Whether you're a fan of Star Trek or not, you likely know who George Takei is. For those of you who don't, he's the original actor that played helmsman Hikaru Sulu of the U.S.S. Enterprise on Star Trek: The Original Series. At the time, 1966, he represented Asian nationality on a diverse bridge crew that quite intentionally featured members from all corners of the Earth, from Riverside, Iowa, the birthplace of Captain Kirk, to the United States of Africa, the fictional birthplace of Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, to Scotland's Montgomery Scott and Russia's Ensign Pavel Chekov.
In 2005, Takei revealed that he was gay and had been in a committed relationship for years. Since then, he has been an outspoken proponent for LGBT rights and human rights in general across the globe.
Which makes today's announcement about the current version of his Mister Sulu, played by John Cho in the new movies, all the more outstanding.
In the latest addition to the rebooted "Kelvin Timeline" of Star Trek movies, Star Trek Beyond, Mister Sulu will be gay and will be "the father of a child with a same-sex partner," as reported by Australia's Herald Sun after a previewing of the movie. It's subtle, it's poignant because it's the franchise's first pronounced LGBT character, and it's completely appropriate for a franchise like Star Trek for so many reasons.
For one thing, Star Trek has founded itself on being extremely progressive, breaking barriers ever since the first episode aired almost 50 years ago exactly on September 8, 1966. Along with featuring an international main cast, it tackled tons of social issues ranging from bigotry and the violence of human history to the Vietnam War itself. It became the first show in television history to feature an interracial kiss, between Captain Kirk and Uhura in the third season episode "Plato's Stepchildren" in 1968.
Over the course of five decades, almost no topic of controversy or social debate has been off-limits to Star Trek, so the decision to make a major character of the franchise gay is really just par for the course for the franchise approaching its golden anniversary. In a time where LGBT rights are a hotbed of debate maybe more than ever, credit the greatest science fiction franchise of all-time, the one that has been asking and answering the tough questions of mankind for so long to make a move that is incredibly topical, relevant and worthy of attention even if it's a subtle move. This is the 23rd Century after all and tolerance is supremely valued in the future......we all hope, of course.
And of course, for it to be Sulu, a fitting tribute to the original man that played the character 50 years ago is just poetic icing on the cake. Outside of perhaps Kirk, Spock and McCoy you could have made almost any of the other characters in that main cast homosexual and you would have made a similar point about the importance of LGBT characters, but Sulu is the one that it fits perfectly BECAUSE of George Takei and his legacy surrounding it. So you make yet another impressively progressive move within your franchise while also honoring the man that represents the all too important reason to do it in the first place, who happens to be one of your legacy actors.
Well done, Star Trek. Well done.
Star Trek Beyond is out in theaters on July 22nd.