To Be Takei

Movie review by
Polly Conway, Common Sense Media
To Be Takei Movie Poster Image
In upbeat docu, equality for all is the final frontier.
  • NR
  • 2014
  • 93 minutes

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Kids say

age 16+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Takei's inspirational story can show kids that it's possible to overcome all kinds of adversity; his untraditional path to stardom required facing lots of fears and challenges. His success can also be attributed to persistence and hard work, and his later-life activism shows a celebrity putting fame to positive use.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Takei is a great example of using fame for the greater good. In the film, Asian-American actors John Cho and BD Wong share how Takei was a role model for them as one of the only Asian actors on television at the time. Spending a huge amount of time giving back to his communities and maintaining a sunny attitude throughout, Takei's well-rounded life can teach kids about social responsibility and speaking up for themselves.

Violence

Some light swordplay is shown during one of Takei's most popular Star Trek scenes. 

Sex

There's a paper-cut animation of Takei's first sexual experience, which is narrated by Takei and shows the shadows of two people kissing in a summer camp cabin. Takei and Howard Stern joke about his sex life and orientation, and magazine covers of scantily clad musclebound men are shown. 

Language

Takei says "f--k you" to William Shatner during a comedy roast, and derogatory protest signs with the words "f-g" and "f----ts" are shown. 

Consumerism

Star Trek fans and memorabilia figure prominently; there's a scene in which Takei sells autographs at a convention. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that To Be Takei is a documentary about Star Trek actor and civil rights activist George Takei. Dealing with adversity that Takei faced both in WWII's Japanese internment camps and as an Asian-American actor trying to make it in Hollywood, the movie addresses some challenging times in American history, but nothing graphic is shown. A few scenes feature banter about Takei's sexual orientation (especially from friend Howard Stern), and an animated sequence depicts Takei's first sexual experience as a teen at summer camp, though the cut-out characters are only shown in silhouette. There's some profanity ("f--k," "s--t"), and both ethnic and anti-gay slurs are visible in photographs and video footage. Mature teens and grown-up Trekkers will best appreciate the story of this multifaceted American treasure.

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What's the story?

TO BE TAKEI chronicles the life of eminently likable actor and activist George Takei (Tak-AY, not Tak-EYE, as he'll be the first to tell you). Best known for his role as Sulu on the original Star Trek TV show, the baritone-voiced Takei's popularity has only grown since he came out as a gay man in 2005, at age 68. He's become a bit of an Internet darling, spreading his trademark wit and zest for life on his Facebook page, which is followed by 7 million people and counting. Director Jennifer M. Kroot shares Takei's history in detail -- from his early days spent in a Japanese internment camp during WWII to his theatrical training and subsequent acting career to his development into a vocal activist for both the Asian-American and LGBTQ communities -- while interlacing it with present-day footage of Takei's life with his longtime husband and partner, Brad. Featuring interviews with lasting Star Trek friends like Leonard Nimoy and Nichelle Nichols, Takei's "enemy" William Shatner, politicians, and lots of Hollywood celebs, the film depicts a uniquely American journey that's certainly not over yet.

Is it any good?

Takei is one of a kind. A self-described optimist ("I don't believe in negativity"), he's spent a lifetime working tirelessly for civil rights while maintaining a reputation as Star Trek's resident goofball and the Internet's kooky uncle. Because it has so much ground to cover, To Be Takei meanders a bit as it jumps from Takei speaking about LGBTQ rights on Fox News to him wielding a fencing foil on a particularly wild Star Trek episode to black-and-white photos of his family in an Arkansas internment camp. But that can't be helped; Takei has lived such a bold, varied life that it's hard to pack it all in to a tight 90 minutes.  

Trekkers will no doubt enjoy the film, and they'll end up learning a surprising amount about both America's dark history during WWII and its complicated present grappling with racial and LGBTQ equality. And there are definitely some choice Trek goodies to be found (watching Takei bust Shatner's chops at a comedy roast is a delight). Present-day scenes are decidedly unglamorous, depicting the relatively quiet life of a middle-aged couple -- small moments like sharing a bag of chips in the car, taking daily walks, and gentle bickering relay their two-plus decades together. Since much of the film's conflict plays out in the past, the current scenes can feel a bit boring, but a few stand out, like George and Brad's no-nonsense approach to a Star Trek autograph signing. A mix of Hollywood biopic, history lesson, and reality show, To Be Takei offers a glimpse of what it's really like to go boldly ... where no one has gone before. Oh, myyyyy!

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about minorities' experience in Hollywood. Have things changed much since Takei broke into TV and film in the '60s? 

  • Takei knew what he wanted from life at a very young age and overcame a number of obstacles to become a successful actor. What qualities does he have that are admirable?  

  • Talk to your kids about discrimination. The film's title comes from a campaign Takei created after a Tennessee school threatened to ban the word "gay" in 2011 -- Takei encouraged people to simply replace "gay" with "Takei," coining the catchphrase "It's OK...to be Takei!" Do you think banning a word helps solve a problem? Is it appropriate to use humor to challenge serious issues? 

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