Sunday, January 18, 2015

George Takei: Beneficiary Of His Own Optimism

by Drew Martin
What do King George VI, Rodan, the Sulu Sea, and a gay and lesbian running club in California have in common? The answer is George Takei, who is best known for his role as Hikara Sulu, a helmsman on the USS Enterprise in the original Star Trek series. Although he was part of the main cast, he was one of the less developed characters. Surprisingly, unlike his more dominant counterparts such as William Shatner, and Leonard Nimoy, Takei’s stardom gets brighter and brighter as his fanbase expands.

Takei, who was born in America to a Japanese family, was named after King George VI because his father was an anglophile. Ironically, Takei is famous for his deep voice and articulation while King George VI was the stammering leader, more recently popularized in the 2010 movie, The King's Speech.

Takei's family endured hardships and humiliation throughout and after WWII when they were forced to live in internment camps in Arkansas and California, and then turned back out to a biased postwar United States. While he was destined to a life in the limelight, some of his early roles, to his dismay, included playing stereotypical Asian characters, and he even did the voiceovers for the Japanese monster film, Rodan. His most famous performance was as Sulu on Star Trek. When the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, wanted to name this pan-Asian character he choose the name of the Sulu Sea because it touches multiple shores.

Takei has been with his husband Brad Altman (pictured top, lower right) since 1988, whom he met in a gay and lesbian running club in California. They married in 2008. Takei is a proponent of gay rights (It’s OK to be Takei), and has been active in politics, human rights, and Japanese-American relations. One of the less predictable twists of Takei’s life has been his social media success. He currently has more than 8 million likes on Facebook. 

I watched a documentary last night about Takei, To Be Takei, which is an intimate look at his personal and professional life. He speaks about gaman, the Japanese term for enduring with dignity, and that he does not believe in negativity. He also explains what it was like for him to be in the closet; the fa├žade and the layers of tension. He likens the barbed wired fence of his internment camps from his childhood to the obstacles people have put up against gay people. It is difficult to separate the thinking of his Buddhist upbringing and the philosophy he absorbed from Star Trek: infinite diversity in infinite combinations. I liked most his comment that he is the beneficiary of his own optimism.

Watch the trailer for To Be Takei:

When asked in the documentary what his favorite episode was of Star Trek, Takei quickly offered his feverish role in Naked Time: