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Film Review: "To Be Takei: A Star's Trek for Life, Liberty and Love

Posted By Colleen Bunn, Miami University, Friday, September 25, 2015

Reviewed By Nicole Kurth, Lake Superior State University 

Jennifer M. Kroot’s 2014 documentary follows around the pop culture personality and Star Trek icon George Takei as he makes media appearances, hangs out with his husband Brad and reflects on his life thus far. For a 77 year-old, George is just as active on social media as any college student or young adult. Chances are, you may see his posts on your social media on a pretty regular basis. The guy is pretty witty and always has something cute, funny or important to share. If you haven’t shared something of his on your Facebook, maybe your friends have retweeted one of his posts in their feed. George, it seems is everywhere spreading his joyful message of: “Its okay to be Takei.”

The film opens with George and hubby Brad powerwalking down a street in their neighborhood. All the while, the two carry on and bicker like the old married couple they are. (Brad and George have been together for 29 years.) The film is sequentially disorganized as it jumps from talking one minute about George’s film career, to signing autographs at a comic con. In between these scenes it is revealed that George and his family were held in a Japanese-American Internment Camp during World War II, first down South and then out West. Due to the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan, Japanese-American citizens had their allegiance to the United States called into question by the American government. Families like George’s were uprooted from their homes and relocated to a camp, where they lived in barrack-like structures that were surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers – complete with armed U.S. soldiers with their eyes and weapons trained on them at all times. The treatment was harsh and demeaning. George’s family lost their home and business while they were interned in the camp. They had to start over working menial jobs after the war. American citizens continued to treat George’s family and others like his as if they were second-class citizens after the war. Many looked upon them with contempt. These memories from his childhood would later serve as inspiration for a play called “Allegiance”. Despite this horrible treatment, George still loved his country greatly. He set out to pursue a career in acting and to become a well-known Asian actor in a field dominated mostly by Caucasians at the time. His positive attitude kept him buoyant in the otherwise rough seas of his life. The film shows that George’s breakthrough role on the original Star Trek series as Mr. Sulu made an impression on other Asian actors and inspired them to also pursue their dreams of acting.

There is another scene that sticks out in this film. It’s when George appeared as a guest on the Howard Stern Show. Besides being surprised at seeing George on Stern’s show, it is interesting to see George firmly deny his homosexuality. The George we all know now is openly gay and a strong supporter of LGBT rights. In the course of the film, it is revealed that George knew he was gay since he was a teenager. But in interests of protecting both himself and his career, he chose to live a closeted life. (George decided to come out in 2005 and wed his longtime partner, George Altman, in 2008.)

Even though this film jumps around a lot, George’s instantly recognizable laugh keeps the viewer tuned in. There are many missed opportunities in this film. If the scenes sequence had followed perhaps a more logical pathway and all the threads were pulled together in the narrative, I would have given this film a high rating. I lay blame on the editor and the director for not pulling the film together. I was especially surprised that more was not said or commented on George’s position as a LGBT rights supporter. I also feel more time could have been spent on his childhood experiences in an internment camp and how it shaped him as a person. I think it would have been interesting to delve more into George’s presence on social media. I mean, one simply doesn’t see many 70 year-olds holding Court on the web these days. So, my final rating on this film is a 3.5 out of 5 stars. Its entertaining and worth the watch, but Jennifer Kroot was unable to weave all the pieces of George’s story together in the end when it needed most. I believe this is this film’s only flaw.

This film is a good option to show students if you want to discuss power and privilege, WWII history, injustices, LGBT history/current topics, or minorities. George Takei is a person that most students and staff will recognize. His sweet-natured personality makes him easy to listen to and very likable. His status as a social media icon and LGBT spokesperson give us many opportunities to discuss the progress of the LGBT movement and its recent victory for marriage equality this past June. His experiences in an internment camp could lead to many ethical discussions with students. Just like George Takei has been able to boldly go where no man has gone before, we too can dare to ask questions of our students utilizing topics raised in this film that maybe make some uncomfortable. But, by following George’s advice of: “It’s Okay to be Takei”, we can feel a little bit freer to be ourselves. 

Tags:  film review  Injustice  To Be Takei 

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