“The strength of this starship lay in its diversity,” George Takei says of the Star Trek Enterprise. So why was there never a gay character in the sci-fi series?
In a new video for Big Think, Sulu actor Takei explains that he once asked precisely this question of creator Gene Roddenberry. The answer says a lot about how prepared audiences were to engage with LGBT characters on screen.
“I did very privately bring up the issue of gays and lesbians,” Takei said, “and he was certainly – as a sophisticated man – mindful of that.
“But he said – in one episode we had a biracial kiss, Captain Kirk and Uhura had a kiss – that show was literally blacked out in the South.”
The episode Takei is referring to is Plato’s Stepchildren from 1968, when William Shatner’s character shared a kiss with Nyota Uhura’s. It was one of the first times a white and black character had kissed on mainstream American television.
“Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia didn’t air that,” Takei continued, “our ratings plummeted. 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 [LGBT] issue I wouldn’t be able to deal with any issue because I would be cancelled.’”
Takei added that he understood Roddenberry’s argument, because he himself had not yet come out when he had that conversation. “I talked to him as a liberal, rather than as a gay man.”
But he said he believed that times had changed since Star Trek first grappled with the issues of diversity: “I think we are getting closer to that utopian society that Gene Roddenberry visualised.”
Watch the full in-depth conversation below, where Takei also talks about how his character Sulu got his name.