An Interracial Kiss Nearly Sank 'Star Trek.' Then George Takei Brought Up Homosexuality.
Also: Hear the powerful story behind how Mister Sulu got his name.
George Takei is best known for his portrayal of Mr. Sulu in the acclaimed television and film series Star Trek. He’s an actor, social justice activist, social media mega-power, star of the upcoming Broadway musical Allegiance, and subject of To Be Takei, a documentary on his life and career. Takei’s acting career has spanned five decades, with more than 40 feature films and hundreds of television guest-starring roles to his credit. He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Actors’ Equity Association, and Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
With the outbreak of World War II, Los Angeles, California-born Takei and his family were placed behind the barbed-wire enclosures of United States internment camps along with 120,000 other Japanese Americans. He spent most of his childhood at Camp Rohwer in the swamps of Arkansas and at wind-swept Camp Tule Lake in northern California. At the end of the war, Takei’s family returned to their native Los Angeles. Inspired by this difficult chapter of American history, Takei developed the Broadway-bound musical Allegiance, an epic story of love, family and heroism in which he stars alongside Tony Award winner Lea Salonga.
He is also a member of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender political organization. Takei is Chairman Emeritus of the Japanese American National Museum’s Board of Trustees; a member of the US-Japan Bridging Foundation Board of Directors; and served on the Board of the Japan-United States Friendship Commission under President Bill Clinton. In recognition of his contribution to the Japan-United States relationship, in 2004, Takei was conferred with the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, by His Majesty, the Emperor of Japan.
With Takei’s expansion into social media, interest in his personal life expanded. In January 2014, To Be Takei, a Jennifer M. Kroot documentary on the life and career of Takei, premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January, and was later released in select theaters across North America. Among his many accomplishments are a Grammy nomination Takei shared with Leonard Nimoy, in 1987, in the Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Recording category. He has received a star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame in 1986. And in 1991, Takei left his signature and hand print, in cement, in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
As an author, Takei’s first book, his autobiography, To the Stars, was published in 1994; and in 2012 and 2013 he published his second and third books, Oh Myyy! There Goes The Internet, and its sequel, Lions And Tigers And Bears: The Internet Strikes Back. The latter two books explored his forays on social media and the Internet, earning placement on the Amazon ebook and paperback best-seller lists in 2012 and 2013.
Takei’s social media dominance is best denoted by his numerous awards. Mashable.com named Takei the most-influential person on Facebook in 2012, where he currently has over 8.8 million “likes.” In 2013, Takei won the Shorty Award for Distinguished Achievement in Internet Culture. He has 1.7 million followers on Twitter, and posts on various social media platforms, expanding his reach now with the 2015 debut of the YouTube series, “It Takeis Two,” starring with husband, Brad Takei. The “reality” series shares the couple’s daily navigation of their world, with George’s vibrant sense of humor and Brad’s less-than-optimistic pragmatism. In 2015, Cosmopolitan Magazine named Takei “One of the Internet’s 50 Most Fascinating People.” In early 2016, he has plans to relaunch his personal site, GeorgeTakei.com.
George Takei: The creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, was a true visionary. The starship Enterprise was supposed to be soaring through space in the 23rd century. By that time the crew of Enterprise reflected the philosophy that Gene Roddenberry had.
Gene Roddenberry felt that the Enterprise was a metaphor for starship Earth and the strength of this starship lay in its diversity. People of many different backgrounds, many different cultures, many different experiences, many different ethnicities coming together and working in concert as a team boldly going where no one had gone before. And that was depicted in the makeup of the crew. African-American woman as the communications chief; the captain was a North American. The engineer was a European and my character, Sulu, was to represent Asia.
The problem he had was to find a name for this Asian character from the 23rd century because every Asian surname is nationally specific. Tanaka is Japanese. Wong is Chinese. Kim is Korea. And 20th century Asia was turbulent with warfare, colonization, rebellion and he didn't want to suggest that. He wanted to depict and suggest a much more enlightened society. And he wanted to find a name that suggested all of Asia, Pan Asia and that was a real dilemma for him. He had a map of Asia pinned on the wall and he was staring at it trying to get some inspiration for the Asian character. And he found off the coast of the Philippines the Sulu Sea. And he thought ah, the waters of a sea touch all shores, embracing all of Asia. And that's how my character came to have the name Sulu. And so that's the kind of vision he had projecting into the 23rd century.
However, I did very privately bring up the issue of gays and lesbians. And he was certainly, as a sophisticated man, mindful of that, but he said — in one episode we had a biracial kiss; Captain Kirk and Uhura had a kiss. That show was literally blacked out in the south. Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia didn't air that; our ratings plummeted. It was the lowest-rated episode that we had. And he said, "I'm treading a fine tight wire here. I'm dealing with issues of the time. I'm dealing with the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the Cold War and I need to be able to make that statement by staying on the air." He said, "If I dealt with that issue, I wouldn't be able to deal with any issue because I would be canceled." And I understood that because I was still closeted at that time. I talked to him as a liberal rather than as a gay man and I understood his position on that.
So that's the way Star Trek envisioned our future in the 23rd century, but I think we're getting closer to that utopian society that Gene Roddenberry visualized, much more rapidly than even the technology. We had this amazing technology on Star Trek. We had this device on our hip; walked all over the ship and whenever we wanted to talk to someone we would rip it off and start talking. Back in the '60s that was an astounding device. No wires attached to it? And now in the 21st century, early part of the 21st century, we not only talk to people, but all the things that we do there, send text messages, watch movies, listen to music; it's amazing the kind of progress that we're making, both technologically and societally.
Actor, activist, prolific meme-generator, and cultural icon George Takei graces Big Think with his presence today in this powerful five-minute clip. Takei explores Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's ambitious and progressive vision for the future: "Roddenberry felt that the Enterprise was a metaphor for starship Earth and the strength of this starship lay in its diversity."
We also learn that Takei's character, Sulu, represented a united Asia free of the many strifes Roddenberry witnessed during the 20th century. Takei tells us how the name "Sulu" came about; it's an incredibly inspirational story.
Finally, Takei explains the now-glaring omission of gay and lesbian characters from Roddenberry's progressive Enterprise. In short, it was the 1960s and the biracial kiss between Uhura and Kirk nearly sank the show. Roddenberry knew there were limits to what the public would tolerate and he couldn't risk losing his platform for social commentary by testing them. Thankfully, as Takei notes, times have changed quite a bit since then in so many ways. And Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry are partly responsible.
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