I don’t know if Courtney Kirchoff of LouderWithCrowder originally came up with this, but her label of “straight character appropriation” by Hollywood is spot-on, especially now that we have more of it with helmsman Sulu transforming from a straight character to a gay one in the new “Star Trek Beyond” movie.
Let me first confess to being a Trekkie, so I’m a bit biased about messing with a franchise I love. If you make a change, it better be worthy of the change. I’m a “Star Trek” purist from the days of Jim Kirk making out with green women and having the first onscreen interracial kiss with Uhura, and I’m irritated by making Sulu gay, not because I have a problem with homosexuality (I don’t) or because I take issue with exploring controversial themes (“Star Trek” is famous for doing just that). I object because this is an affront to consistent storytelling without making a complete overhaul of the narrative (think of totally re-imagined “Battlestar Galactica”)—all for the sake of checking off the “we’ve got a gay character now” box.
Ultimately, this was just a thoughtless decision without creative merit. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. To Hollywood’s surprise, the gay actor who originally played Sulu says he isn’t on board and has called the switch “unfortunate.” Fellow actors are now jumping all over George Takei like he’s a gay Uncle Tom.
The Gayness Is Disproportionate
“Star Trek,” of course, isn’t the first to engage in straight character appropriation. It’s been a recent Hollywood trend to increase the presence of gays on the screen, even though, as Kirchoff rightly points out in her rant against Hollywood “gaying all things,” homosexuals make up only about 3.4 percent of the U.S. population. Despite this low number, gays composed about 14 percent of characters in films released in 2014—and that’s increasing with transgenders now being added to the mix.
Despite the reality of the population numbers, the push for more gays is unrelenting. Not only are more gay characters being introduced in shows and movies, straight characters are being transformed into gay ones. You might have heard about Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen,” Marvel’s Captain America becoming gay (wouldn’t that be symbolic?), and Jeri Hogarth in “Jessica Jones” who is a straight man in the comic books but has magically transformed into a gay woman in the Netflix series.
There are even disturbing rumors about making James Bond gay. Can you imagine the new “Bond guy” Robert Pattinson (just grabbing from the barrel of hot actors here) whispering “Oh, James …” Ummm. No. I’m with Daniel Craig on this one—it ain’t going to happen. Still, the way things are going, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
As an aside, if sexuality is that fluid, I wonder what would happen if we started converting gay characters to straight—and not in that bisexual dump-the-lesbian-for-a-guy Ellen Degeneres life story kind of way. Imagine if the dashing Loras Tyrell of “Game of Thrones” had suddenly said after all that business with Renly that he really is straight and would be delighted to marry a woman and make babies. Things might have turned out better for him this past season. But I don’t think Hollywood would be too excited about that, do you?
Anyway. In its push to drape everything in the rainbow flag, Tinseltown thought it would be a dandy idea to have the most recent installment of straight character appropriation be Sulu of “Star Trek.” Yet Sulu never had any on-screen love interests, he’s straight in the books, had the hots for Uhura (who hasn’t?), and had a daughter from a “one-night stand with a glamazon…A very athletic, powerful and stunningly gorgeous woman,” Takei explains.
Regardless of the history, we know from Takei himself that the character was straight, and this is what Gene Roddenberry, the series’ creator, intended. Roddenberry’s son says he understands why Takei isn’t thrilled about the change since “in a way, it’s George’s character” as well as his father’s creation, but he does think his father would have supported having a gay character.
But instead of creating a whole new character, the writer of “Star Trek Beyond,” Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty in the new films, decided to have Sulu go through gay conversion therapy and repent of his straightness. Now we have a brief scene showing Scotty with his husband, holding his daughter. “Look everyone, Sulu is gay… now back to the action.” Instead of creating a whole new character, Pegg took the lazy route and decided just to appropriate a straight one.
It Doesn’t Even Make Any Plot Sense
“I’m delighted that there’s a gay character,” Takei told The Hollywood Reporter. “Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.”
When Takei first heard the idea of making Sulu gay, he tried to convince the team to develop a new character instead. “I told him [John Cho, who plays Sulu] ‘Be imaginative and create a character who has a history of being gay, rather than Sulu, who had been straight all this time, suddenly being revealed as being closeted.'”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Takei had enough negative experiences inside the Hollywood closet, he says, and strongly feels a character who came of age in the 23rd century would never find his way inside one.” Good point. Would a gay man really be hiding in the closet all these years in the extremely tolerant world of “Star Trek,” especially for someone from Earth and working in the all-inclusive Federation?
The Hollywood Reporter also makes the prickly point that this is even more twisted because the new film takes place before the old “Star Trek,” so we would actually have Sulu being gay and then going into the closet. That’s just weird. How do the “Star Trek” writers and all the actors rallying behind the decision to gay-up Sulu explain that little jewel of timeline inconsistency?
