Last week was a bit of a rollercoater ride for Star Trek fans interested in representation. First came the unexpected news that John Cho’s Hikaru Sulu would have a husband in the upcoming Star Trek Beyond. Then came the even more unexpected news that original Sulu actor/LGBT activist George Takei was disappointed in the choice. Then Star Trek Beyond screenwriter Simon Pegg (a.k.a. Scotty) and openly gay actor Zachary Quinto (a.k.a. Spock) gently pushed back against Takei’s critique. Now Takei has taken to his immensely popular Facebook page to clarify his thoughts on the matter.
The lengthy post mostly reiterates what Takei initially told The Hollywood Reporter about the announcement, albeit in a manner clearly designed to defuse tension. He blames “misleading headlines” for blowing his comments out of proportion and explains that he’s “delighted” Star Trek has finally added a gay character, adding, “It is thrilling to know that future generations will not see LGBTs go wholly unrepresented in the Trek universe.”
However, as in the initial interview, he maintains that making Sulu Star Trek’s first gay character—which was meant as a tribute to Takei—was a misstep. He writes:
On the specific question of Sulu being gay, when I was first approached with the concept, I responded that I hoped instead that [Star Trek creator] Gene Roddenberry’s original characters and their backgrounds would be respected. How exciting it would be instead if a new hero might be created, whose story could be fleshed out from scratch, rather than reinvented. To me, this would have been even more impactful. While I understand that we are in an alternate timeline with the new Trek movies, for me it seemed less than necessary to tinker with an existing character in order to fulfill Gene’s hope of a truly diverse Trek universe. And while I am flattered that the character of Sulu apparently was selected as an homage to me, this was never about me or what I wanted. It was about being true to Gene’s vision and storytelling.
Takei goes on to discuss the fact that he and Roddenberry “spoke personally and specifically about the lack of [LGBT] characters in the original series” but that Roddenberry was ultimately “constrained by the sensitivities of the time.” In other words, the lack of gay characters wasn’t an “oversight” on Roddenberry’s behalf but a “conscious decision to make the main characters heterosexual.” Therefore making Sulu gay changes Roddenberry’s original intention for the character, rather than honoring Roddenberry’s “ability to create discussion and diversity despite these constraints.” (Sulu’s sexuality is never officially established in Star Trek canon.)
Interestingly, Takei has previously spoken positively about the rebooted films and their alternate timeline (although he was pretty “meh” on the first trailer for Star Trek Beyond). It’s unclear whether he’s also upset about other changes to Roddenberry’s vision, like killing off Kirk’s father and putting Spock and Uhura in a romantic relationship, or if he just feels a particular ownership over Sulu.
Regardless, Takei ends his post on a conciliatory note, writing:
But Star Trek has always pushed the boundaries and opened new opportunities for actors, including myself. I am eternally grateful to have been part of this incredible and continuing family. I wish John Cho well in the role I once played, and congratulate Simon Pegg on his daring and groundbreaking storytelling. 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. Star Trek will live long and prosper.
You can read the full post over on Facebook.