GEORGE TAKEI INTERVIEW: “Trump is more like a Klingon than a Starfleet Commander”
George Takei – activist, actor and social media superstar shares his chilling childhood story, his thoughts on Hollywood and Trump’s starring role in the Star Trek Universe.
George Takei is a man of many talents: a famed actor brought to stardom through his role as helmsman Sulu on Star Trek; a keen LGBT activist; and now something of a Facebook phenomenon and a social media superstar.
Takei’s visit to the Cambridge Union cements its position (albeit unintentionally) as the new home of sci-fi. We’ve had Star Wars and Alien, so all that was left really was a visit from one of the Enterprise’s most charismatic crew.
I’m not a ‘Trekki’, I do not know Klingon, nor have I seen any of the original Star Trek series. But none of that mattered. Ten minutes in I was won over by his charm, his spirit and his beautiful Shakespearian tone.
His rise to fame came with the role of helmsman Sulu aboard the Starship Enterprise. He describes Star Trek as a truly unique sci-fi series, serving as a metaphor for the events of 1960s America. The vision and philosophy imbued in the show came from the diversity of its actors. The “unity in diversity” Takei recalls was a strong message to send to the American people who, at the time, were divided over the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War.
A particular episode worthy of comment for Takei was Captain Kirk’s kiss with Uhura. It caused a “sensation”, as it was the first on-screen scripted kiss between a white man and African American woman on American TV. “This just shows how we used Star Trek to make for a better society”.
This was a message Takei felt he could connect with, owing to his experience of one of the most “shameful chapters in American history”. The Second World War can be read a story of tragedy: a moral-low point in the history of humanity. The American treatment of Japanese-Americans was no exception. Takei shared with us a chilling memory from his childhood. Taken at gunpoint from his home, he and his family were put on trains to internment camps in the swamps of Arkansas under armed guard.
“I still remember the barbed wires that surrounded us, the sentry towers with machine guns that followed our every step, and the humiliation of the search lights.”
His story though is distinctly human. Seen through the eyes of a child, this “abnormality become [his] normality”. He joked that aged just five he was grateful that the searchlights turned away when he needed to pee. Looking back, he describes how he was too young to realise the “stinging irony” of the words “with liberty and justice to all”. This innocence of youth, juxtaposed with the brutality and unlawfulness of man, painted a dark picture of America’s past that I personally knew nothing about.
Throughout his life, he has never been able to reconcile the fundamental tenets of the Founding Fathers with his experiences as a child, or with the America of his teenage years. Because of this, Takei has been an activist his whole life. He marched with MLK, protested against the Vietnam War and continues to campaign for LGBT and Asian-American rights in America.
Whilst LGBT rights in America have come a long way, with the Supreme Court passing the Marriage Equality Bill last year, the representation of Asian-Americans in Hollywood is still shamefully low. In the American film, TV and radio business there is a “history of yellow face” for Asian-American actors. When a good opportunity emerges, of which Takei hastens to add that there are few, “they are taken away from us by caucasian actors”.
The story of Hollywood whitewashing is not new. You would have thought things might have changed by now though. But just this year the Oscars were overshadowed by controversy surrounding Hollywood’s lack of diversity. Takei gave the example of casting Scarlett Johansen as Motoko Kusangi in the upcoming film ‘Ghost in the Shell’ as evidence of this continued whitewashing. “An Asian actor would have loved to have had that role, but it was taken from us”.
The “unity in diversity” which Star Trek embodied, a message which Takei says has been lost by JJ Abram’s remakes, is obviously still needed.
You don’t even need to look very far to see why. Some of Trump’s ideas remind Mr Takei of an America he’d hoped no longer existed; an America that unconstitutionally imprisoned him and his family. Thankfully though, the idea of Trump being President is fantastical. “The next President of the United States will be a lady. That lady be Hilary Clinton!” He said triumphantly. Time will tell if he Spock too soon.
Takei’s opposition to Trump is no secret. He invited the presumptive Republican candidate for President to his Broadway musical, ‘Allegiance’ (a story of Japanese Americans’ internment during WW2). He reserved an aisle seat for him at every performance with a sign ‘Reserved Mr Donald Trump’. The empty seat served as a sign of Trump’s refusal to engage with the themes of the musical.
In the world of Star Trek, “Trump is more like a Klingon than a Starfleet Commander”, the chances of him becoming President are very small.