Many fans know George Takei from his role as Mr. Sulu on the 1960s show Star Trek. But in the past decade, he has drawn followers who admire him because of who he is — not just who he has played. Now, the new documentary To Be Takei may interest more people in Takei's life.
Takei's personal story offers insights into a couple of key chapters of American political and cultural history.
After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, Takei and his family were among the 127,000 Americans of Japanese descent forced into internment camps. He was 5 years old.
"We were first taken to the horse stables of Santa Anita racetrack because the camps weren't built yet and we were housed there ... narrow, smelly, still was pungent with the smell of horse manure. And we were housed there for about three months while the camps were being built," Takei tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "And then [we were] put on railroad cars with armed guards at both ends of each car and transported two-thirds of the way across the country to the swamps of southeastern Arkansas. There [were] barbed wire fences there — tall sentry towers with machine guns pointed at us."
As an adult, Takei became active in the civil rights and peace movements. But he couldn't support the movement that most directly affected him, the gay-rights movement, because coming out could have ended his career. It wasn't until after former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation for marriage equality in California in 2005 that Takei decided to break his silence.
"That night, [now-husband] Brad and I were watching the late-night news and we saw young people pouring onto Santa Monica Boulevard, venting their rage against Arnold Schwarzenegger," he says. "And we felt just as angry as those young people. We discussed it and we decided that I should speak out. And for me to do that, my voice had to be authentic — so I spoke to the press for the first time as a gay man."
Now Takei is a forceful spokesman for gay rights. He has been with Brad since 1985. They were married at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles in 2008.
To Be Takei, directed by Jennifer Kroot, was an official selection for the Sundance Film Festival.
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'To Be Takei' Trailer