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Charming Documentary Shows It's More Than Okay 'To Be Takei'
If you have no desire to go to the movies this long weekend because of the lackluster summer film offerings, then it's a perfect time to catch up on TV shows and movies. One title we recommend adding to your queue is the George Takei documentary, To Be Takei, which is a brisk 94-minute trek (pun intended) through the actor and activist's fascinating life.For many TV fans, the Japanese American actor will always be associated with his most recognizable role as Sulu, the U.S.S. Enterprise's helmsman on the original Star Trek show and film series. For others, Takei might be better known as one of those funny guys on Twitter (1.35 million followers), Facebook (7.5 million) or other media. But director Jennifer M. Kroot's film reveals much more about the man, using a number of in-person interviews and archival footage to compose a biography that's charming, funny and informative on many levels.
A gay rights proponent, Takei has been outspoken on the subject of equality since he came out in 2005, after hiding his sexuality for years to protect his career. Takei says that the tipping point for his coming out was when then-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed same-sex marriage legislation. He's been with husband and manager Brad Altman for nearly 30 years, and their relationship is at the heart of this film. In one of the more heartbreaking scenes, we see Altman forced to wait on a bus outside the Japanese imperial palace as Takei is honored by the Japanese government. No same-sex partners were allowed into the palace ceremony, and the memory still stings both men 10 years later.
Another revealing facet of Takei's life is his family's internment during World War II. Though they lived and worked in L.A., the Takei family was systematically rounded up with all other persons of Japanese ethnicity and shipped off (at first to Arkansas). "Due process just disappeared," Takei says. The film details how the imprisonment greatly influenced Takei's interest and involvement in many issues surrounding social justice and equality.
What we were surprised the most to find out how much Takei was involved in local L.A. politics, from campaigning for Mayor Tom Bradley (the city's first black mayor) to running for Bradley's open L.A. city council seat (and losing by less than 1,700 votes). Takei also served on the Southern California Rapid Transit District, which helped develop L.A.'s subway system from 1973-84.
Of course, Kroot's film also touches on the actor's Star Trek days, and includes a lot of old footage and interviews with the cast, including Leonard Nimoy (Spock), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) and Walter Koenig (Chekov). It's Shatner's interview, however, that's the most telling. We've known that there there's no love lost between the two men, and film does not shy away from that. Nichols, who served as matron of honor at Brad and George's wedding, sums the situation up as "Bill being Bill," while crossing her eyes for emphasis. That's pretty much the extent of the criticism on Shatner, remaining in lock-step with the overall good-natured tone of the film; thankfully, To Be Takei isn't a VH1 tell-all. We're also glad Kroot didn't make this film a Trek-centric film, which would have inevitably alienated potential audience members.
While there are many more celebrity interviews woven throughout the film, it's the relationship between the husbands that's the most fun to watch. Kroot brings to life a family portrait of these two men who bicker and tease, but complement each other perfectly. Brad is such an integral part of Takei's life that the film should have been been called To Be Takeis instead.
In case you missed the film's short theatrical run earlier this month, To Be Takei is available on demand now.