You may know him as Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu from Star Trek, as that funny guy who posts all that stuff on Facebook, or you may have seen him or heard him in a swath of different appearances on TV shows, movies, and other entertainment venues over the years. Despite all that you might know him for, his most important work to date has been his work as a Civil Rights activist and and is the focal point of the documentary, To Be Takei, and is our pick for this week’s Netflix Your Weekend.
Following a couple different threads of George Takei’s life story, this 2014 documentary from Jennifer Kroot weaves in Takei’s life story while also letting you see a little bit of what life looks like for the 77-year old Star Trek star. His early life was one of gross violations of his civil liberties, right here in the United States, when he and his family and thousands of other Japanese-Americans were herded into internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It also, naturally, chronicles his acting career and his most famous role as Sulu on the TV Show Star Trek, as well as six Star Trek movies. Lastly, it weaves in his story as a gay Asian-American actor in Hollywood and both his personal battles as well as the more public battles over gay marriage. All the while his partner, Brad, adds a funny and touching compliment to George’s good-natured and smiley personality.
While I am not a fan of some of the goofy musical scoring and animation choices made with the documentary, which are direction issues, the documentary sucks you in with the magnetic and easy-going personality of George Takei. It could be argued that some of the more light-hearted choices reflect the man himself. He has dealt with some incredibly serious issues of the last seventy years in the United States, and yet through it all you meet a mean who is not grim, sarcastic, or jaded, but a man full of life, humor, and just the right mixture of sarcasm, seriousness, and honesty. There is one particularly funny scene where he tells Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, that he has gained some weight. Brad, George’s partner and business manager, accosts George later on for being so honest and hurting Wil’s feelings. George brushes it aside as being merely an honest gesture of observation and encouragement. It’s pretty funny and about as serious and “jerkish” that George will ever get, save his distaste and semi-hatred for fellow Star Trek co-star, William Shattner.
Despite your opinion on the issue of gay marriage, learning more about a man who has experienced as much as George Takei has is the reason I recommend this documentary. What he has to say about civil liberties regarding Japanese-American internment is incredibly important for the future of our country and also puts those who long for the “good ol’ days” to remember that even during those days our country did some not so great and pretty horrible things to our own citizens. To Be Takei informs us on those issues and gives us a different perspective, something we could all use, and does so through the rose-colored glasses of an entertaining, genuine, and funny man. It’s well worth your time this weekend for broadening your intellectual horizons AND having a good laugh.
Josh Crabb (@HeyItsThatJosh) is an editor, writer, and sometimes talker for Reel World Theology. Every Friday he gives his Netflix recommendation to adorn your weekend and further put off throwing out your Christmas tree.