Hello! You are part of a community of millions who seek out Democracy Now! each month for ad-free daily news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines. Maybe you come for our in-depth stories that expose corporate and government abuses of power and lift up the voices of ordinary people working to make change in extraordinary times. We produce all of this news at a fraction of the budget of a commercial news operation. We do this without ads, government funding or corporate sponsorship. How? This model of news depends on support from viewers and listeners like you. Today, less than 1% of our visitors support Democracy Now! with a donation each year. If even 3% of our website visitors donated just $10 per month, we could cover our basic operating expenses for a year. Pretty amazing right? If you visit us daily or weekly or even just once a month, now is a great time to make a monthly contribution.

Your Donation: $
Thursday, February 27, 2014 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: Big Oil and Bad Air: Report Exposes Link Between Fracking...
2014-02-27

George Takei on Arizona’s Anti-Gay Bill, Life in a Japanese Internment Camp & Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu

DONATE →
This is viewer supported news

In a major victory for civil rights advocates, Arizona’s Republican Gov. Jan Brewer has vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses to deny service to LGBT people in the name of religion. The bill was passed by both houses of the Arizona Legislature earlier this month and sparked outcry not only from human rights activists, but also from major corporations, and eventually even from some of the Republican lawmakers who voted for it. Delta, PetSmart, American Airlines Group, Marriott and Apple were among the many companies that urged Brewer to block the bill. The Arizona bill is similar to measures that have failed in other states. In another victory for LGBT rights advocates, on the same day as the Arizona veto, a federal judge in Texas declared that state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. We are joined by one of the country’s most well-known champions of gay rights: the legendary actor, author and activist, George Takei, best known for playing Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek. He recently wrote a scathing essay headlined "Razing Arizona," promising to boycott Arizona if Brewer had allowed the controversial anti-gay bill to pass into law. Takei also talks about his role as World War II veteran Sam Kimura in "Allegiance: A New American Musical." The musical tells the story of a Japanese-American family who is relocated from their farm after the attack on Pearl Harbor and placed in an internment camp in Wyoming. This parallels part of Takei’s own family history. At the age of five, his family was shipped to a Japanese-American internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In a major victory for civil rights advocates, Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have allowed businesses to deny services to LGBT people.

GOV. JAN BREWER: Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated. The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences. After weighing all of the arguments, I have vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago.

AMY GOODMAN: The bill was passed by both houses of the Arizona Legislature earlier this month and sparked outcry not only from human rights activists but also from major corporations. Delta, PetSmart, American Airlines Group, Marriott and Apple were among the many companies that urged Governor Brewer to block the bill. Some companies threatened to pull out of Arizona altogether.

Governor Brewer also faced pressure from within her own party to reject the bill. Three Republican state senators sent Brewer a letter urging her to veto the bill—just days after they voted for it along with the rest of the state Senate’s Republican caucus. The senators wrote that public outcry over the law was causing Arizona "immeasurable harm." The Arizona bill is similar to ones that recently failed in Idaho and Kansas, and to one under consideration in Utah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Meanwhile, in another victory for marriage equality advocates, a federal judge in Texas declared a same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional on Wednesday. The case was filed last fall on behalf of two same-sex couples. One couple, Victor Holmes and Mark Phariss, have been together for 17 years. The other couple—shortly after the ruling, they addressed the reporters.

VICTOR HOLMES: The biggest thing I think I would want to say is, "Whoo! We did it! Whoo!" It may be the first step, but it’s an awesome first step.

MARK PHARISS: Ultimately, we look forward to the day when, after 17 years, almost 17 years, we can finally—we can finally be married.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for all this and more, we’re joined now by one of the country’s most well-known champions of gay rights, the legendary actor and activist George Takei, best known for playing Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek. In a scathing essay headlined "Razing Arizona," he had promised to boycott Arizona if the anti-gay bill became law.

George Takei, welcome to Democracy Now!

GEORGE TAKEI: Good morning. Good to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: So what was your reaction late yesterday when you heard Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, vetoing the bill?

GEORGE TAKEI: It was not surprise. We expected her to veto the bill. What was surprising was that both houses of the Arizona Legislature passed such a bill. That House is dominated by right-wing religious extremists, and it is not really representative of the people of Arizona. We own property in Show Low, Arizona, up in the White Mountains. My husband Brad was born there. So, we have a vested interest, and we know many, many people. We have family there. We have many friends there. And these people are not represented by these right-wing extremists in the Legislature. The veto was not a surprise. We expected that. As you cited, all the major corporations, all the—

AMY GOODMAN: Sports teams. NFL was going to pull out.

