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The last couple weeks we've been following the developments surrounding Star Trek Beyond's announcement that they'll be revealing the character Sulu as gay in the upcoming film --- a decision largely made to serve as a nod to George Takei (who played Mr. Sulu for many years in movies and television) who came out as gay in 2005 after many years of keeping his sexual orientation to himself.
Long story short, George Takei told the press that he didn't think the show's creator Gene Roydenberry would approve of the decision, though he did say that he appreciates it --
"I wish John Cho well in the role I once played, and congratulate Simon Pegg on his daring and groundbreaking storytelling," Takei wrote. "While I would have gone with the development of a new character in this instance, I do fully understand and appreciate what they are doing — as ever, boldly going where no one has gone before." J.J. Abrams offered his thoughts on well, George Takei's thoughts regarding the matter:
"I feel that George Takei’s reaction ― I’m sure has more to do with George Takei, and the baggage he brings to the proceedings. I think it may be his perception of having played a character a certain way. It might mean something personally to him. I have nothing but respect for the man, but I think it’s a preposterous thing for, of all people, a ‘Star Trek’ actor — who’s come out himself — to say that Gene Roddenberry wouldn’t have wanted this.”
"It’s about time that there’s a gay character in this universe," Abrams said.
Simon Pegg's already come forth to offer a response to Takei's vocalized concerns on the matter:
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.
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. Trek rightly gets a lot of love for featuring the first interracial kiss on US television, but Plato's Stepchildren was the lowest rated episode ever.
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.
George Takei initially picked apart Marvel for what he claims was blatant backpedaling on their part, when Marvel blamed the casting selection on the Chinese market as their reason for avoiding being associated with Tibet.
Then in the comments section Takei went off on what he views as a deep-seeded systematic problem of casting actors in movies for Asian roles.
"To those who say, "She an actress, this is fiction," remember that Hollywood has been casting white actors in Asian roles for decades now, and we can't keep pretending there isn't something deeper at work here. If it were true that actors of Asian descent were being offered choice roles in films, these arguments might prevail. But there has been a long standing practice of taking roles that were originally Asian and rewriting them for white actors to play, leaving Asians invisible on the screen and underemployed as actors. This is a very real problem, not an abstract one. It is not about political correctness, it is about correcting systemic exclusion. Do you see the difference?"