Takei Discusses Trek ActivismBy Michelle
May 29, 2005 - 1:37 PM
Actor, writer, producer, speaker, athlete, political activist...these are just some of the hats worn by George Takei, who spoke about his long career as Sulu, his involvement in local government and the childhood events that shaped him in a lengthy interview.
Speaking to Chase Masterson at TheFandom.com, Takei was asked whether there had been a defining moment in his life as an actor and activist. "It's a series of things that lead one to the other," he replied. "When I got Star Trek, that was a wonderful, wonderful opportunity to merge my own personal philosophy with that of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the show." Neither of them, he added, could have expected the kind of popularity that would turn Star Trek into a vehicle that would allow Takei to communicate his issues and concerns in the media. "My activism dovetailed with the philosophy of Star Trek," he explained, describing his appointment by the mayor of Los Angeles to the board of directors of the Southern California Rapid Transit District and to Asian-American focus groups. Because Takei was a recognised actor, he had access to newspaper and television that his colleagues did not so he could get their ideas across.
Takei had a sense of purpose from early in his life, when events that he would not fully comprehend until adulthood shook his family. "My mother was born in Sacramento, and my father was born in Japan but he was brought here as a young boy, educated and raised in San Francisco. And I was born in Los Angeles. We were Americans," he said. "Yet when Pearl Harbor happened, this United States government couldn't draw the distinction between American citizens of Japanese ancestry and the invasion of Japan, with which we were at war. With no charges, mo trial, no attorney, simply because we happened to look like the enemy, we were rounded up - 120,000 approximately - and placed in ten interment camps with barbed wire around us and machine guns pointed at us." He was too young, he noted, to appreciate the irony of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, including the words "with liberty and justice for all," surrounded by machine guns. Only later did he begin to appreciate "the dissonance between my childhood and these American ideals."
Takei's father told him that in a participatory democracy, good people had to participate in order to prevent such terrible things from happening again, so activism has been important him for most of his life. "When you're in the electoral process, you recognize that in a democracy, you have diversity, and it is so important for that diversity to come together to work for our democratic ideals," he said. "This is also the idea that Gene Roddenberry had, but on a much larger scale. The starship Enterprise was a metaphor for Star Trek Earth, and the strength of this starship is coming together, working as a team, so that we can face those challenges that we face out there. I represented Asia; Nichelle Nichols represented Africa." But it wasn't only racial diversity, for Star Trek was broadcast during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was seen as the greatest threat, capable of unleashing nuclear annihilation on the United States and its allies. "We had a trusted member of the team, Pavel Chekov, a Russian. It was preposterous from a political standpoint at that time. But it is reality now: we have a spacecraft which comes from all the continents of this planet, and we have Russians and Americans working side by side on that space station." Roddenberry had a vision, Takei concluded, that was identical to what his own father had thought was necessary in an American democracy.
"There are other people now, Americans who happen to look like the enemy, like terrorists," Takei added. "The word isn't internment now, it's detention, but people are being 'detained' without trials." To him, he said, this issue continues to be extremely relevant, particularly since so many stereotypes abound in the media and entertainment. "All Asian roles were stereotypes in the 1950s and very unattractive ones. Today we have different stereotypes. We have writers and producers who are Asian Americans and we have characterization now that is much more dimensional and full," yet Takei continues to wonder how in a city like New York, with Hispanics and African Americans and Asian Americans, the friends on Friends could have friends who were all white. "Ever since the 50s we've had a whole slew of TV series located in Hawaii," he noted, citing Magnum P.I. and Hawaii Five-0. "The mover and shaker is always a white leading man." In reality, he observed, more than half the population of Hawaii is Asian-American, including the chief of police, the governor and both Senators. "So it's not truthful, and what we want to see on television is a truthful reflection of the American scene today."
Masterson said that Takei had more going on at the moment than almost any actor she's interviewed, and he said that he was about to go to Tokyo, not only to meet with a Japanese-American foundation but because after years of vigorous lobbying on Takei's part, his autobiography To The Stars is finally being released in Japanese. "I'd almost given up until I got a phone call last year telling me it was in the process of being translated," he said. "As Spock once said, there are always possibilities."
The full interview is at TheFandom.com.