"To Be Takei,” a documentary profile of the actor and political activist George Takei, opens in theaters Aug. 22. We knew him first as Sulu on "Star Trek," but Takei has proved a master of reinvention several times in his life. Rachael Myrow spoke with him and filmmaker Jennifer Kroot.
RM: George Takei is so much in the public eye. A lot of people probably feel like they already know him — already on a first-name basis with George — why did you want to make this film?
JK: Originally, I was a fan of the original "Star Trek." And then when I heard George’s LGBT activism after he came out in 2005, I just thought that was a very interesting thing for him to do. I admired it very much and found out then that he’d been imprisoned in internment camps, and I really wanted to connect the dots between all of those tremendous obstacles and issues that he had faced. And he remained such a positive — relentlessly positive — public figure that I just felt compelled to try to put this together.
RM: Like many people, I know you as an LGBT activist, fighting against Proposition 8, fighting for gay marriage. What I was less familiar with was the fact that you’ve become a spokesman for the history of the internment camps during WWII. Like other Japanese-Americans, you survived a couple of those camps. I wanted to play a short clip of one of the many presentations you’ve given over the years:
[Film clip, from “To Be Takei”] George Takei: “With no charges, with no trial, the pillar of our justice system – due process – just disappeared.”
GT: Well, I’ve been active in the movement to raise America’s awareness of that dark chapter of American history way back in the late '60s and '70s, when we began a movement to get an apology and redress for that unconstitutional imprisonment.
RM: Do you feel that people you encounter know of the history, or are you sometimes the first person to tell them about it?
GT: I’m often the first person to tell them about it. And when I tell them about the imprisonment of innocent American citizens, simply because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor, they are aghast. They can’t believe that something like that happened in the United States. And so, that makes it that much more important. So we developed a musical on that subject, which is covered in the documentary. And we were hoping to end that documentary with our Broadway opening. Alas, the film was finished before we got to that point. We’re waiting for a theater. However, the film does cover what we call "the West Coast premiere" of “Allegiance.” The New Yorkers prefer to call it “the out-of-town tryout.” But we were a big success in San Diego at the Old Globe Theatre, broke all box office and attendance records. We are confident about our reception on Broadway when we finally find the appropriate size theater that’s vacant.
RM: You are so many things: an actor, a political activist and an Internet phenomenon. There aren’t that many people in the world with more than 7 million followers on Facebook, more than a million followers on Twitter. Lots of celebrities promote themselves online, but you really seem to take to it like a digital native.
GT: Well, the phrase "social media" defines us, but celebrities seem to take the “me” in media to be the operative thing. I find that it’s not going to be the thing that connects you with people. It isn’t “me.” It’s the word “social” in front of it. Finding that common connection between people, rather than just showing people what I had for breakfast or what fancy restaurant I went to last night. It’s finding what we have in common, songs that we remember from a few decades back. Or what we found awfully exciting about a recent movie or a book we’ve read. It’s the connection that’s important, rather than showing off your beautiful new outfit. I do that, too! But, at the same time, it’s a sharing process.
RM: And it’s fair to say that one of the things you share terrifically well is your sense of humor. Anybody who’s following you on any or all of these mediums should be laughing out loud on a regular basis.
GT: That’s the honey. It’s the humor that brings people together. I mean, my base is disparate. It’s LGBT people, it’s political issues-oriented people, it’s people who admire science fiction and are geeks and nerds, it’s the Asian people. You know, it’s all of that coming together. And what brings us all together is humor. That’s the binder. That’s what serves as the glue for the many, many disparate sectors.
RM: Jennifer Kroot, George Takei, thank you for joining us.