We all have our baggage. But that doesn’t mean we have to let it weigh us down. Just ask George Takei. He came to fame via his role as Sulu in the Star Trek franchise but has since reinvented himself several times over, first as an aspiring politician and most recently a gay rights activist and playwright. His activism stems well beyond equality for sexual orientation. He’s also a spokesperson for universal love and acceptance and seeing the humor in everything. He has spread his relentless optimism to over 7 million Facebook followers, not to mention comic con attendees the world over. Jennifer M. Kroot’s documentary profiles the life and achievements of this undeniably charming man and explores just why it’s so awesome “To Be Takei.”
What’s George got to be so happy about? Well, for starters, he’s alive and well. Having spent part of his childhood imprisoned in American internment camps for U.S. citizens of Japanese descent (thanks to a shameful decision by Roosevelt following the bombing of Pearl Harbor) he appreciates the little things. He’s got a loving, supportive husband and partner of 25 years named Brad, who also keeps the show running behind the scenes, handling the dirty work so that Takei can remain upbeat and affable.
Surprisingly, not everyone loves George. Of course, there are all the anti-gay politicians who look terribly foolish whenever they attempt to engage him in an equality debate. More puzzling is the animosity from his former colleague, William Shatner. Shatner waffles between denying a personal relationship with Takei (despite having worked on 6 movies and 3 seasons of television) and acting hurt because he (erroneously) believes he was left off the invite list for George and Brad’s wedding. Another thing Shatner is weirdly sore about: Sulu’s character getting a promotion to Captain in “Star Trek VI.”
Because of his positive attitude, Takei has very few regrets in life, though one of them is listening to his agent early in his career and taking stereotypical Asian roles to “further his career.” He also regrets having blamed his father for extending their stay in the camps by refusing to sign an entrapping “Loyalty Letter” to the U.S.
Though Takei never had the chance to apologize to his father before he died, he was able to exorcise his regret through an original musical about the internment camps called “Allegiance.” He sang to his father every night on stage during its successful run in San Diego and later on Broadway.
Despite a slightly meandering structure, “To Be Takei” is a highly entertaining and moving portrait. Like Takei himself, it doesn’t dwell in the negative. It covers all the trying times in his life. But just when your eyes start to sting, the levity returns. Takei’s philosophy is simple. “It takes an optimistic attitude to get over something like internment and be able to achieve things… you determine your own destiny.” Mission accomplished, Captain.