When word leaked last week that Lt. Hikaru Sulu — now played by John Cho in the rebooted “Star Trek” movies — would be gay, I thought George Takei, the actor who originated him, would be tickled. After all, Takei finally came out as gay himself in 2005, and I assumed this was the producers’ way of paying tribute to him, having real life impact art.
Turns out it was. But when Cho told Takei about the change last year, Takei argued against it, saying “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry imagined Sulu as a straight character back in 1966 when the television series debuted, and he should stay that way, especially in honor of its upcoming 50th anniversary.
Director Justin Lin later talked with Takei, who felt the director agreed to his way of thinking. But a month ago, Cho emailed to confirm that Sulu will be gay, raising a child with another man. Takei says it’s “really unfortunate.”
I had a lot of unanswered questions after reading Takei’s viewpoint in that Hollywood Reporter interview because he also noted that in the summer of ’68, he was at one of Roddenberry’s parties and tried to convince him to talk about equality for gays in the show. But Roddenberry said he’d pushed the envelope on a lot of other issues (the Vietnam War, racism, etc.), the recent episode where Captain Kirk kissed Lt Uhura (the first interracial kiss on TV!) was the lowest-rated episode ever (many stations in the South refused to air it), and taking about homosexuals would be too much.
So at the time, America (as well as Takei) was in the closet. Had the series been created now and an actor like Takei was out of the closet, Roddenberry could’ve created Lt. Sulu as a gay character (if you want to make a point of the existence of gays, why not make one of the regular crew members gay?). So I’m not sure if Takei’s logic holds up.
I emailed him for an interview, but he and husband Brad were at Heart Mountain, Wyoming (on Tuesday, they live-streamed to Facebook a few minutes of their visit to one of the still-standing barracks), cell phone reception was weak, and husband Brad said the actor didn’t have time to answer questions by email.
The upcoming “Star Trek Beyond” (er, out next week Friday) was co-written by Simon Pegg (who plays the “new” Scotty) and Doug Jung (who plays Sulu’s husband in the film). Pegg’s explained that they didn’t want to introduce a new gay character because too much time would have to be spent establishing him, and the focus would be too much on his sexual orientation. They preferred having an existing character the audience was already familiar with (and liked) be gay so his sexuality would just be one component of his background, not the defining one.
First of all, since Sulu was barely seen in the TV series and movies (except for the glorious “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” where, as Captain Sulu, he commanded his own ship, the Excelsior), how much was his sexual orientation established? In one episode of the ‘60s show, he and Uhura were seen getting cozy with each other. In another (1967’s “Mirror, Mirror”), which took place in an alternate universe, Sulu was downright aggressive with her. In an outtake from the first film (1979), Sulu’s clearly nervous around new crew member Lt. Ilia (Persis Khambatta), all but making a fool of himself.
And for what it’s worth, in “Star Trek: Generations” (1994), which combined cameos from the original cast while introducing the Patrick Stewart-led “second generation” crew, the helmswoman guiding the Enterprise was Demora Sulu (Jacqueline Kim), daughter of Sulu. Of course, these days, that doesn’t necessarily mean biological daughter or that Hikaru Sulu had sex with a woman to create that offspring (but in a novel the following year — though nothing in the books are accepted as part of official “Star Trek” continuity — it was explained that she was the result of a one-night stand between Sulu and a “glamazon.” Who knew Sulu slept around?!).
In the 2009 rebooted “Star Trek” film, which takes place before the cast went on their “five-year mission” and were still cadets at Starfleet Academy, a villain went back in time and changed history, so everything we saw in the original TV series didn’t happen (freeing up today’s film producers to not beholden to the past). People argue that Sulu was already born before the change, so he should’ve remained straight, but Pegg argued that a change in the timeline would affect everything from the Big Bang to everything that came after.
Not sure I agree. And that’s why time travel is a risky venture because explaining what it changes and doesn’t change and why risks giving us gigantic headaches.
Anyway, to be honest I’d have preferred that Sulu remain straight too. We still don’t see enough romantic Asian men in television and film. In fact, when presented with a love scene with one, it seems as if the audience doesn’t know how to react. When Harold (John Cho; there he is again!) kissed his love Maria in the second “Harold and Kumar” film, the pre-screening audience (which included critics, mind you) didn’t cheer him finally “getting the girl.” The silence was deafening. And very telling.
And for five years now, we’ve had to stomach Matthew Moy constantly being ridiculed as being feminine and short on CBS’ “Two Broke Girls” by those title characters and their friends.
Is This Really a Newspaper? Department: Last week, I sent an email to the Rafu publisher, editor, writers and columnists pointing out how this paper is not doing its job: “One of the things The Rafu could be known for is in-depth analysis of what’s really going on in its own community. Gwen noted in her column [“J-Town Beat: JA Leadership in Transition,” June 28] about the changes at the top of JACL, JANM and Keiro. There should be actual investigations into why these people resigned or were kicked out. Just because Miyake and Keiro say he voluntarily chose to retire does not make it the real reason. I think the public pressure, including Gwen’s editorial and Wimpy’s column along with the anger of different ad hoc groups, helped push him out.
“Because Rafu’s reporters know the players and those surrounding them more than, say, the average L.A. Times reporter, they should be able to do a better job of digging into these issues by using sources who trust them more and are willing to provide inside info.
“I noted mostly wire service stories on the allegations against/trial of Paul Tanaka with no interviews with his family, co-workers, both defenders and accusers. I think all of this is a missed opportunity. Is the paper afraid of offending these institutions because they might otherwise place an ad?
“Give the readers more reason to depend on The Rafu every day — for things they do better than the mainstream press — stories they can’t find anywhere else but in The Rafu.”
In fact, the slogan could be: “Get the Real Story. Only in The Rafu.”
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much The Rafu has become a clearinghouse for wire stories and press releases from community groups. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love seeing MANAA press releases published (usually) in their entirety, as it gives people a chance to see issues analyzed through our eyes. But a “real paper” uses press releases as jumping-off points to do their own story, to ask further questions, and to seek comment from “the other side.”
That’s what I did for this column; I had unanswered questions of George Takei, so I contacted him and tried to do an interview with him. Did The Rafu? No!
When Naomi Hirahara took over as editor in the early ’90s, she told me she was no longer going to simply run press releases verbatim. But after she left, the paper slid back into doing just that. In her column, Editor Gwen (as George Yoshinaga would call her; Hi, Horse!) wrote, “And yes, I take to heart critics who say Rafu should dig deeper than merely reprinting press releases.” OK, so why don’t you?
What’s sad is that Muranaka actually believed the Keiro press release, which implied that Miyake chose to retire without any pressure, declaring to her readers that he was “not forced out as some in the community may have wanted.” Did she know this for sure? Later, she wrote about seeing through the farce of organizations praising exiting executives for their dedication when obviously the institution wanted them gone, yet she seemed to take Keiro’s official statement at face value, not even considering that her editorial and Wimpy’s column may’ve forced that outcome. Is this the danger of a paper falling into the rut of running press releases without doing its own investigative follow-ups?
Of the changes in leadership, she wrote: “Those of us on the outside are left to wonder what really happened.” Uh, you do remember you’re a newspaper with reporters, right? Who could — and should — find out exactly that?
As Wimpy did in his column last week, I’m shaking my head at all of this. Not enough reporters to cover all that the paper should? That’s part of investing in a product to make it worth saving. As I tell the television networks each year what they’re still not getting right, I say all of the above to The Rafu. Because if I don’t point out the problems, you’re never going to find the solutions.
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at email@example.com. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.