An entire generation grew up watching George Takei as Lt. Sulu on Star Trek. That character brought Takei fame, but it merely scratches the surface of a life that began in turmoil and included a life-long struggle. To look at him and hear him speak, you would never know such a warm and genuinely funny man had dealt with such great persecution.
To Be Takei is a new documentary focusing on the life of the actor, which premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival to outstanding reviews. Takei spoke with Scott Shannon about the documentary and the story it tells.
“I grew up, from the age of five to almost nine years old, imprisoned behind those barbed wire fences… machine guns pointed at me, search lights following me,” recalls Takei. “We had nothing to do with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. We’re American citizens; my mother was born in Sacramento, my father was a San Franciscan, I was born in Los Angeles.”
“And simply because we happened to look like the people that bombed Pearl Harbor, we were put in barbed wire prison camps in some of the most hellish places in this country,” he adds.
Takei was one of the people who campaigned as part of the “Redress Movement” — the civil rights effort by Japanese Americans to obtain an apology and reparations from the Unites States government for placing members of their family in internment camps during World War II — and testified in front of Congress during the 1970s. The movement earned a small victory when, in 1976, President Gerald Ford recognized the internment as a “national mistake” that “shall never again be repeated.” And twelve years later, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was signed by President Ronald Reagan, providing surviving detainees with reparations.
That’s just the beginning of Takei’s life story, one that began surrounded by literal barbed wire fences and later, when becoming and actor, would be replaced by a figurative one.
“While I pursued my acting career, I had one face as a professional actor,” explains Takei. “But on the other side of the barbed wire fence, the real me was imprisoned by the homophobia of this country.” Takei spent the majority of his life concealing his sexuality before announcing he was homosexual and in a relationship of 18 years with his partner, Brad Altman, in an issue of Frontiers magazine.
Takei’s decision to come out came after then California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to veto same-sex marriage legislation, which Takei described as “making his blood boil.”
While To Be Takei follows the unique, brave, and inspiring journey of Takei’s life, it also features friends and co-stars William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, Dan Savage, and Walter Koenig.
The film is in select theaters starting August 22nd. You can see it in NYC at the AMC Loews Village 7 (Expect special giveaways for Friday’s Screening!) It is also available for purchase on iTunes.
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