‘To Be Takei’: Civil Rights, Humor, and ‘Star Trek’ Fans

Posted by on 6.11.2014

Jennifer Kroot reflects on her portrait of actor/activist and Star Trek icon George Takei in her documentary that Variety called "a unique blend of camp and conviction." The man who played Sulu has used his wicked sense of humor to challenge the status quo decades after the '60s show launched into syndication. Takei looks back at his upbringing in a Japanese-American internment camp and discusses his advocacy for same-sex marriage today. To Be Takei screens at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival on June 15.

FilmLinc asked the directors included in the upcoming Human Rights Watch Film Festival to give some insight on filmmaking and tackling issue-oriented work prior to the launch of the series on June 13.

To Be Takei
Jennifer Kroot, USA, 90m

Responses by Jennifer Kroot:

On civil rights violations of all kinds:

I was really impressed with the way that George Takei made the parallel between his experience as a Japanese-American, who had been imprisoned as a child in an internment camp, and the discrimination he faces as a publicly out gay man. In his activism he makes it clear that racial civil rights violations are the same as the civil rights violations against LGBT people. It's only been recently that LGBT people's rights have been categorized as "civil rights." George's activism has made this very clear since he has experienced these obstacles firsthand. This is one of the key elements of George's activism, and it's a very important theme in the film.

On the diverse Takei audience:

The film can be an educational tool for a very broad audience because of George's role in Star Trek, his appearances on the Howard Stern Show, and through his extensive Facebook/social media fame. George is able to present issues of civil rights—with a focus on the Japanese-American internment and LGBT people—but he's not perceived as divisive and people appreciate that. George's activism style ranges from being quite serious to humorous and even totally outrageous. It was important to capture those qualities in the film in order to create a very entertaining, engaging, funny, and yet thoughtful and educational feature about internment and the struggle for marriage equality. I think the film provides a real education for audiences. We anticipate that this film will be screened in Asian-American and LGBT studies courses, but it may educate a wider audience as well because of its entertainment value.

On working with the celebrity/activist:

George Takei's popularity continued to soar as we made the film. It became very intense trying to keep up with him, especially on a low budget. People don't always realize how busy the Takeis are, but George is traveling at least half of the year doing civil rights speeches, sci-fi conventions, acting jobs, tech talks, etc. But George and his husband, Brad, worked with us to make sure that we knew their schedules as new events came up for them.  

On her film's ability to entertain and educate:

I think generally audiences will appreciate that a film about civil rights can be entertaining. Additionally, this film provides a history lesson of the Japanese-American internment during World War II—probably a better one than most Americans get in school. Since the internment happened to Japanese-Americans predominantly on the West Coast, I imagine that there may be even less awareness by people on the East Coast about the extent of what happened at that time. I think that New Yorkers—such a diverse group ethnically—will find this interesting and important. 

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