying that sexual orientation was a choice. So those were my areas of concern. Having said that, I was convinced that the message was pure and that it was coming from a really good place, and I thought that it was handled correctly. People would buy it. And I think we have handled it correctly, and I think people are not worrying about the issues that I was worried about.

AVC: Do you still maintain those concerns a little bit?

JC: Yes, I do. They’re not gone. But, on the other hand, I think, narratively, it’s really good. We’re executing Roddenberry’s intent, I think: infinite diversity in infinite combinations. It’s very much a part of the ethos of Star Trek. I have to say, all things considered, it’s working great, and I’m proud of it. George was very important to me as a kid. Seeing his face on TV as an Asian American kid in Houston, Texas, in the early ’80s, was very impactful for me. Aside from it just being a great narrative device—which it is because it personalizes the stakes when Yorktown [a Starfleet base] is threatened by Krall, our villain—the best thing I can hope for is that it encourages some gay or lesbian viewer, who is young and doesn’t feel like he or she sees enough of themselves on the screen. So if there’s somebody out there who digs it and feels less afraid, then right on.[5]

In an interview with Vulture, Cho also revealed that he and Doug Jung, who played Sulu's husband in addition to being the film's screenwriter, filmed a "welcome home kiss" between the two men, but it was cut from the final version of the film[6].

LGBT Cast and Crew

Actor Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock, came out as gay in 2011.


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