The decision to make Sulu a gay man with a husband and child in Star Trek: Beyond has not gone over very well, but mostly with the original Sulu, George Takei.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter earlier in July, Takei said that John Cho called him to say something like, “Heyyyyyy, guess what? OMG you’re going to be so excited!!!” This was followed by what must have been one of the most awkward conversations Takei has ever had that didn’t involve William Shatner.
Takei urged John Cho to make sure Sulu remained straight, as Gene Roddenberry intended, in the new Star Trek movie franchise, but his wishes were not honored. Now, in an interview with Esther Zuckerman at the AV Club, John Cho explains that he had worries about it from the start:
AVC: Could you walk people through how Simon [Pegg], Doug [Jung], and Justin [Lin] first told you that Sulu would have a husband? What was your reaction? How did you first learn it?
JC: I learned it first from Justin. Simon had pitched it. I heard from Justin early on in preproduction. I was concerned for a few reasons. I was concerned that George wouldn’t like it, and it turned out to be true. But I was actually concerned that he wouldn’t like it for a different reason. I thought that George would object because he’s a gay actor who was playing straight. I know that was difficult, that he couldn’t come out and that he had crafted a straight character. Then, now, because he’s an activist and he’s out of the closet—clearly, this is an homage a little bit to him—[I worried] he would object to us taking that from his life and say, “Hey, I was a gay actor who created a straight character, and now you’re making him gay because I’ve come out of the closet?,” that we were just seeing him for his sexual orientation. So I thought that would be where he would object. It turns out not to be his objection. But that’s what I was worried about.
Cho was also anxious about the implications of what Sulu being gay would mean in a larger sense. In the complicated world of sci-fi, Sulu is still genetically the same person in the film, just on an alternate timeline. Cho thought this might imply that sexual orientation is a choice. (God forbid anyone be seen as choosing to be in a homosexual relationship!)
Cho also has some things to say about how representation of Asian men in media might play into the decision, saying, “I was concerned that Asians and Asian Americans might see it as a sort of continuing feminization of Asian men. Asian American men, Asian men have been basically eunuchs in American cinema and television, and I thought maybe it would be seen as a continuation of that.”
One interesting aspect to Sulu’s romance is that his husband in the film is portrayed by an Asian man—screenwriter Doug Jung, as it turns out, after the original actor dropped out the day of the shoot—per Cho’s request:
The reason was that I grew up with some gay Asian male friends. You don’t really see Asian men together very often. It’s very rare in life. I’ve always felt that there was some extra cultural shame to having two Asian men together, because it was so difficult to come out of the closet, so difficult to be gay and Asian, that they couldn’t really bring themselves… It’s easier to run away from people that look like your family. I wanted the future to be where it was completely normal and therefore, aside from the gender, they look like a traditional heterosexual couple. So that relationship, to me, the optics of it are that it looks very traditional on the one hand and very radical on the other.
I assume Cho means a “traditional heterosexual couple” that he most frequently saw growing up, not that all heterosexual couples only date within their own race. Phew. The identity politics of Star Trek have truly gone Beyond.
Image via Paramount Pictures.