GEORGE TAKEI: NFL, absolutely. So, we didn’t think that the governor would damage the—first of all, the reputation, and, secondly, the economy of Arizona any more than the—what the Legislature had done.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Especially with the next NFL Super Bowl scheduled to be in Arizona next.

GEORGE TAKEI: Exactly.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But what about this extraordinary situation of legislators who voted for the bill then requesting that Jan Brewer veto it? I want to Al Melvin, a Republican state senator from Arizona, who supported the bill allowing businesses to refuse to serve gay people on religious grounds. Here’s Melvin speaking on CNN earlier this week.

STATE SEN. AL MELVIN: The bottom line for us and those who voted for it—and it was a majority in both chambers—is it’s as basic as religious freedom. You could say that it might be preemptive, after we saw what has taken place in some other states, but we think it’s nothing more and nothing less than protecting religious freedom in our state, and we take that very seriously.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, Melvin was not one of those who asked her to change her mind, but after her decision, he said, "I am sorry to hear that Governor Brewer has vetoed this bill. I’m sure it was a difficult choice for her, but it is a sad day when protecting liberty is considered controversial." But what about those who did—

GEORGE TAKEI: State Senator Steve Pierce was the one—one of the three who changed their mind. But, you know, these people do not listen, and they do not think. The Democratic minority in both houses of the Legislature clearly stated that this was using religious freedom as a veil to cover, very simply, personal prejudice, and nothing more than that. And yet, Steve Pierce says, "I heard nothing about prejudice, and that’s why I voted for. But now I understand, and so I’m voting against it—or I’m urging the governor to veto it." So, you know, these legislators have no business being in public service, making public policy. They need to be removed. And we are going to be very active in the campaign to remove these people, who have no right to be in public office.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Rush Limbaugh from Tuesday talking about the Arizona bill.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: The governor of Arizona is being bullied. She’s being bullied by the homosexual lobby in Arizona and elsewhere, she’s being bullied by the nationwide drive-by media, she’s being bullied by certain elements of corporate America, in order to advance the gay agenda. I guess, in that circumstance, bullying is admirable. In fact, this kind of bullying is honorable.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Rush Limbaugh. George Takei?

GEORGE TAKEI: We have to consider the source. What the legislation was doing was to refuse service to gays and lesbians or anyone that disagrees with the businesspeople’s religion. So a Muslim taxi driver could refuse to take a Jewish person or a single woman traveling by herself. Rush Limbaugh has no credibility at all. The legislation was trying to write in prejudice and, to use his words, bullying and coercion into civil law, and that is not allowed.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, times have changed a great deal. When you have this massive corporate lobby putting pressure, this isn’t your traditional, you know, gay and lesbian activists and their supporters. You had corporate America saying no to prejudice.

GEORGE TAKEI: Yeah, because they recognize the economic realities here. The LGBT buying power, as well as our allies, as well as—you know, I maintain the mass—the majority of Americans are good, decent people, and they will not tolerate this kind of abuse of the legal process. And so, the corporations recognized that, as well—Marriott, American Airlines, Delta Airlines. Apple was going to build a manufacturing plant in Mesa, Arizona. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Mitt Romney tweeted out: Veto the bill.

GEORGE TAKEI: All the political leadership from the Republican side—the two U.S. senators from Arizona, John McCain and Jeff Flake, as well as the Arizona state secretary of state and the Arizona tax—or treasurer. So, you know, it was overwhelming. These are rational, decent, fair-minded people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you also about the events in Texas nearby. On Wednesday, a federal judge declared a same-sex marriage ban in Texas unconstitutional. Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman were part of the lawsuit. They were legally married five years ago in Massachusetts but wanted Texas to recognize their union. Shortly after the ruling, Dimetman addressed reporters.

NICOLE DIMETMAN: We’re committed to—I think we’re all committed—we’re really committed to our families, and so obviously we’re very committed to this cause. And we’re going to continue it until we have no avenues left for appeal.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Your reaction to the Texas decision?

