AP NEWS

George Takei, Simon Pegg Spar Over Making Sulu Gay in New ‘Star Trek’ Movie

July 8, 2016 GMT

By presenting the character of Mr. Sulu as a gay man in the new “Star Trek” movie, the film’s makers had intended their choice to be a tribute to George Takei, the actor who originated the role in the 1960s TV series.

Takei came out in 2005 and has since become an icon in the LGBT community. Among other things, he talked about his years of hiding his sexual orientation in Hollywood for fear of losing TV and movie roles.

But Takei doesn’t regard the choice to make USS Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu gay as a tribute. And, his objections have put him at odds with the makers of “Star Trek Beyond,” including star and co-screenwriter Simon Pegg.

In an interview Thursday with the Hollywood Reporter, Takei called the choice “unfortunate.”

He said he never asked that Sulu be transformed into gay character. In fact, he said he would prefer for him to remain straight, as he has long been depicted over the 50 years of the “Star Wars” TV show and films.

While Takei said he’s delighted that the new film features a gay character, he doesn’t like the retrofitting of Sulu’s sexual orientation at this stage, saying it is a “twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought.” Takei is referring to TV producer Gene Roddenberry, who created the fictional universe back in the 1960s as a way to present a positive, progressive vision of the future, in which diversity on all fronts is celebrated.

Takei said Roddenberry specifically envisioned Sulu as a heterosexual man.“I think it’s really unfortunate,” Takei said.

In the new film, due out July 22, Sulu is played by actor John Cho. The revelation that Sulu is gay comes in a brief, subtle scene in which he’s shown as the loving father of a young daughter in a same-sex relationship.

Pegg, who co-wrote “Beyond’s” screenplay and who plays Scotty in the reboot, said he “respectfully disagrees” with Takei’s objections, the Guardian reported.

In a statement released Friday, Pegg expressed sympathy with Takei’s sentiment that mainstream gay heroes are belatedly coming to the big screen, but rejected the idea that the “Star Trek” franchise should create an entirely new character.

“He’s right, it’s unfortunate that the screen version of the most inclusive, tolerant universe in science fiction hasn’t featured an LGBT character until now,” he 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 noted that there was no way that Roddenberry could have created a gay character for mainstream TV audiences in the 1960s. He also believes that Roddenberry would welcome such a move.

“I have huge love and respect for George Takei, his heart, courage and humour are an inspiration,” Pegg said in his statement. “However, with regards to his thoughts on our Sulu, I must respectfully disagree with him.”

Martha Ross provides celebrity commentary for the Bay Area News Group. Follow her at twitter.com/marthajross .