Jennifer M. Kroot’s To Be Takei is an affectionate portrait of the hardest-working member of the original cast of Star Trek, George Takei. That’s pronounced tuh-KAY, not tuh-KAI, as so many have misspoken it over the years, including but not limited to William Shatner, whose strained non-relationship with Takei — particularly Shatner’s absence from Takei’s wedding — is one of the film’s many running threads. Others include Takei’s recent Internet fame; his intimate partnership with his husband, Brad; how Takei’s campaigning for marriage equality contributed to them being able to get married in the first place; and, perhaps most poignantly, Los Angeles–born Takei’s time spent in internment camps as a child for the crime of being of Japanese ancestry in America during World War II.
The forced internment of American citizens because (as Takei puts it) they happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor is one of the darker chapters in our history. Children were forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance while imprisoned behind watchtowers and barbed-wire fences, and their parents had to sign Kafka-esque “loyalty questionnaires.” This atrocity committed by the Greatest Generation tends to fall down the memory hole, and Takei tells his story throughout To Be Takei, which also traces the development of Allegiance, a musical about his experiences in the camps. (Howard Stern calls the subject of Japanese-American internment camps “boring,” and says nobody will care about Allegiance. He’s so edgy!)
The archival footage seen here of Japanese-Americans being rounded up and placed in the camps contains easily some of the least familiar images of American life during World War II. This is a world apart from victory gardens or all-star war bond rallies, as are the virulently racist, anti-Japanese signs that greeted the internees upon their release.
But even with this darkness, To Be Takei is never less than joyful — much like the man himself, who not only managed to rise above having been imprisoned by his country for no good reason but also went on to a storied acting career at a time when Asian people were rarely seen on American screens. Star Trek is shown to be one of the first roles that allowed him to speak with his native Angeleno accent, and Takei says his biggest regret is having played Japanese stereotypes in two Jerry Lewis pictures.
Of course, Takei had to remain closeted for much of his career in order to have one at all, and the title, To Be Takei, also refers to his longtime partner, Brad, finding his place in the star’s renewed celebrity. Brad's discomfort at George’s frequent dances with the devil on The Howard Stern Show is both palpable and understandable.
Finally, we’ve all viewed countless weddings, and by this point footage of dozens if not hundreds of same-sex marriages. But if witnessing Takei and Brad exchanging vows doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you’re either heartless, or you’re William Shatner.
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