GEORGE TAKEI: It’s consistent with all that’s been happening. There are 17 states now that have marriage equality, plus the national capital, Washington, D.C. Now there are states like Utah, a very conservative state, another conservative state, Oklahoma, Virginia, where the same kind of federal ruling has come down. Utah is appealing that to the appellate court. Oklahoma has indicated that they will go with the Utah appeal. And so, you know, this is all—but Texas’s being ruled unconstitutional is all consistent with the way things are going. And inevitably, when we’re enjoying this kind of legislative or judicial victories, the backlash is about—will come. And that’s what Arizona is. And the same kind of bill that Arizona tried to write into law is being considered by other states like South Dakota and other states. But I think the overwhelming public reaction and the decent, fair-minded people’s reaction will put a stop to all the other efforts, because it is patently unconstitutional.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, George Takei, we can’t just have you on being a pundit on these issues. When we come back from break, we want to talk to you, the helmsman of the Starship Enterprise, about your life, about your activism. I don’t know if you are the most active person on Facebook, with your six million followers, but it is astounding, your activity there on all sorts of issues. This is Democracy Now! George Takei is our guest. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Let It Go" from Frozen. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we continue our conversation with the actor and gay rights activist George Takei. He’s best known for playing the role of Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu on the original Star Trek TV series.

AMY GOODMAN: This is a clip from season one, episode five. In this episode on stardate 1672.1, the Starship Enterprise is exploring the planet Alpha 177. A transporter malfunction leaves some of the crew stuck, including Takei’s character, after they can’t beam back up to the ship. In this scene, Lieutenant Sulu radios in to Captain Kirk.

LT. HIKARU SULU: [played by Geoge Takei] Can you give us a status report, Captain? Temperature’s still dropping, now 41 degrees below zero.

CAPT. JAMES T. KIRK: [played by William Shatner] We’ve located the trouble. It shouldn’t be much longer.

LT. HIKARU SULU: Do you think you might be able to find a long rope somewhere and lower us down a pot of hot coffee?

CAPT. JAMES T. KIRK: I’ll see what we can do.

LT. HIKARU SULU: Rice wine will do, if you’re short on coffee.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That’s our guest, George Takei, playing Lieutenant Sulu in the original Star Trek TV series. Well, you can still see Takei performing the role of World War II veteran Sam Kimura in Allegiance: A New American Musical. The play tells the story of a Japanese-American family who is relocated from their farm after the attack on Pearl Harbor and placed in an internment camp in Wyoming. This parallels part of Takei’s own family history. At the age of eight, he and his parents and siblings were shipped to a Japanese-American internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas.

AMY GOODMAN: In January, a new documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival called To Be Takei, which follows George Takei and his husband Brad as they work on Allegiance, as well as his everyday life as a famous actor and activist. This is a clip from the film.

GEORGE TAKEI: Oh, my goodness, they’re lining up outside. Thank you all. Thank you.

DAN PARENT: I had met George a couple years ago, and I told him about the Kevin Keller character, and he was really supportive of it. Since he’s the first, you know, openly gay Archie character, it just seemed sort of like a natural sort of like storyline that Kevin would be inspired by George.

GEORGE TAKEI: Hello. How are you?

TREKKIE 1: Hi, good.

TREKKIE 2: [translated] Can you please read my letter?

GEORGE TAKEI: [translated] OK, I will read it.

TREKKIE 2: [translated] Thank you so much!

GEORGE TAKEI: [translated] You’re welcome! [in English] That’s very impressive.

TREKKIE 2: Thank you!

TREKKIE 3: Can you put "Oh, my!" on there?

GEORGE TAKEI: "Oh, my"?

BRAD TAKEI: Life is reality TV for the rest of your life. You’re a young man. And what’s going to happen is, you just pretend like the cameras aren’t there. That’s how I do it.

GEORGE TAKEI: You determine your destiny. I don’t believe in negativity. If I did believe in that, that usually comes true. I, in my own life, have been the beneficiary of an optimistic view of life. My life today is much better than when I was a child.

There you are.

TREKKIE 4: Thank you very much.

GEORGE TAKEI: My pleasure.

TREKKIE 4: Appreciate it.

GEORGE TAKEI: Good to see you. Good night.

TREKKIE 4: Nice to meet you.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from the new documentary, To Be Takei, about our guest, actor and activist George Takei. So, you were born in?

GEORGE TAKEI: Los Angeles.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, at the age of eight, you were interned?

GEORGE TAKEI: No, at the age of five.

AMY GOODMAN: At the age of five.

GEORGE TAKEI: We came out when I was eight.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about that. What happened?

