George Takei, the original Mr Sulu. Beam me up: Sofia Boutella as Jaylah and Simon Pegg as Scotty in Star Trek Beyond.
Sulu comes out as gay
When the producers of the rebooted Star Trek decided the Starship Enterprise’s iconic helmsman Mr Sulu was gay, they no doubt prepared themselves for a fiery discussion on all sides.
After days of debate, actor/writer Simon Pegg, the man who steered the decision for Star Trek Beyond, has responded with a full comment on his website, saying the character in the rebooted franchise is “a different Sulu”.
When the news broke that Sulu has a male partner in the new film, a surprising response was the comprehensive rejection from the actor who made Sulu an icon, George Takei.
Takei, who confirmed he is a gay man in an interview in 2005, reacted to the news by saying it was “really unfortunate”.
While Takei praised the inclusion of a gay character, he felt that by changing the history of an existing character, the producers of the Star Trek reboot were “twisting [Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s] creation”.
Pegg initially told The Guardian last week that he “respectfully” disagreed with Takei on the matter.
He has now followed up with a blog post, saying what was “initially intended as a moment of progressive affection has drawn comment and debate from the unlikeliest corners”.
“Ultimately, if we love Star Trek, we are all on the same page, we all want Gene’s idea of a tolerant inclusive, diplomatic and loving Universe to become a reality,” Pegg wrote.
Pegg plays Scotty in the rebooted Star Trek film franchise, which takes place in an “alternate timeline” to the Star Trek franchise established in the 1960s television series and its spin-off movies.
Pegg also wrote the film’s screenplay, including the scene in which Sulu is seen with his male partner and baby daughter.
The scene was no doubt intended to fit part of the established canon of the character: in the original Star Trek narrative, Sulu has a daughter, Demora.
“Why Sulu?” offers Pegg. “It’s a good point, I mean it could have been anybody: Kirk is a pansexual fun seeker [and] who knows why Bones got divorced?”
Equally, he said it could have been Spock or Uhura, who are a couple in the new franchise, but are by no means exclusive, or even Chekov, who Pegg describes as “permanently horny”, or even Scotty himself.
Pegg said Sulu was chosen because of Takei’s own sexuality; “there was something sweet and poetic about it,” Pegg wrote.
He also flagged there was considerable internal hand-wringing about getting it right.
“We were concerned it might seem clumsy, tokenistic or worse, too little too late, raising an exasperated “finally!” from those who have been waiting for representation for the last 50 years,” Pegg said.
“By the time we mentioned it to George Takei the idea had taken shape, it felt good, interesting and worthy of thought and conversation,” Pegg said. “We were disappointed that George didn’t see it that way,” he added.
Pegg points out that the Sulu in the rebooted film franchise isn’t the same character as Takei’s.
“This is not his Sulu,” Pegg said. “John Cho does not play a young George Takei, nor does he play the same character George Takei played in the original series. He is a different Sulu.”
Pegg said the idea of introducing a gay character to the pantheon of iconic Star Trek characters was true to Roddenberry’s “idea of a tolerant, inclusive, diplomatic and loving universe to become a reality.”
“I know in my heart that Gene Roddenberry would be proud of us for keeping his ideals alive,” Pegg said. “Infinite diversity in infinite combinations, this was his dream, that is our dream, it should be everybody’s.”
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations – or IDIC – is a concept from the fictional Star Trek universe; it is one of the founding principles of Vulcan philosophy, according to Enterprise’s Vulcan science officer, Mr Spock.
It was first introduced in an episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series and, according to Spock, “symbolises the elements that create truth and beauty”.
Pegg also took the opportunity to thank fans for their observations, and to gently chastise those who have seen the debate as “an opportunity to sling abuse, or be rude and presumptuous.”
To the fans who have “joined this debate in the spirit of discussion and forward momentum, it’s been a pleasure to see your reactions,” Pegg said.
For those who did not, he offered this: “Please take a long hard look in the mirror and remember we are discussing the personal details of a fictional spaceman.”
Star Trek Beyond opens on July 21.