Paradise City Comic Con is just a few days away, and amid the crowd of Space Dandy cosplayers and Ocarina-peddling vendors will be a row of smiling celebrity guests, including Gravity Falls' Cecil Baldwin, Game of Thrones' Pilou Asbæk, and Wilson Cruz, known for his iconic roles as Rickie Vasquez on My So-Called Life, Angel in Rent, and now Dr. Hugh Culber in the latest Star Trek iteration, Discovery.
Discovery made headlines last year for featuring the first gay kiss in the futuristic series' history, which stretches back to the '60s. The kiss, which was shared by actors Cruz and Anthony Rapp, was a passionate beginning to what many fans are calling the "next frontier" for the iconic sci-fi show.
Cruz divulges that in addition to being excited to visit fair-weathered South Florida, where's he done LGBT-rights activism work in the past, he can't wait to meet with gay geeks. In particular, it's important for Cruz to let LGBT youth know that "epic" gay romances exist despite their longtime scarcity on the small screen.
"These two characters represent hope and an ideal that we’re all working for," he says. "It will be a larger-than-life love story in the vein of Romeo and Juliet. Very rarely do we see in pop culture an LGBT relationship that stands up on those terms. We really haven't been allowed to see it in the past."
Cruz, who grew up watching the show, also says he's "humbled" to right the wrongs of decades past.
"As a fan, I was as disappointed as everyone else that we never saw an openly LGBT person in lead roles throughout the franchise," he says. "Anthony and I, when we were making this show, we had the audience in mind. This rendition of Star Trek is really allowing for people to consider that there’s a second side to every story. There has to be a way to come together and appreciate each other for our differences rather than feel threatened by them."
The actor believes one of the reasons why LGBT romances have been stunted in the mainstream is because as progressive as Hollywood is — "or claims to be," he says — it's still a business interested in the bottom line. There's a risk in telling these stories. Will the masses tune in? Will they buy movie tickets? But the advancement of gay rights in recent years, Cruz believes, is leading to more diverse representations of love onscreen.
"Our success has been our greatest calling card," he says. "I think as we see more success, we’ll continue to see more depictions."
So how did it feel to embrace Rapp on camera and usher in a new narrative in the world-famous series? Surprising, exciting, and memorable. "I’ve never kissed Anthony before, but we definitely wanted it to happen when we finally received the script," he says. "The kiss was really good because it was bigger than us. It was great!"
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Cruz says the roles he and Rapp have taken up are also a response to the current political milieu. "I think hope is something we all need right now, when see how the Trump administration is trying to turn back the clock," says Cruz, who has collaborated in the past with SAVE Dade's efforts. "I needed to be part of the revolution and get in the fight to advance the quality of life for the people in my community. I can’t stand back and not use whatever visibility I have as an actor."
In the long term, Cruz says, he hopes his Star Trek romance will help bring about even more wins, both politically and personally, for LGBT people across the globe.
"These things don't just happen automatically. People make it happen. And in this show, you are going to see this world that [Star Trek creator] Gene Roddenberry dreamt of," he explains. "We’re all at a point where we’ve decided what kind of world we want to live in."
Paradise City Comic Con. Friday, January 12, through Sunday, January 14, at the Miami Airport Convention Center, 711 NW 72nd Ave., Miami; 954-399-1330; macc.com. Tickets cost $20 to $199 via paradisecitycomiccon.com.