GEORGE TAKEI: Yes, well, you know, it wasn’t just my birth in the U.S. My mother was born in Sacramento, California. My father was a San Franciscan. They were Northern Californians. And they met in Los Angeles, so I was born in Southern California. But there’s no north-south divide in our family. We’re Americans. We were and are—my parents have passed now, but we were citizens of this country. We had nothing to do with the war. We simply happened to look like the people that bombed Pearl Harbor. But without charges, without trial, without due process—the fundamental pillar of our justice system—we were summarily rounded up, all Japanese Americans on the West Coast, where we were primarily resident, and sent off to 10 barb wire internment camps—prison camps, really, with sentry towers, machine guns pointed at us—in some of the most desolate places in this country: the wastelands of Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, the blistering hot desert of Arizona, of all places, in black tarpaper barracks. And our family was sent two-thirds of the way across the country, the farthest east, in the swamps of Arkansas.

And it’s from this experience that, when I was a teenager, my father told me that our democracy is very fragile, but it is a true people’s democracy, both as strong and as great as the people can be, but it is also as fallible as people are. And that’s why good people have to be actively engaged in the process, sometimes holding democracy’s feet to the fire, in order to make it a better, truer democracy.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: If I’m not mistaken, the governor of California back then during the internment process was Earl Warren, who later became a justice of the Supreme Court, perhaps one of the most liberal justices, but he supported those efforts back then.

GEORGE TAKEI: Well, this illustrates the hysteria that ran throughout the country. Actually, Earl Warren was the attorney general of the state of California at that time.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Oh, attorney general, right.

GEORGE TAKEI: He took an oath on the Constitution. He knew the Constitution. But knowing the Constitution and knowing what he was going to do was going to be against the Constitution, his ambition took over. He wanted to be governor. And he ran on the "get rid of the Japs" platform—and won. And as you stated, he later went on to become the "liberal" chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. So, even with the Supreme Court, there is that human fallibility. We—the good people have to be engaged in the process. And that’s what’s so shameful about the Arizona Legislature, that people like that, people who don’t think, people who don’t listen and people who do damage to the state get elected and dominate in legislatures.

AMY GOODMAN: Just last week, February 19th, that’s the anniversary. It’s called the Day of Internment—

GEORGE TAKEI: No, Day of Remembrance.

AMY GOODMAN: Day of Remembrance. February 19th, 1942, the Executive Order 9066 signed requiring internment of all U.S. residents of Japanese ancestry.

GEORGE TAKEI: By a liberal Democrat president, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

AMY GOODMAN: What did you understand at the time as a five-year-old?

GEORGE TAKEI: I was a five-year-old. My parents told—my father told us that we were going on a long vacation to a place called Arkansas. It was an adventure. I thought everyone took vacations by leaving home in a railroad car with sentries, armed soldiers at both ends of the car, sitting on wooden benches. And whenever we approached a town, we were forced to draw the curtains, the shade. We were not supposed to be seen by the people out there. We thought that was the way things happened. We saw people crying, you know, and we thought, "Well, why are they crying? Daddy said we’re going on a vacation." So we were innocent children.

When we arrived at Rohwer, in the swamps of Arkansas, there were these barb wire fences and sentry towers. But children are amazingly adaptable. And so, the barb wire fence became no more intimidating than a chain link fence around a school playground. And the sentry towers were just part of the landscape. We adjusted to lining up three times a day to eat lousy food in a noisy mess hall. And at school, we began every school day with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. I could see the barb wire fence and the sentry towers right outside my schoolhouse window as I recited the words "with liberty and justice for all," an innocent child unaware of the irony.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And once your family was released from the internment, what—the process of putting your lives back together, what had happened to your possessions, to your home? And talk about that process, as well.

GEORGE TAKEI: We lost everything. We were given a one-way ticket to wherever in the United States we wanted to go to, plus $20. And many people were very embittered about their West Coast experience, and they chose to go to the Midwest, places like Chicago or Milwaukee, or further east to New Jersey, New York, Boston. My parents decided to go back to Los Angeles. We were most familiar there. But we found that it was very difficult. Housing was impossible. They would deny us housing. Jobs were very, very difficult. My father’s first job was as a dishwasher in a Chinatown restaurant. Only other Asians would hire us. And our first home was on skid row, with the stench of urine everywhere and those scary, smelly, ugly people lined up leaning on brick walls. They would stagger around and barf right in front of us. My baby sister, who was now five years old, said, "Mama, let’s go back home," meaning behind those barb wire fences. We had adjusted to that. And coming home was a horrific, traumatic experience for us kids.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to George Takei. If you recognize that voice, yes, it is George, it is Sulu, Lieutenant Sulu, helmsman of the Starship Enterprise. So how did you go from that experience to becoming one of the most famous actors in the United States? When I asked you before how long you did Star Trek and you said just three years, I mean, it seems to me it went on for decades.

