The Asian Reporter 19th Annual
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TO BE TAKEI. George Takei and his husband Brad go for a drive in To Be Takei. The documentary explores how the personal details of Takeiís life, notably his childhood experiences in the internment camp and the struggles of being a gay Asian-American actor, also become the platform of advocacy in his later years. (Photo courtesy of Starz Digital Media)
From The Asian Reporter, V24, #09 (May 5, 2014), pages 10 & 13.
Where no man has gone before
To Be Takei
Screening May 18 at 7:00pm
McMenamins Kennedy School, 5736 N.E. 33rd Avenue, Portland
By Marie Lo
The Asian Reporter
George Takei may still be best known for his role as Mr. Sulu in the groundbreaking television show "Star Trek," which not only explored controversial topics of its day such as racial equality, Cold War anxieties, and the Vietnam War, but it was also the first primetime show to feature a multiethnic cast. In Jennifer Klootís biographical documentary To Be Takei, it becomes quickly evident that Takei has consistently taken on pioneering roles both on and off the screen.
The film opens with Takei and his husband, Brad Takei, going on a power walk through their Los Angeles neighborhood. Though George is older, he is clearly the fitter and sprier one, leaving Brad a few meters behind. Brad complains that George normally doesnít walk this fast. They bicker a bit, negotiate over which direction to go next, and then the film leads us through the different avenues of Takeiís life.
What unfolds is a life that is "stranger than science fiction," and the film explores a varied career that includes actor, public servant, activist, and cultural critic.
Born on April 20, 1937, Takei was just a boy when he and his family were sent to internment camps during World War II. Later, when the war finally ended and they returned to Los Angeles, the family struggled to find a place in the racist climate of the post-war period. From an early age, Takei always knew he wanted to act, and he took on a series of demeaning stereotypical roles to make a living, something he now regrets. His big break, however, came when he was cast by Gene Roddenbury to play Mr. Sulu. And the rest, as they say, is history.
After the series ended, Takei entered local politics, running for Los Angeles City Council and later serving with the Southern California Rapid Transit District from 1973 to 1984. He testified before congress in support of redress for Japanese-American internment. With the resurgent popularity of the "Star Trek" television show and movies, Takei again returned to acting and to the stage. This time, however, instead of remaining in the closet about his sexuality to protect his acting career, he came out as gay.
And when he did, he did so widely, going on television to take on homophobia, often with a fearless hilarity that has earned him a whole new generation of fans. In the current struggle for marriage equality, Takei has again taken a vocal position on behalf of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) rights, often appearing with Brad to promote marriage equality.
The details of his life are presented through a self-conscious film that foregrounds blurring of the personal, the public, and the political. To Be Takei explores how the personal details of Takeiís life, notably his childhood experiences in the internment camp and the struggles of being a gay Asian-American actor, also become the platform of advocacy in his later years, suggesting that the roles he has taken on ó activist, actor, civil servant, performer ó are inseparable from each other.
The film also explores the process and constraints of documentary filmmaking and what happens when you make a biographical film about a well-known celebrity and his family ó the reluctant co-stars ó who find themselves thrust in front of the camera and unsure of how much they want to share. It is clear that as much as this film is about Takei and his amazing career, it is also about Brad, their partnership and marriage, and that "to be Takei" also applies to Brad, who took on Georgeís last name when they married. To Be Takei is a joint affair, and Brad is the devoted, behind-the-scenes figure who pays attention to the details and enables George to be the public figure he is.
This endearing, inspiring film is appealing on so many levels. What stands out for me is Takeiís loud and deep chuckle that punctuates his sentences. And it is so distinctive and frequent that it becomes a part of the soundtrack. It is resonant of his optimism and snarky but playful sense of humor. This will probably comes as no surprise to Takeiís millions of Facebook fans who have come to expect Takeiís hilarious and incisive social commentary on his newsfeed.
And now, in addition to this film, George Takei fans have another thing to look forward to: Allegiance, a musical about the Japanese-American internment starring Takei, which will premiere on Broadway later this year.
To Be Takei is screening at 7:00pm on May 18 at McMenamins Kennedy School (5736 N.E. 33rd Avenue, Portland) as part of QDoc: The Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival. For more information, call (503) 249-3983 or visit <www.queerdocfest.org>. To learn move, visit <www.tobetakei.com>.
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