July 13, 2014

Gay American Icon Actor George Takei: It’s Takei’s Time

George Takei is the subject of the film "To Be Takei"

By Spencer Blohm

For 77 year old actor and Hollywood/LGBT icon George Takei, life hasn’t always been easy – in fact, it often still isn’t. However this, dare I say it, “senior citizen,” appears to be just hitting his stride. He has become a media darling, is beloved by his fans, reigns as an internet superstar, and has even revived his career in the meantime.

George Takei’s incredible life story is the subject of a new documentary from director Jennifer Kroot called To Be Takei. The film is exclusively being run as part of a special that DirecTV offers from July 3rd through August 5th, before being released more widely.

The documentary aims to expand the public perception of Takei, whether it be as an LGBT crusader, a sci-fi legend, or even an internet personality. Jennifer Kroot’s film explores almost every aspect of Takei’s life and career, and the result is something that will surely change any perception of the actor.

Jennifer Kroot
Director Jennifer Kroot.
The film begins during one of the darkest and most traumatic periods of Takei’s life: his childhood. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in 1942, the U.S. Government took thousands of Japanese-Americans into custody and placed them in internment camps. From the age of 5 and until he was 8, Takei was held in prison-like custody by his own country, despite being a US citizen. It was a harsh lesson on the inequality, prejudice, and abuses of power that were still prevalent in the world, and the experience was something that has stuck with Takei.

His teen years and young adulthood were more prosperous, however, and saw Takei excel in school. He earned his Bachelors and Masters of Arts from UCLA, studied further at Sophia University in Tokyo, and later honed his acting skills at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon England.

Despite his extensive education in acting, for an Asian-American in post-WWII America, acting parts of any substance (beyond stereotypes) were few and far between. His first job was providing voice overs for Japanese monster films like Godzilla Raids Again, which would be released in America. He struggled through the late 50’s and 60’s to find more than small parts in shows, appearing in programs like The Twilight Zone and Playhouse 90. Finally, Takei got his big break with the then-new series, Star Trek.

Trekkies will be delighted when the documentary discusses Takei’s life as Sulu, a role he has reprised a number of times on the various different incarnations and continuations of the series. The documentary features interviews with the original cast, including Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig, and even William Shatner (with whom Takei has been feuding for over 40 years). Audiences will see exactly how bad the blood is between the two men, especially when the film cuts to Takei skewering Shatner during the latter’s Comedy Central Roast.

Of course, beyond his life as Sulu, the film explores Takei’s life as a gay man, a role he wasn’t always eager to make public. Being a double minority took a toll on Takei during his youth, when he was most vulnerable. However, he was lucky to find love with his partner of 25 years, Brad Altman, who is featured heavily in the present day scenes of the documentary. From his public announcement that he was gay in 2005, at the age of 68, Takei has been working relentlessly towards equality for all, both within the US and abroad.

George Takei and Brad Altman

Part of that activism is his activity online, something he’s become very well known for, as the film covers. After he joined Facebook in 2011, he amassed over 7 million followers on that site alone, as well as 1.23 million on Twitter. He uses social media to preach his message of acceptance, to put those guilty of injustice on blast, and to share his tongue in cheek humor with followers. A big part of his online persona is his successful YouTube channel, Takei’s Take,  where he has posted videos of everything from a lip sync of “Let It Go” directed at the Westboro Baptist Church to a rather sensual reading of 50 Shades of Gray.

If there’s anything that we can learn from To Be Takei, it would be the power of the human will. He’s been put through the ringer in his life, and had odds stacked against him, but he’s come out on the other side with positivity and humor. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s still teaching us how to fight for what is right, especially equality for all.


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