John Cho, who plays Hikaru Sulu in the upcoming sci-fi film Star Trek Beyond, has revealed that the fan favourite is openly gay and married in the new film, an Australian media outlet reported on Thursday.
Cho, who plays the role of Sulu, made famous by George Takei in the 1966-1969 Star Trek television series, told the Herald Sun that the helmsman of starship USS Enterprise is married to a man and father to a daughter with his partner.
The decision to make a long-time franchise staple character gay comes as Hollywood faces growing pressure to include more diversity in its blockbuster films. There is yet to be an openly gay superhero or action star leading a film franchise.
Cho said scriptwriter Simon Pegg and director Justin Lin decided to make Sulu gay in Star Trek Beyond, out on July 22 (and in Singapore on July 21), to pay homage to Takei, 79, who is openly gay and married in real life.
"I liked the approach, which was not to make a big thing out of it, which is where I hope we are going as a species, to not politicise one's orientations," Cho said.
In May, fans of Marvel films sparked the online hashtag "Give Captain America A Boyfriend", pushing for a same-sex relationship between the hero and Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier.
Fans of Disney's animated film Frozen also started an online movement for "Give Elsa A Girlfriend", asking Disney to make the princess character a lesbian in the upcoming sequel, gaining support from actress Idina Menzel, who voices Elsa.
Meanwhile, Takei said he was against making Sulu gay at this stage of the franchise. He told The Hollywood Reporter that he spoke against it to Lin and told Cho to develop a new gay character instead.
"I'm delighted that there's a gay character," said Takei, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights activist who came out in 2005.
"Unfortunately, it's a twisting of (Star Trek creator) Gene's (Roddenberry) creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it's really unfortunate."
He said Roddenberry had always envisioned Sulu as heterosexual.