They can’t, but they don’t care. Instead of being faithful to a consistent science-fiction narrative, one actor after another is throwing his support behind the fictional gay Sulu and throwing the real-life gay actor who played straight Sulu under the bus. That includes Zachary Quinto, who is also gay in real life, but plays straight Spock—for now. Pretty messed-up stuff.
It’s Not Positive for Gay People, Either
But it fits the Hollywood, pro-gay agenda, and in the long run it will probably undermine their cause. Like feminism, the homosexual militant agenda (as opposed to regular gay people who just want to live their lives in peace) has moved beyond wanting equality and tolerance. The Gay Gestapo, of which Hollywood is a part, wants power; they want to punish straights; they want to elevate themselves as the ones with enlightened gay consciousness; and they want to ram their agenda of approval and capitulation (not tolerance) down the throats of every American. In the process, they will push gay characters in your face, they will appropriate straight ones, and you will like it, damn it!
The sad thing is, this is only stirring up conflict and creating more division. A lot of people, and I include myself in this, are tolerant of homosexuality, love their homosexual friends, and really don’t care what people do in the bedroom. But I don’t need nor want gayness (nor feminism, global warming, environmentalism, gun control, and not even religion of any stripe) shoved in my face every time I turn on the television or go to a movie. If it happens, and continues to happen, I’ll just stop watching.
Most people want a good, well-written, well-acted story: realistic characters who are part of a beautifully crafted narrative that challenges us to think and makes us feel greater empathy for others. If that involves a gay character, great. If it doesn’t, if it’s about an agenda, the writers and producers have duped me into watching something that amounts to propaganda rather than good storytelling. That doesn’t make me a happy customer.
What the “Star Trek” writers are doing is a violation of quality art (and yes, even science fiction is a type of art—not high art, but still art) for the sake of a liberal agenda—or even worst, just to create conflict and buzz for marketing purposes (sometimes it really does come down to the almighty dollar). Either way, they don’t care about well-crafted storytelling or being faithful to the cohesiveness of a created universe. They just want to get gold stars for being progressive and tolerant, or they simply want to line their pockets. As a result, they’re just pissing everyone off.
Look, Good Art Is Possible
They could learn a lot from Alan Ball. He’s the gay screenwriter who created HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and wrote “True Blood.” He, probably better than many in Hollywood, mainstreamed homosexuality in television in a way that was artistic and effective (along with “Will and Grace”). Ball deftly created compelling homosexual characters who touched our hearts and revealed to us deep struggles gay people face today—a feat he accomplished while being artistically faithful and treating his own creations with the care and respect they deserve, even on those occasions when he was advancing his own commentary on homosexuality.
This is particularly true with the fictional character David Fisher in “Six Feet Under,” a beautifully crafted homosexual character with whom the viewer connects immediately, even if you’re not gay. The same is true of Lafayette Reynolds in “True Blood,” a complex character who tugs at our heartstrings in his quest for true love.
Ball gave us exceptional characters while maintaining quality storytelling. Does this mean he didn’t have an agenda? He certainly did. In a way, all writers have an “agenda.” They want to communicate something, and often it is something of social significance. In the case of “True Blood,” Ball had a gay agenda in the overall theme of the show, but he was clever enough to incorporate that into a story in a realistic way that lent itself to the narrative as created by the writer of the original series, Charlaine Harris.
This is what good writing looks like, and there are several other examples in television and film, including “Orange Is the New Black.” “Star Trek Beyond” in this instance isn’t one of them. They have taken good storytelling and turned it on its head just to make a cultural and political statement. This imposition of gayness by Hollywood is offensive not only on a social-cultural level, it’s insulting on a creative level.
Making Sulu gay did nothing to advance the plot or play into an overall narrative that actually promotes a significant message about homosexuality. Neither is it like “Battlestar Galactica” where Starbuck is now a woman in an entirely newly imagined story (and even that caused quite the uproar). “Star Trek” has not been re-imagined. Sulu is still Sulu, and nothing in the plot has called for a change in his sexuality—a change, as I stated previously, that cannot really be done retroactively because of the timeline of the story.
What the writers of “Star Trek” have done is lazy, banal, trivial, and, simply put, bad writing. As artists, they can do better. We as paying viewers deserve better. Instead, they just want to make a statement instead of creating something original. As a result, they will not convert anyone to their cause, and they won’t bring anything of worth to the art they are trying to create. Instead, they are diminishing themselves, undermining Roddenberry’s creation, and sowing discord from their soapbox perch instead of building bridges and opening hearts through imaginative storytelling.