It’s been a long, long time coming, but with the July 22 release of Star Trek Beyond, the long-running franchise will finally introduce an LGBT main character. And that character will be none other than Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu, played by John Cho. This was revealed to to the press by Cho himself during a visit to Sydney, Australia while promoting the forthcoming film. The decision by the film’s 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 has since gone on to become one of America’s most vocal LGBT activists and icons (and everyone’s favorite Facebook friend).
Apparently, the revelation of Sulu’s sexual orientation will not be a major plot point, or even an especially big deal in the movie, but will instead be shown as a simple matter of fact. Sulu will be seen as the loving father of a daughter with a same sex partner, although the identity of that partner is still unknown. In the original Star Trek timeline, it was revealed in the film Star Trek Generations that Sulu had a daughter, Demora, who became the helmsman of the Enterprise B, although who her other parent could be was never revealed. “I liked the approach, which was not to make a big thing out of it, which is where I hope we are going as a species, to not politicize one’s personal orientations,” Cho told Australia’s Herald Sun.
Of all the major sci-fi/fantasy franchises, the historically progressive and socially conscious Star Trek has always been the most obvious candidate for the inclusion of an LGBT main character. And yet they’ve been seriously lacking in that department. This is a franchise that has always been about celebrating diversity in all its forms, from having a black woman as an officer during the ’60s (despite network affiliates in the American South threatening to not air the program for this very reason), to having people of all races and genders in positions of authority. Star Trek even featured television’s very first interracial kiss, between Uhura and Kirk. But for all of its talk of “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations,” Trek simply chickened out at having gay crewmembers.
Now, it would have been nearly impossible to feature a gay character during the original series in 1966, when being gay was treated as criminal in most parts of the country. And it’s fair to say that when Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in 1987, there’d still have been network pushback. But by the time Deep Space Nine and Voyager premiered in the ’90s, times were changing. If Ellen and Will & Grace had gay characters at that time, why couldn’t Star Trek, which was supposed to be the pioneer for such things on TV? When the series Enterprise debuted in 2001 and didn’t have an LGBT crew member, by that point it was kind of embarrassing. So this is long overdue.
The new Star Trek series of films exist in an altered timeline of the original show, although how an altered timeline can change someone’s sexual orientation doesn’t quite make sense (the original show made a point to show Sulu’s interest in women several times). But hey—maybe original Sulu just hadn’t come out to himself yet. Besides, it still makes more sense than an altered timeline actually changing someone’s ethnic background; just how did Khan go from an olive-skinned Latino man (Ricadro Montalban) to becoming a pasty, white British guy (Bendedict Cumberbatch)? Ret-cons aside, changing Sulu’s orientation is in keeping with the series’ commitment to diversity, and that’s the most important thing in the end.
Star Trek Beyond hits theaters on July 22.
What do you think of this long overdue inclusion? Do you think it should have been Sulu, or that Spock and Kirk should have finally brought all those decades of fan fiction to life? Let us know in the comments below.
Featured Image: Paramount Pictures