The news that longtime Star Trek character Hikaru Sulu would be gay in the next Star Trek film, Star Trek Beyond, has been met with a mixed response from those within the storied franchise. John Cho, who plays Mr. Sulu in the revamped Star Trek films, said he was happy with how they approached the character's sexuality, noting that they didn't politicize it. In other words, it will be a casual reveal.
However, George Takei — who played Mr. Sulu in the original series, making Mr. Sulu's sexuality a cute nod to that of his original actor — was disappointed by the decision. He hoped that director Justin Lin would've opted to make a new gay character, rather than changing Mr. Sulu.
"I'm delighted that there's a gay character," Takei told the Hollywood Reporter. "Unfortunately, it's a twisting of [Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry]'s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it's really unfortunate."
In response to Takei's comments, Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty and is one the film's writers, defended the decision in a press statement. Pegg posits that adding a new character that would be defined by their sexuality would, essentially, be tokenism.
"He's right, it is unfortunate, it's unfortunate that the screen version of the most inclusive, tolerant universe in science fiction hasn't featured an LGBT character until now," Pegg said. "We could have introduced a new gay character, but he or she would have been primarily defined by their sexuality, seen as the 'gay character,' rather than simply for who they are — and isn't that tokenism?"
Pegg added that he doesn't believe Roddenberry's initial interpretation of an entirely straight crew was purely an artistic decision, noting that it was "necessity of the time" (as a comparison point, he notes that the episode with American TV's first known interracial kiss was also its lowest-rated episode ever).
"Our Trek is an alternate timeline with alternate details," Pegg concludes. "Whatever magic ingredient determines our sexuality was different for Sulu in our timeline. I like this idea because it suggests that in a hypothetical multiverse, across an infinite matrix of alternate realities, we are all LGBT somewhere."
Star Trek Beyond will hit U.S. theaters July 22.
Correction: July 20, 2016
A previous version misstated the record held by the 1968 Star Trek episode where William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols kissed. That scene is generally believed to contain the first interracial kiss in an American television show.