Gay Star Trek Character Provokes Polarizing Response

The world of "Star Trek" has been rocked by perhaps its biggest controversy since the character of Spock was temporarily killed off nearly 35 years ago. The makers of the latest cinematic installment -- "Star Trek: Beyond" -- have revealed that the iconic character of Lt. Hikaru Sulu (played by John Cho) will be portrayed as gay.

This news has provoked a polarizing reaction -- with some arguing that the move is a victory for advocates of more inclusivity and representation of the LGBT community in mainstream cinema, and others decrying yet another example of what they consider to be politically correct overreach.

Perhaps surprisingly, George Takei -- who originated the Sulu character and played him on television and film for 25 years, has slammed the idea. Takei, who came out publicly as gay in 2005 and has been an outspoken proponent of LGBT rights for decades, told the Hollywood Reporter that while he is "delighted that there's a gay character," the alteration of Sulu's sexual identity is a "twisting of ['Star Trek' creator Gene Roddenberry's] creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it's really unfortunate."

Roddenberry made a groundbreaking case for diversity with his casting choices for the original "Star Trek" series back in the 1960s, making a conscious choice to write non-stereotypical roles for an African-American (Lt. Uhura), a Russian (Chekov) and, in Sulu's case, an Asian-American. But there was no appetite at that time to broach the then-taboo subject of LGBT relationships. Simon Pegg, who stars as Scotty in "Star Trek: Beyond" and co-wrote the screenplay, has made the argument that this is precisely why the modern production wanted to take Sulu in a different direction.

"I have huge love and respect for George Takei, his heart, courage and humor are an inspiration," Pegg wrote in a recent statement to The Guardian. "However, with regards to his thoughts on our Sulu, I must respectfully disagree with him. 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."

And actor Zachary Quinto, who is openly gay and has portrayed Spock in the last three "Star Trek" films, including this one, has said he is "disappointed by the fact that George was disappointed."

"I get it that he has had his own personal journey and has his own personal relationship with this character," Quinto said in an interview with PEDESTRIAN.TV. "But ... as we established in the first 'Star Trek' film in 2009, we've created an alternate universe. 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."

Some sci-fans have clearly beenitching for this kind of plot development in the genre. When some viewers detected some suppressed sexual tension between John Boyega's Finn and Oscar Isaac's Poe in last year's blockbuster "Star Wars" film "The Force Awakens," they started crafting their own gay friendly fan art and parody videos depicting afull-blown romance featuring the characters. And while that film's director J.J. Abrams hasn't gone into specifics, he did promise that for the first time openly LGBT characters will make an appearance in the rebooted "Star Wars" universe.

Meanwhile, this summer, openly gay "Independence Day: Resurrection" director Roland Emmerich tweaked the portrayal of an eccentric scientist (played by Brent Spiner) from the original 1996 film to now be a part of a LGBT couple, although some have criticized that film for heavily sanitizing the romantic aspect of their relationship. The same charge was also levied against the Oscar-nominated 2014 film "The Imitation Game," which some critics felt downplayed its protagonist's sexual orientation to a detrimental degree.

Still, these moves appear to be a part of a growing conscious attempt on Hollywood's part to make an effort to acknowledge and embrace a community that they have either denigrated or ignored for several decades. While in recent years there has been widespread coverage of the gender and racial gap when it comes to quality roles in Hollywood, many have overlooked the fact that the LGBT community has historically fared even worse.

According to a GLAAD study released in May, in the 126 major Hollywood releases last year there were only 22 characters who identified as LGBT. And even worse, the few that did appear were overwhelmingly white men and were more often than not portrayed in an insensitive or unflattering light.

"Hollywood's films lag far behind any other form of media when it comes to portrayals of LGBT characters," said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD's president and CEO, in a statement at the time. "Too often, the few LGBT characters that make it to the big screen are the target of a punchline or token characters. The film industry must embrace new and inclusive stories if it wants to remain competitive and relevant."

But, if the backlash to the all-female "Ghostbusters" or the retroactive outing of"Harry Potter"'s Dumbledore is any indication, using a beloved franchise as a forum for what some allege is social engineering can be a risk. Sometimes the perception that a film is little more than a Trojan Horse for a political agenda can potentially overshadow the commercial appeal of a would-be blockbuster.

Lynne Marie Rosenberg, a veteran actor who curates Cast and Loose -- a Tumblr page that features real-life, offensive and culturally insensitive casting notices -- understands why sometimes reboots don't sit well with audiences, but she also thinks the significance of someone coming out -- even if they are a fictional character, shouldn't be downplayed.

"It's a natural human reaction to be scared of change, even if its something as pedestrian as changing your favorite character from the '70s, '80s or '90s," she told told NBC News on Monday. "[But] it's important because media has the potential to the do the most good, as our country's most ubiquitous export, and currently it's doing the most harm."

While Rosenberg believes that the "entertainment industry is still largely controlled by older white men," the re-imagining of the Sulu character is a significant sign of the growing economic clout of audiences hungry for diversity, and it's in keeping with the "Star Trek" franchise's progressive-minded roots.

"If [Gene Roddenberry] had been here now this is exactly what he would have been doing," she said. "I think we're a culture of image at this point, and for a very, very long time we've only seen pictures of a very specific community. [Audiences] are starting to say, 'I know there are different pictures out there.' You can decide that all you want to see are more white men, or I can see something new."

 



New Star Trek Show on CBS to Feature Gay Character

The Star Trek film franchise, rebooted by J. J. Abrams in 2009, is referred to as the, “Kelvin Timeline,” univer...

Read More
Caitlyn Jenner Reality Show Canceled After 2 Seasons

Bruce Jenner becoming Caitlyn Jenner was one of the shock stories of 2015. No one saw it coming and for the first time it f...

Read More
CW Seed Online Cartoon Show Featuring Gay Superhero Premieres in 2017

There have been some advances on LGBT representation in comic books within the last few years. Within the last decade, majo...

Read More
Father of Coltan Haynes Committed Suicide After Haynes Outed Himself

Coming out is the hardest thing in the world for an LGBT person to do. The whole world can change. Down can become up. The ...

Read More
Transgender Celebrity and Model Gigi Detained in Dubai Over Homophobic Law

In the 21st century the recognition of transgender people and celebrities has grown more than other time in history. The le...

Read More
The WWE Will Feature LGBT Wrestlers in the Near Future

Closeted entertainers and celebrities who feel comfortable enough to out themselves in the 21st century, relative speaking, ...

Read More
Teen Wolf Star Tyler Posey Criticized for Snapchat Coming-Out Gay Hoax

24-year-old MTV superstar Tyler Posey, known for acting on the music video channel’s TV show remake of the 1980’...

Read More
Sulu is Gay in the New Star Trek Films and George Takei is Unhappy

Weeks before the new Star Trek Beyond motion picture saw its recent release, actor John Cho publicly revealed that his chara...

Read More
7 SanFran Dive Bars to Visit While You Still Can

Whether drowning sorrows on your lonesome or slumming it with friends, dive bars are good for a lot of occasions. In San Fra...

Read More
Ellen Page Steps Out with New Girlfriend

Actress ELLEN PAGE has reportedly struck up a romance with artist SAMANTHA THOMAS.   The Juno star was photogra...

Read More
John Travolta Vacations with Male Companion

Just hours from Los Angeles, Palm Springs is a sleepy ghost town in summer months, when temperatures can top 120 degrees. Bu...

Read More