As diehard “Trekkies” eagerly await the opening this weekend of “Star Trek Beyond,” the 13th film in the 50-year-old science fiction franchise, controversy over one of the characters is just simmering down.
Director Justin Lin and writer Simon Pegg received unexpected criticism to their announcement that ship’s helmsman Sulu, portrayed by John Cho, would be depicted in the film as a gay man raising a daughter. The decision was originally intended as a nod to openly gay actor and LGBT activist George Takei, who originated the role in the 1960s series.
Takei told The Hollywood Reporter, “I’m delighted that there’s a gay character. Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of (Gene Roddenberry’s) creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.”
The Twitterverse and other social media immediately lit up, sparking dissent from Zachary Quinto, another openly gay actor who portrays Spock in the J.J. Abrams reboot.
Quinto fired back, "I get it that he's has had his own personal journey and has his own personal relationship with this character but, you know, as we established in the first ‘Star Trek’ film in 2009, we've created an alternate universe."
He continued, "My hope is that eventually George can be strengthened by the enormously positive response from especially young people who are heartened by and inspired by this really tasteful and beautiful portrayal of something that I think is gaining acceptance and inclusion in our societies across the world, and should be."
In an earlier statement, Pegg also addressed concerns about the character living in the closet: "At no point do we suggest that our Sulu was ever closeted. Why would he need to be? It just hasn’t come up before."
To gain more insight into the controversy, SFGN spoke with Dave Marinaccio, a D.C.-area advertising executive and author of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching ‘Star Trek.’”
The book, first published in 1994 and followed by a volume devoted to “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” explores lessons of morality and multiculturalism hidden in the scripts penned by “Star Trek” creator Roddenberry and his successors.
“I’ve met George (Takei),” said Marinaccio. “I’ve been on panels at conventions with George. He’s a man of strong opinions and has carved out an interesting niche for himself.”
Marinaccio described Roddenberry as someone who was “typical for his time,” basically adhering to the prevailing views of homosexuality. He was a veteran and a former Los Angeles policeman, who, after breaking into the world of Hollywood show business, encountered gay friends and colleagues. Roddenberry’s views would evolve.
“He went through a journey a lot of people are still going through, unfortunately,” said Marinaccio. “The one thing he wanted was for it to be relevant, dealing with the issues of the time—racism, the war in Vietnam.”
As for a gay crewmember, “If he was alive today, he would do everything to keep it relevant to audiences,” said Marinaccio. “It’s a no brainer.”