Jennifer M. Groot’s documentary is a campy, entertaining film that explores George Takei’s personal history and career spanning five decades, as well as his loving relationship with his husband, Brad Takei. Earlier this year, To Be Takei premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and is making its rounds on the film festival circuit; I caught the film at Calgary’s own Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival.
To Be Takei chronicles Takei’s life from time in Japanese internment camps to Sulu Star Trek stardom to his rise as a gay rights Internet celebrity. Throughout the film Takei mediates on how deeply affected he was by his experience growing up in Japanese American internment camps during WWII. As a result, Takei has been actively involved in human rights and Japanese-American relations throughout his life. He was also involved in local and state politics, separate from his acting roles. The film’s title is likely taken from Takei combining the two (acting and politics) when he put out a popular fake public service announcement “Its OK to Be Takei”. In the last couple of years Tennessee has been attempting to erase the word gay in schools and so Takei has lent his name to the cause.
The film balances Takei’s life story with his current situation, which includes touring the world as a gay rights advocate and appearances at nerdy entertainment expos to meet adoring fans. Interviews from colleagues and friends give us the sense that Takei’s celebrity has grown and evolved over time. In fact, Takei is somewhat of a rock star nowadays with countless guest appearances on television, a musical inspired by his childhood (soon to be on Broadway) and more than seven million Facebook fans.
Like Takei himself, the film is likeable and amusing; he has a wicked sense of humour but is serious in what he believes in. What is most compelling is hearing Takei’s account of his own life and why he believes it turned out the way it did. Career-wise, Takei grew up in a time when Asian stereotypes were rampant in Hollywood and he felt that he had to be closeted to have a successful career. As a gay minority Takei faced an uphill battle to fight the two forms of discrimination that are still prevalent today. It is definitely interesting to have an insider’s take on why Takei didn’t come out until 2005 and why he felt that he and Brad couldn’t have children.
On that note, while there is the story of George Takei, there is also the tale of Brad and George who have been married for more than 25 years. The dynamics of their relationship are played onscreen and there are some serious laugh-out-loud moments between the two of them. Hearing both of them speak, you sometimes forget how old they really are. The two men have great chemistry and are an adorable couple. While I am sure they are the envy of gay couples everywhere, people of any orientation can appreciate them as models of a great marriage.
To Be Takei is a charming tale and worth checking out for those interested in human rights and the gay rights movement. And of course, fans of the original Star Trek will also be delighted to see some of the old cast poke fun at William Shatner and speak about their experiences with Hikaru Sulu.
By Sheena Manabat