By making one of its iconic characters gay, ‘Star Trek’ pushes the frontier of tolerance
He is not just a hero to the LGBTQ community; he’s also a spokesman for Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II. He was one of them and continues to be outspoken for his causes.
It was recently revealed that Takei’s most famous character, Hikaru Sulu — the pilot of Star Trek’s starship Enterprise — comes out as gay in the newest offering in the franchise, “Star Trek Beyond.”
Takei no longer plays Sulu. The character now belongs to actor John Cho, who before joining the crew of the Enterprise spent an infamous night searching for a burger restaurant in “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.”
I’m expecting backlash, and I’m sure Cho and everyone involved with the film is expecting it, too.
No matter what one’s opinion on a person’s sexual orientation is, here is a nugget of knowledge: People who identify as LGBTQ are real. Letting a character in a film set in the future be who he is regardless of orientation is a major step in acknowledging that there’s a better chance that you know someone who is gay than that you don’t.
And while we might see this as breaking down a barrier, the truth is that the “Star Trek” franchise and many other sci-fi shows have boldly gone here before.
Star Fleet hasn’t had a problem with alternate lifestyles in the military for quite some time. One example is Jadzia Dax, from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” OK, the symbiont inhabiting the body has no gender, but Jadzia is portrayed as very female (and played by actress Terry Farrell). Trill, the name of the worm-like symbiont, used to live in a male who was married. When Jadzia meets the widow of Trill’s former host, sparks fly.
The “Doctor Who” spin-off “Torchwood” features Captain Jack Harkness, an openly bisexual character. Unlike Jadzia Dax — and even Sulu — Harkness is the main character. He’s the hero of the show.
By this point, we shouldn’t be surprised and, really, it shouldn’t even be a topic. But it continues to be problematic for some audiences and therefore we keep talking about it.
It’s like the time “The Avengers” director and creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” Joss Whedon was asked why he keeps writing strong female characters. His answer: Because people keep asking him why he writes strong female characters.
Sci-fi, a genre known for pushing boundaries and exploring new territories, has a wealth of LGBTQ characters that range from bad guys to heroes. They are male and female and neither and both.
Just like humans.
The writers and producers of “Star Trek Beyond” are continuing to fulfill the promise given in the show’s famous voice-over: to boldly go where other shows won’t. Yes, they have predecessors, and Cho will have Takei for guidance and support.
It is now up to the audience to support the filmmakers and actors who are choosing to show life as we know it and not ignore LGBTQ voices.
Then someday, hopefully not too far in the future, we won’t even have to have this conversation.
Tranchel’s favorite “Star Trek” character is Karl Urban’s portrayal of Dr. Leonard McCoy in the new films. If you want to talk about that, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org