GEORGE TAKEI: It’s the reruns.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

GEORGE TAKEI: And once we were canceled, the syndicators put us on every night, five days a week, so people thought that we had a thousand episodes. But it’s the same episodes from three seasons being rerun over and over again.

AMY GOODMAN: So how did you go from that interned child to the actor that you are today?

GEORGE TAKEI: Well, I loved acting. I love performance. One of my school—grammar school teachers cast me as an Indian chief in a Thanksgiving pageant. And that was thrilling. But my father said, "Well, you know, being interested in the arts, culture, theater, is fine, but you don’t make a living at it." And he was in real estate by that time. And he, I think, fancied having an architect son and having Takei & Son Real Estate Development. I would design the buildings, and he would develop them. So, like a good son, I began my college career as an architecture student up at Berkeley.

But after two years, the fire in the belly kept getting hotter and hotter, and so I came back down to Los Angeles and girded my loins for a knockdown, drag-out debate with my father. And I said, "Daddy, I want to go—I want to be honest with myself. I want to test my wings. I want to study acting at the Actors Studios in New York." And my father said, "Yes, I know about them. They’re a fine, distinguished, respected acting school. But they won’t give you a diploma when you finish your schooling there. And your mother and I want you to have that legitimacy. So, you’re a bullheaded kid. You’re going to do it anyway. Let me remind you: It is—New York is a crowded place, a competitive place and an expensive place, and you have to be prepared to do it all on your own. However, right here in town, at UCLA, they have a fine theater arts department. And if you study there and you finish, they will give you a diploma, that you’re legitimately educated. Your mother and I want you to have that. And so, if you choose UCLA, we’ll subsidize you. So you choose: New York on your own or UCLA with subsidy." I made a self-discovery: I’m a practical kid.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And then the jump to the Star Trek role? And did you ever imagine that Star Trek would become this cult—have this cult following, really, for so many years afterwards?

GEORGE TAKEI: Well, it turned out, you know, Daddy knew best, because I was seen in a student production at UCLA and—seen by a casting director from Warner Brothers who was in the audience. And he plucked me out of that, put me in my first feature film, Edna Ferber’s epic novel about Alaska, Ice Palace. And so, breaking into the movies was a piece of cake, actually, by going by my father’s advice. And that same casting director—Hoyt Bowers was his name—put in a word for me later on when Gene Roddenberry was casting for Star Trek. And I wound up with that iconic, legendary now, sci-fi TV series.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about Star Trek. It broke ground in so many ways. I mean, we all grew up on it. It was a most diverse cast, to say the least—women, people of color. How—who was the—who put this together? I mean, what was this the brainchild of?

GEORGE TAKEI: Gene Roddenberry was the visionary. He was the creator and producer, and wrote some of the episodes. And when I first went in for the interview, he shared his philosophy and his concept. And the key thing was, he said, "The story will take place—the majority of the story will take place on this vast starship. It’s a spacecraft, but we’re calling it a starship. And this starship is going to be populated by about a thousand crack professional scientists, engineers, people that are necessary to make this ship move. And this starship is a metaphor for Starship Earth. And the strength of the starship is in its diversity, coming together, people from different parts of this planet, people from different cultures, races, languages, faiths and ideas, working together in concert and working out, you know, the differences and finding the common ground. And that’s what’s going to move this ship forward." And so, you saw that visually. But you also saw the non-visual diversity. At a time of the Cold War, we had a Russian, trusted member of the crew, Chekov, the navigator. So, you know, it was that kind of diversity that Gene Roddenberry envisioned. I mean, the Cold War was at its coldest point, but he said, "This, too, we can overcome." He was an extraordinary man. And I think that’s—that was the key thing that contributes to its continuing popularity.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was your relationship like with the other actors who became so iconic, every one of them, from Spock to Kirk to—

GEORGE TAKEI: I received many gifts from Star Trek, and one of the best is that my work colleagues have become my lifetime friends. When Brad and I got married in the Democracy Forum of the Japanese American National Museum, our best man was Walter Koenig, who played Chekov. And the—

AMY GOODMAN: What year was that, that you got married?

