Q & A with George Takei
George Takei, actor and activist, met with Asian Studies students on March 25, for an informal Q & A
Posted: March 27, 2014
Mr. Takei was in town for “OH MYYY! The Student Endowed Centennial Lectureship brings George Takei to UT!” and he agreed to meet with Dr. Stalker’s class, Gender & Sexuality in Japan. Dr. Stalker, her students, and the staff in Asian Studies were thrilled to be able to with meet Mr. Takei and ask him questions about his life and activism.
At first, students were shy to ask questions, so Dr. Stalker took the lead and asked Mr. Takei why he chose to address the issue of the Japanese-American internment camps in a musical rather than an alternate form of media. Mr. Takei stated he has been lecturing at college campuses to raise awareness about the internment camp, but wanted to convey the story in a manner that would affect people emotionally. He said that drama and music are powerful mediums for conveying facts and emotions. He hopes audiences will feel the struggles of the characters in Allegiance just as they feel for Fantine and the characters of Les Miserables. Allegiance the Musical had a sold out run at the Old Globe theater in San Diego, won the Outstanding New Musical 2012 Craig Noel Award, and is now headed for Broadway.
In addition to his acting career, George Takei is well-known for his social media presence and his activism for the LGBT community. Mr. Takei said he originally joined social media as a way to promote Allegiance the Musical. He quickly realized humor was the best way to gain followers. Once he had built a following, he began using social media as a platform for LGBT rights and social equality.
Students were curious how Mr. Takei felt about the portrayal of LGBT characters in the media. One asked if he felt queer allegories, such as the X-Men, were helpful to the community. Mr. Takei responded that for his generation it was a good metaphor because many gay children grow up feeling different and isolated. Since there is more awareness and acceptance of homosexuality than when he was young, he wasn’t certain that the metaphor was a needed as it used to be. Another student asked how he felt about non-LGBT actors playing LGBT characters. Mr. Takei stated that the only criteria for an actor is the ability to act and one’s sexuality or gender identity should not be a consideration when deciding whether or not an actor should get a part. He said that Jared Leto was amazing in the Dallas Buyers Club and earned his Academy Award.
When asked how he felt about being an Asian male actor when so many roles are entrenched in race, he responded that there has been some progress for non-white actors. He said there need to be more Asian actors, writers, and directors so that there is better representation, and that the Asian-American community must be more active on this front. He pointed out that the main characters on most shows set in Hawaii are white even though over half the population of Hawaii is Asian and many of the movers and shakers in Hawaii are Asian. If a role is written for an Asian actor, he would prefer a Latino, African-American, or Latino actor be cast over a white actor.
Mr. Takei praised Gene Roddenberry for the diversity in Star Trek. He said Roddenberry wanted the Starship Enterprise to be a metaphor for planet Earth and beyond, which is why he had characters and actors of many races. Roddenberry wanted Sulu to represent all Asians, but was having trouble finding a name for the character because most Asian surnames are nationally specific. Roddenberry was looking at a map one day and saw the Sea of Sulu off the coast of the Philippines. He decided the name Sulu could represent all Asian countries, just as the waters of the Sea of Sulu touch all shores in Asia.
Mr. Takei discussed the challenges of being a gay actor. He said at the time he was starting out, one could not be out and have an acting career. But actors are perceptive so while most of his colleagues on Star Trek knew about his sexuality they also knew that acknowledging this openly might harm his career. He relayed a story about how he and Walter Koenig, who played Chekov, were drinking coffee one morning before filming and Koenig discreetly pointed out an attractive extra to Takei. Takei praised the strides made for LGBT actors, particularly in television, but that there is still progress to be made.
Takei plans to continue with his advocacy for the Asian-American and LGBT communities. He and his husband, Brad, own a home in Arizona, and have been very disappointed in the state’s treatment of LGBT residents. He said it is unconscionsable that people are using religion as a veil for their bigotry. Takei is scheduled to speak at the Human Rights Convention in Arizona. Mr. Takei will continue promoting Allegiance the Musical, which he considers his legacy project. He is thrilled by its upcoming premiere on Broadway and hopes that raising awareness of American history will help us as a nation learn where we faltered.
View photos of the event on the Asian Studies Facebook page.
Story by Jennifer Tipton, graduate coordinator