John Cho Is the Hero We Deserve & the Hero We Need


AVC: Could you walk people through how Simon [Pegg], Doug [Jung], and Justin [Lin] first told you that Sulu would have a husband? What was your reaction? How did you first learn it?

JC: I learned it first from Justin. Simon had pitched it. I heard from Justin early on in preproduction. I was concerned for a few reasons. I was concerned that George wouldn’t like it, and it turned out to be true. But I was actually concerned that he wouldn’t like it for a different reason. I thought that George would object because he’s a gay actor who was playing straight. I know that was difficult, that he couldn’t come out and that he had crafted a straight character. Then, now, because he’s an activist and he’s out of the closet—clearly, this is an homage a little bit to him—[I worried] he would object to us taking that from his life and say, “Hey, I was a gay actor who created a straight character, and now you’re making him gay because I’ve come out of the closet?,” that we were just seeing him for his sexual orientation. So I thought that would be where he would object. It turns out not to be his objection. But that’s what I was worried about.

And secondly, I was concerned that Asians and Asian Americans might see it as a sort of continuing feminization of Asian men. Asian American men, Asian men have been basically eunuchs in American cinema and television, and I thought maybe it would be seen as a continuation of that.

Thirdly, I was concerned that because this is the same genetic Sulu—although we’re in an alternate timeline—that we would be inadvertently implying that sexual orientation was a choice. So those were my areas of concern. Having said that, I was convinced that the message was pure and that it was coming from a really good place, and I thought that it was handled correctly. People would buy it. And I think we have handled it correctly, and I think people are not worrying about the issues that I was worried about.

JC: You know, I had requested that my husband be Asian.

AVC: Why was that?

JC: The reason was that I grew up with some gay Asian male friends. You don’t really see Asian men together very often. It’s very rare in life. I’ve always felt that there was some extra cultural shame to having two Asian men together, because it was so difficult to come out of the closet, so difficult to be gay and Asian, that they couldn’t really bring themselves… It’s easier to run away from people that look like your family. I wanted the future to be where it was completely normal and therefore, aside from the gender, they look like a traditional heterosexual couple. So that relationship, to me, the optics of it are that it looks very traditional on the one hand and very radical on the other.

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Okay like I’m not gonna lie.

It’s really upsetting to me that George Takei is openly against Sulu being gay in Star Trek Beyond.

Like I respect he’s allowed to have opinions on a character he once played but I 10000% agree with Pegg that introducing a new character and making them gay ran the very likely risk of them becoming The Token Gay. It takes a lot of time to establish a new character and if you introduce a character and the first thing you know about them is that they’re The Gay One then that’s all the average audience is gonna absorb about them. They’re the Gay Character. That’s it. 

But when you reveal that a long standing, established character, with a long history, also happens to be gay, like that’s a big fucking deal.

And not only that but this great, well loved character is a POC, and not only is he gay but he’s married, with a child. 

That makes a statement. That sends an important message to the audience. Queer people are everywhere. They’re your barista and your taxi driver and your doctor and your lawyer and your neighbor and your friend. 

And now they’re the senior helmsman of the USS Enterprise.

I mean, I think a lot of it comes from George Takei being from a different generation. No, really, it applies to gay men too. I run into a lot of older gay male Sherlockians, for instance, who don’t get shipping. They’re perfectly happy with that “close friendship” thing. It’s a very important relationship to them, but they don’t always really get why it would be important for the relationship to be explicitly romantic. The desire for media representation is very generational.

Also, I think Takei is also looking at it like this: if Sulu is gay, and was never shown as being so in TOS, than Takei was playing a closeted character, which he’s not happy about.

That’s how I’m thinking it through, anyways.

And that’s what George said, that he wouldn’t have wanted to play a closeted character.

Personally I think we could just say Sulu is bi and cover both bases…