Director/writer Jennifer M. Kroot documents one of America’s most beloved national treasures, Star Trek star and civil rights activist George Takei, in To Be Takei. The actor is of course most known for his role as Hikaru Sulu of the USS Enterprise, though in recent years, he has become a recognized face in the equal marriage community in addition to supporting human rights in general. He was one of the more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent — many of them Americans — who were confined to internment camps after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Takei starred in the 2012 musical Allegiance, based on this experience.
This unique list of personal attributes, accomplishments and allegiances makes Takei the perfect theme for Kroot’s documentary, a light-hearted affair despite the weightiness of some of its issues. Fans of Takei, who love him not only as Sulu but also as a Facebook and Twitter legend, won’t be surprised by the volume of humor in the doc. For every dark moment touched upon there are ten times more of Takei’s signature laughs or another handful of smiles from his husband and co-star in the documentary, Brad Takei.
They myriad of concepts covered in To Be Takei, from Howard Stern to social media wizardry, make the film a fun and informative watch for anyone, not just fans of the actor or Trekkies – though there’s plenty of content in it for the nerd crowd. The shaky friendship between Takei and William Shatner is even slightly addressed here, with an excellent clip or two from Comedy Central’s Shatner roast, though nothing too definitive is stated. Shatner doesn’t make an appearance in To Be Takei outside of clips, though there are fresh interview cuts from other Star Trek co-stars Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig, and Nichelle Nichols.
To Be Takei is a welcome documentary in a genre dominated by films predicting the end of the world or pointing out all that mankind is doing wrong. The subject matter in To Be Takei is split almost evenly between important topics and funny moments, but even the darker bits are handled delicately by Kroot in a way that doesn’t scream for attention. George Takei clearly does not see himself as some sort of victim, and this documentary makes it clear that he doesn’t want to be perceived as such.
If anything, the only downfall of the film is that there are too many fascinating angles worth discussing about the man leaving too little time to go in-depth on any one particular facet. The film flies through the topics and stories in ninety minutes and ends up as an an amusing enough documentary that could have benefited from a longer running time. Takei’s strange relationship with Shatner could be feature-length itself and still be pretty solid, but unfortunately, it’s only given a brief summary.
In 2011, Takei responded to Tennessee’s “don’t say gay” bill by recording a YouTube video in which he advocates that, if you aren’t allowed to use the word “gay” in schools, you can simply say “Takei” in its place, prompting the phrase “it’s okay to be Takei.” If nothing else, To Be Takei shows that’s it not just okay to be George Takei – it’s downright inspiring. To Be Takei hits select theaters this weekend and will also be making its debut On Demand and on iTunes. In the meantime, you can be one of the 7 million plus people following Takei on Facebook.
The Upside: There’s something for everyone here: Star Trek, LGBT rights, Japanese-American history, social media fame – the list goes on.
The Downside: Teases the truth behind the relationship between George Takei and William Shatner without revealing the juicier details that just have to be out there.
On the Side: George and Brad were the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license in West Hollywood.