Friday, May 16, 2014

Oh My! The Sulu Conundrum...

    Is Mr. Sulu gay? We all know the actor who played him, George Takei, came out several years ago. Since then he’s championed gay causes and been omnipresent with his “oh my” catchphrase on social media.
    But is the character of Hikaru Sulu also gay? Nothing is ever conclusively stated in-story about Sulu’s sexuality. Star Trek seems to be void of gay people in general. In part, this is a product of its time. People simply didn’t have gay characters in TV shows in the sixties (Takei related an anecdote how he tried to get Gene Roddenberry to put an openly gay character in the show but Roddenberry was reluctant to, citing that he couldn’t go that far and get away with it on network television). Why the 80s The Next Generation and subsequent spin-offs are also devoid of gay characters is less clear since things had changed a lot by then.
    Looking at the story as it played out, we notice Sulu never has a romantic interest in the story. Not ever. (The mirror universe Sulu does seem to express an attraction to Uhura but since he’s from a parallel universe it’s possible he is straight. This doesn’t really answer the question of whether or not main universe Sulu is gay though). Every other character gets a romantic interest to some degree–Scotty dates a dancer in one episode (Wolf in the Fold); Chekov has a lost love (The Way To Eden); McCoy marries an alien priestess in another (For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky); Uhura has a thing for Scotty (Star Trek 5. Admittedly, a stupid movie but...)
    The only time we get any sense of a family for Sulu is in Generations when we meet his daughter (Demora Sulu) at the helm. Even there, though, we’ve previously never heard any hint of Sulu having a family and this comes out of the blue. (Several books expound upon her back story, notably The Captain’s Daugher by Peter David. The books however are not canon).
    The truth of the matter is Hikaru Sulu was a named background character in the original show and he was kept around throughout the movie era, being given further drips of character here and there. There was never much attempt to develop his character, any more then Chekov, Scotty or Uhura got much in-depth characterization. They always had to play second fiddle to the series leads, Kirk, Spock and McCoy. The movies were worse in some respects–two hours to tell a Kirk-centric story. While fans were salivating for more of Sulu et al. we got some scraps thrown at us–Sulu gets a promotion and his own ship, etc. But there simply wasn’t the time or ability to focus much on Sulu, Chekov and Uhura.
    There’s no concrete evidence Sulu is gay. But there’s also no evidence contradicting the idea either. Sulu never seemed to marry or even express any interest in women in the filmed canonical stories. His daughter exists in Generations but her existence comes from out of nowhere. It seems likely the initial script called for Sulu himself to be at the helm but they couldn’t get Takei to sign on and decided to amend the story to include his “daughter” instead. (Ronald D. Moore co-wrote the script and has stated the film was rushed and not his best work). In my opinion, Generations is a story best forgotten–particularly the parts concerning the original crew (ironically, the story doesn’t really work without Kirk...)
    There is the one instance in The Motion Picture where Sulu is flustered when showing Ilia the controls at the Navigation console (I can’t remember if that scene is in the final cut or not. That movie’s been re-edited so damn many times it’s gotten confusing). It could be he’s excited by the thought of an alien woman who’s culture is sex based–because he’s straight and into her. Or it could be that he’s gay and simply unable to comprehend the sheer alien-ness of her cultural heritage (okay, this is a bit of a stretch on my part). But it’s possible. After all, humans are simply more private about such things and the Deltans are very much open about their sexuality.
    Perhaps Hikaru Sulu was gay all along and we just never realized it... if that’s true then Star Trek was even more revolutionary then we ever realized.