In an interview with the Herald Sun, Cho announced that the movie's acknowledgement of Sulu's love life would be casual and nonchalant, but still important to the character. “I liked the approach, which was not to make a big thing out it, which is where I hope we are going as a species, to not politicize one’s personal orientations,” Cho said.
Takei, who played the character in the late '60s television show, was less than pleased with the reimagining of a character that he'd always conceptualized as straight. The issue, he told The Hollywood Reporter, was that a gay Sulu felt like an "unfortunate" "twisting" of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's original vision.
"[Roddenberry] was a strong supporter of LGBT equality," Takei insisted. "But he said he has been pushing the envelope and walking a very tight rope—and if he pushed too hard, the show would not be on the air."
The decision to make this version of Sulu gay came from co-writers Doug Jung and Simon Pegg, who also acts in the movie as Scotty. Despite having a deep respect for Takei's legacy as an actor and the very public LGBT advocacy that he came into later in his life, Pegg told The Guardian, he disagreed with Takei.
“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," Pegg said in a written statement. "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?”
When the original Star Trek series debuted in 1966, it introduced millions of viewers to a futuristic world of space exploration that, more often than not, served as thinly veiled social commentary of the present day.
In what is perhaps the series' most iconic moment of controversial social awareness, Captain Kirk, a white man played by William Shatner, kisses Lieutenant Uhura, a black woman played by Nichelle Nichols. It was the first interracial kiss on national television, an action that was nearly unimaginable in 1968. This was the same year riots rocked the country in the wake Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination
A month after Star Trek's third and final season finale in June of 1969, Marsha P. Johnson, Jackie Hornoma, Zasou Nova, and the other queer patrons of the Stonewall Inn began the infamous riots that kicked the modern-day LGBT civil rights movement into motion.
Over the 50-some years since Roddenberry first unleashed Star Trek onto the world, the franchise has commented on race relations, war, sex, and the prospect of the singularity, but up until now, thoughtful depictions of queer people have been conspicuously missing from the captain's log.
Roddenberry insisted that he'd been considering adding a gay character to the fifth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1991, but he died before he was able to bring the idea to fruition. Similarly, an episode titled "Blood and Fire" that served as an allegorical explanation of HIV was axed for being too controversial. David Gerrold, the openly gay TNG writer who penned the episode, left the series after the network refused to produce the story.
When asked by Star Trek fansite LCARS Computer Network why the franchise had such a bad history of dealing with LGBT issues, TNG writer Ron Moore was frank.
"This is one of those uncomfortable questions I hate getting when I was working on the show, because there is no good answer for it," Moore said. "There is no answer for it other than people in charge don’t want gay characters in STAR TREK, period."
As simple a character change as it may seem, then, Sulu coming out as being in a committed relationship with another man with whom he's raising a daughter is a big step in the right direction both for Star Trek and for Hollywood as a whole. While we're living in a golden age for LGBT representation in media, the vast majority of those characters are still white men. According to GLAAD, 72% of all LGBT characters in widely-released films last year were white. Only 6% were Asian.
John Cho's Sulu isn't just the openly gay character Star Trek's been long overdue for. He's the first openly gay Asian character in a big-budget Hollywood action movie that millions of people are going to see. That's beyond historic.