Hasslein Blog: To Be Takei


Hasslein Blog

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

To Be Takei

by Spencer Blohm

For Trekkies everywhere, George Takei is an icon. His role as Sulu in the original Star Trek television series in the 1960s has earned him the respect and adoration of sci-fi junkies worldwide. However, it's his life post-Star Trek life that's the focus of a new documentary called To Be Takei, which is premiering and airing exclusively on Direct TV from July 3rd through August 5th. Don't worry though, Trekkies, there's plenty of Trek talk in the documentary to keep your attention.

The documentary covers Takei's rough childhood, a topic that had been mostly glossed over until now. As a Japanese-American living in California in the early 1940s, he and his family were taken into custody by the U.S. government and placed in an internment camp following the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. His years spent in a camp first in Arkansas, then California, had a profound impact on George, who was only five when their internment began. It sparked his interest in activism, government, and fighting for equality for all—a mission he continues today at the age of 77.

Being Asian-American and gay in the years post-WWII were difficult for George, and he struggled to find work as a minority actor. Of course, we all know Takei received his big break in 1965, when he was cast as Hikaru Sulu in the second pilot for a little-known show called Star TrekAlthough the original series only lasted for three years, it's the role that has defined his career, and one he's reprised numerous times in the Star Trek films and series that followed the original. Some of the most exciting parts of To Be Takei are the interviews with his former costars Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, and his long-time verbal sparring partner, William Shatner. Takei and Shatner have been feuding on and off for over forty years, so managing to convince Shatner to sit down and be interviewed in a film about Takei was a praise-worthy feat for filmmaker Jennifer Kroot. While the bad blood between the two actors may likely never be fully cast aside, it provides entertainment for fans who, no doubt, enjoy the two gentlemen's witty barbs at each other.

The film wouldn't be complete without discussing George's LGBT advocacy, something he's relatively new to after publicly coming out at the age of 68 in 2005. As one of the most influential and well-liked personalities on social media, he has been using those various platforms to spread his message of tolerance and love, all with his signature tongue-in-cheek humor.

Another aspect to the film is George's resurgence into popular culture, thanks to his regular appearances on The Howard Stern show and his Facebook page, which has been "liked" more than 7 million times. Beyond Facebook, George has become a regular source of entertainment on Twitter and YouTube, where his channel is filled with videos ranging from a cover of "Let It Go" to him reading passages from 50 Shades of Grey. The title of the film is even a play on one of his famous YouTube videos where he takes on Tennessee's "Don't Say Gay" bill, by encouraging fans to simply say "Takei" instead of "gay." His online popularity is so massive, AARP hired him to star in a web series for them called "Takei's Take", which is about to debut its second season.

All the jokes and celebrity aside, To Be Takei also shows a touchingly personal side to a man best known for a dirty joke or two. Viewers get a look at Takei's life with his husband, and partner of 25 years, Brad Altman. The two have drastically different personalities, which makes their bickering all the more endearing and funny to watch. For fans looking to get a better look at the man we all know as Sulu, To Be Takei is a fun, entertaining, and deeply personal way to get to know George Takei.

Spencer Blohm has been a lifelong Trekkie, thanks in large part to his father's avid sci-fi addiction. He lives and works in Chicago with his cat—who, despite his best attempts, is sorely disappointing as the Spock to his Captain Kirk.

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