George Takei former Star Trek cast member reveals why Star Trek never had a single gay character.
In a new video for Big Think, George Takei, noted LGBT+ rights activist and former Star Trek cast member, explains why the show didn't feature one gay character during the show's original run. The reason: audiences weren't ready for it.
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Takei reveals that the show's creator, Gene Roddenberry, wanted to incorporate as much diversity as possible. However, after the show featured a kiss between William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols on an episode where the two face-battled while under the control of alien forces:
“That show was literally blacked out in the South — Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia didn’t air that; our ratings plummeted,” Takei continued. “It was the lowest-rated episode that we had. And [Roddenberry] said, ‘I’m treading a fine tight wire here. I’m dealing with issues of the time. I’m dealing with the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and I need to be able to make that statement by staying on the air.’ He said, ‘If I dealt with that issue I wouldn’t be able to deal with any issue because I would be canceled.’”
That makes a lot of sense and, as Takei reveals, Roddenberry tried his best to turn Starship Enterprise into a more realistic group of individuals. Even if he couldn't feature interracial love stories or introduce a gay character, Roddenberry was going to push the diversity envelope as much as possible.
Takei also revealed how his character's name was chosen for the show:
“The problem [Roddenberry] had was to find a name for this Asian character from the 23rd century because every Asian surname is nationally specific,” said Takei. “Tanaka is Japanese. Wong is Chinese. Kim is Korean. And 20th century Asia was turbulent with warfare, colonization, rebellion, and he didn’t want to suggest that.”
“He had a map of Asia pinned on the wall and he was staring at it trying to get some inspiration for the Asian character. And he found, off the coast of the Philippines, the Sulu Sea. And he thought, ‘Ah, the waters of the sea touch all shores, embracing all of Asia. And that’s how my character came to have the name Sulu.”
In an interview with The Humanist in 1991 Roddenberry points to exactly why he was so respected by Takei. Unlike many others, Roddenberry was willing to change his opinion on gender and civil rights issues and discuss those issues publicly, regardless of how it would affect his career.
In the early 1960s, I was much more a macho-type person. I was still accepting things from my childhood as necessary and part of reality — how men related to women, et cetera. My assistant, Susan Sackett, used to say to me, “You really put down women a lot for someone who is supposed to be thoughtful and liberal.” I began listening to her and agreeing that she was right in her perceptions. My attitude toward homosexuality has changed. I came to the conclusion that I was wrong. I was never someone who hunted down “fags” as we used to call them on the street. I would, sometimes, say something anti-homosexual off the top of my head because it was thought, in those days, to be funny. I never really deeply believed those comments, but I gave the impression of being thoughtless in these areas. I have, over many years, changed my attitude about gay men and women.
'Star Trek' still doesn't have a single gay character, but perhaps we will get one if the show is ever rebooted. And after 25 reported movie reboots, I bet we will soon see the character in the next few years.
'Star Trek 3' is now filming in Dubai and casting directors are holding an open casting call for extras to appear in the new movie. To audition for a role on 'Star Trek 3' check out our guide to landing an audition here.