GEORGE TAKEI: 2008, right before Proposition 8 came down, the ballot measure that banned marriage equality until the Supreme Court ruled on it.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you openly gay through all this time, through—

GEORGE TAKEI: I was not openly gay. I wanted to work as an actor, and it would have been dangerous—in fact, impossible—to be hired as an actor if I were out. It wasn’t until 2005 that—well, it happened again because of a political thing that happened. Both houses of the California Legislature passed the marriage equality bill. It was precedent-setting, because Massachusetts had marriage equality, but that came through the judicial route. In California, we got it through the legislative route. That bill went to the governor’s desk for his signature. The governor at that time happened to be Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he ran for office, he campaigned by saying, "I’m from Hollywood. I’ve worked with gays and lesbians. Some of my best friends are..."—all the clichés. So I was confident that he was going to sign it. When he played to his right-wing Republican base and vetoed it, my blood was boiling. And I saw all these young people on the evening news pouring out onto Santa Monica Boulevard protesting Schwarzenegger’s veto, and I felt I needed to participate, get my voice heard in that. And for that voice to be heard, it had to be authentic. And I came out to the press. I had been out, you know, quietly—friends, family, some relatives. But in 2005, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto prompted me to speak to the press. And that’s what’s called coming out openly.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’m curious about this other life that you have developed in the digital age, this enormous following that you have on Facebook. Could you talk about—were you surprised by that—

GEORGE TAKEI: Yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —by how many people want to know what you have to say?

GEORGE TAKEI: I was astounded by, first of all, the rapidity of its growth and how large, how massive it can be. I have people responding from Brussels or—Belgium, or Perth, Australia, or from Buenos Aires. It’s global. I mean, this is Gene Roddenberry’s vision, this Starship Earth, coming together.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s intergalactic.

GEORGE TAKEI: Yes. Why I began social media has another ulterior motive. We—I came across an extraordinarily gifted composer-lyricist in a Broadway theater, of all places. And we talked about the subject of the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. And I told him that I had always planned to write a play on that subject. And he thought it would be a great subject for a musical. And, you know, I’m a musical theater fan, but I never thought of a musical. It was a brilliant idea, because I had been on speaking tours to corporations, universities, governmental agencies, but, you know, it’s intellectual, and to really get people to empathize, you have to hit them emotionally. And music has the extraordinary power to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to a clip of Allegiance: A New American Musical.

CHORUS: [singing] Even when all hope seems gone, gaman.

SAM KIMURA: [played by George Takei] Remember song I teach you, how mountain can be moved stone by stone, eh?

AMY GOODMAN: A clip from Allegiance: A New American Musical. It’s coming to Broadway?

GEORGE TAKEI: It’s coming to Broadway. And that’s what gave rise to my activity with social media. Here is a subject that is still too little known, and even less understood, and it’s a rather shameful part of American history. And here we’ve invested so much of ourselves—our talents, our energy, our enthusiasm, our passion and our resources. And are we going to be able to find an audience for it? And so, I thought, well, social media is the way to do it. But my base was essentially sci-fi geeks and nerds.

AMY GOODMAN: Lieutenant Sulu, where did you get the name? Where did they get the name Lieutenant Sulu?

GEORGE TAKEI: Oh, there’s a whole story to that, too. Again, Gene Roddenberry’s amazing thought, a profound thinking on each of this. As I said, the starship—the crew of the Enterprise was to represent the diversity of this planet. And Uhura represented Africa. Captain Kirk represented North America. Scotty, the engineer, represented Europe. And there was this character that’s to represent Asia. But Asia in the mid-20th century was a nation that—or area of the world that had a turbulent history of warfare, colonization, revolution. And to find a name for this Asian character that was not nationally specific—you know, Takei or Tanaka or Yamada is Japanese. Wong, Hong is Chinese. Kim, Park is Korean. And there’s a turbulent history there. And he didn’t want to take sides. So his challenge was, how do I find a name for this character that’s pan-Asian, represents all of Asia? And he was looking at a map of Asia that he had pinned on his wall, and he was staring at it. And he saw off the coast of the Philippines the Sulu Sea. And he thought, "Ah, the waters of a sea touch all shores." And that’s how the name Sulu came about. But because he cast a Japanese-American actor, he came up with a Japanese first name. And that was taken from a great piece of Japanese literature, The Tale of Genji, a young prince who was great at military strategy, and a poet, but also brought people together and brought about peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Hikaru Sulu. Well, Hikaru Sulu, otherwise known as George Takei, I want to thank you so much for being with us, the legendary actor, activist. This is Democracy Now!

GEORGE TAKEI: Thank you. I’ve enjoyed visiting with you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s been great. We’ll be back in a minute.

Show Full Transcript ›
‹ Hide Full Transcript

Creative Commons License The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.