Dignity—it’s a recurring word in To Be Takei, Jennifer M. Kroot’s documentary about Hollywood star, Star Trek icon, civil-rights activist, Howard Stern Show regular, and Internet phenomenon George Takei.
The director, on the line from San Francisco, attributes it to the Japanese term gaman, which means “to endure difficulties with dignity”. As Takei endured both racist and homophobic experiences, gaman is something that underscores his positive, graceful, and humorous attitude toward life’s challenges.
“I think that [gaman] was an important element to surviving the internment camps for Japanese Americans,” Kroot says. “I think that’s how he deals with obstacles is to face them and deal with them and move forward, as opposed to break down.”
Moving forward, to boldly go where no gay Asian American had gone before, is certainly what Takei embodies.
Kroot became a Takei fan as he “became an interesting and beloved voice for LGBT civil-rights issues” after publicly coming out as gay in 2005 to speak out against then California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who rejected a same-sex-marriage bill. He has continued to be vocal about LGBT rights, even debating the likes of Stephen Baldwin and the Westboro Baptist Church. In late 2013, Takei backed a petition to move the 2014 Winter Olympics to our fair city. (“George loves Vancouver,” Kroot says.)
When Kroot discovered there wasn’t a documentary about Takei, she took on the task herself because she couldn’t believe how much he had gone through in his life.
The result chronicles Takei’s life story, from his difficult childhood experiences in internment camps and postwar resettlement on skid row to his becoming one of the only Asian Americans on TV with his breakthrough role as helmsman Lt. Sulu on the Star Trek series, which ran from 1966 to 1969.
Although Takei talks about painful experiences on-camera, the stoic performer never loses his composure. Takei also demonstrates his uncanny ability to transcend differences—whether generational, racial, or sexual—through wit and charisma.
Consequently, Kroot says she can relate more to his husband, Brad, who gets frustrated and annoyed. “Those are all human things. George is a little bit beyond human.”
In fact, Kroot says she still feels starstruck by him even though she’s known him for the past three years. “I really admire how hard he works—it’s really unbelievable—and how much he wants to educate people about different causes involving civil rights and democracy that he believes are so key.…He spends a ton of time doing that and he doesn’t have to, so that’s really admirable, and just to see someone who’s 77 and not afraid of new technology that I’m even afraid of, and not afraid of the future, and maybe that’s because he was in science fiction.”
Whatever the reason may be, he’s also been unafraid to show the world that it’s okay to be Takei.
To Be Takei screens next Thursday (May 8) at the Playhouse.