George Takei says he is ‘thrilled’ that Sulu is gay

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

George Takei has clarified an interview in which he said he thought his character Sulu being gay in the new Star Trek franchise, was “really unfortunate”.

Mr Takei’s comments came after John Cho, who plays Sulu in the next film, Star Trek Beyond, said he will be the first openly gay character in the franchise.

George Takei says he is ‘thrilled’ that Sulu is gay

The 79-year-old who played Sulu in the original 1960s television series, said he had “urged” the film’s director Justin Linn to “honour” the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry and create a new LGBT character rather than make Sulu gay.

He said: “Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.”

Revealing that Mr Cho had called him to break the news, Mr Takei said: “I told him, ‘Be imaginative and create a character who has a history of being gay, rather than Sulu, who had been straight all this time, suddenly being revealed as being closeted’”.

But now he has written a lengthy Facebook post, clarifiying his position and saying headlines on the interview were “misleading”.

He writes: “Many of you have been following the ‘gay Sulu’ story and wanted to know why I’m being such a sourpuss. I’m writing to set the record ‘straight,’ if you will.

“When the news first broke, I gave a lengthy telephone interview, but the headlines have been misleading. Apparently, controversy makes for better sales! Let me be clear: I am not disappointed that there is a gay character in Star Trek. On the contrary, as I made clear, I am delighted that the Star Trek franchise has addressed this issue, which is truly one of diversity. It is thrilling to know that future generations will not see LGBTs go wholly unrepresented in the Trek universe.”

He adds that he hoped that Gene Roddenberry’s original characters “and their backgrounds would be respected”, but that he thought it would be “more impactful” for a new character to enter the Star Trek universe as queer.

“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.”

“Gene had wanted long ago to include LGBT characters, and we spoke personally and specifically about the lack of them. Gene understandably felt constrained by the sensitivities of the time. Some fifty years ago, even TV’s first interracial kiss, between Kirk and Uhura, caused our ratings to plummet as the show was censored across much of the South for that scene. Gene made a conscious decision to make the main characters heterosexual, and worked within those parameters to tell incredible stories that still challenged many cultural values of the time. So the lack of gay characters was not some oversight by him; it was a conscious decision with which he grappled. I loved Gene as a friend, and I respected his decision and the context under which he created these stories. On this 50th year anniversary of Star Trek, my hope was to honor his foresight and bravery, as well as his ability to create discussion and diversity despite these constraints.

“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.”

Mr Cho had previously said that the decision to make Sulu gay was made by Linn and screenwriter, Simon Pegg, in order to honour George Takei.

He told the Australian Herald Sun: “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 politicise one’s personal orientation”.

Star Trek Beyond is the third in the rebooted series, with the first released in 2009.

JJ Abrams, who directed the first film, said that he was “frankly shocked” there hadn’t been a gay character in the history of the Star Trek franchise.

Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock in the reboot films and is openly gay, defended the plot choice.

He said: “As a member of the LGBT community myself, I was disappointed by the fact that George was disappointed.”