racism

To Be Takei. Or Not To Be? That Is the Question.

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Some of us are afraid to be defined by some of our own features. It’s easy to imagine ourselves in caricature, like my childhood self who was ashamed of the freckles and big front teeth that surely would have dominated a comic sketch of my face.

George Takei is someone who could easily have let his life define him. He could have been a gay Asian man too ashamed of his orientation to pursue acting, and too burdened by the memory of being imprisoned by his own country for being Japanese-American to strive for anything more than to avoid further instances of racism.

Instead, he is a well known actor, activist for marriage equality and gay rights, and a devoted husband to his partner of over two decades. That certainly doesn’t seem like a man avoiding who he is.

In my family, George Takei is a household name. Unlike other children born in the 80’s my first major Star Trek experience was the original series instead of The Next Generation. That’s what happens when you live in a foreign country and have a VCR and the entire show on VHS, you binge watch episodes like candy. This normal for me and my parents.

So when George Takei came out in 2005, it was definitely interesting news for us, especially me, since Sulu was a childhood hero of mine alongside Spock and the gang.  Over the years, I watched as George stood up time and again, leveraging his reputation to advance important causes for gay people.

The documentary does a good job relating all of these things, not so much in chronological order as much as it tries to connect all of George’s pursuits to the reasons behind his passions. His family’s internment in concentration camps during World War 2 is a major inspiration for his current endeavor, the musical Allegiance. There is also his sexual orientation, which he had to hide during his early acting career, like so many others in that time.

While the documentary doesn’t showcase very much that was new, that can be attributed to the fact that George Takei is already quite open about himself. One point that did come through quite well was his sense of optimism he said he has maintained throughout his life. While it doesn’t hurt to be successful, there is something to be said for how much he attributes his own success to this optimism.

The fact that he is an activist for the gay community also shows that he understands that his success is something he can leverage to aid others who share his struggles. I still remember when he called out my home state of Tennessee, which attempted to outlaw the usage of the word “gay” in public schools. While my state still lags behind in the rights it extends to LGBT people, his campaign of “It’s okay to be Takei” still gives hope that even the most conservative states will be unable to conserve the bigotry that they hold as sacred.

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Overall, it was enjoyable to watch. George Takei has overcome racism and bigotry, has found success, love, and still makes time to pave the way for others to share in the opportunities he has had. This single documentary doesn’t make everything better for everyone, but perhaps it still serves as a beacon of hope for those languishing in the dark places where mysticism and hatred oppressively flourish.

Remembering that George Takei is a household name for me and my parents, as is everything Star Trek, it reminds me of when I noticed my father had liked George’s page on Facebook. This was before I had come out to my parents, and saw that my father, who had also grown up with Star Trek, had been able to look past race and sexuality¬† to have a good laugh every now and then from the hilarious content posted there. This gave me a inkling of the acceptance I would eventually get.

On the other hand, at a wedding several months later, after I had come out to my parents, I had an uncle of the backwards and conservative type come up and try to be chummy with me. The way he mentioned that my father and I followed “that George Takahashi-or-whatever-his-name-is” on Facebook was dripping with such racism and disdain that I realized some people will never wake up from their ignorance.

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It is people like that who can make us want to hide, or even change who we are. However, we all have a chance to be who we want sooner or later. While it may seem difficult to accept those things about us that others seem to hate, it starts starts with ourselves. If we all retreated from the truth of who we are, then there would be no documentary that charts the achievements of George, and it wouldn’t be okay to be Takei.

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Exodus: Gods and Kings: Risks and Costs?

Get ready for another biblically-inspired film, y’all. In fact, it’s yet another rendition of the story of Exodus. Ridley Scott is well-known for his historical epics. Gladiator is one of the best of such films, and a Best Picture winner. But Ridley Scott is well known for other great films like Alien and Blade Runner. He is also notoriously inconsistent. Where will Exodus: Gods and Kings fall?

First it must be said, and I’m not the first to notice, that this film features a scandalously white-washed cast. Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton lead the cast and both are superb actors, but are modern audiences really able to suspend their disbelief enough to believe that two UK guys can pass for ancient people of the Middle East?

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Sure we’ve got makeup artists and the like who can do wonders with face painting, and Bale can cultivate a biblical beard, but we’ve already seen this with Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments. Of course one would want to cast capable actors, and perhaps quality acting can trump realism now and then, but this film seems a bit excessive. There is a wealth of skilled actors of color, and I think this film was a missed opportunity to showcase them.

Besides, it isn’t the racism-rampant 1950s anymore. This film risks looking out of touch as well as out of place.

Ridley Scott is a great director, and he has an eclectic body of work that reflects his versatility. Alien is a classic in both sci-fi and horror, and Gladiator proved that sword and sandal flicks don’t have to be religious to be successful.

On the other hand, Kingdom of Heaven proved that a film about the Crusades can be more boring than a history book about them, and Prometheus exposed the possibility that maybe some of Ridley’s past successes were strikes of lightning that don’t always happen twice.

Ridley Scott is great at assembling elements like story and cast and direction, but he doesn’t always execute things well. It’s almost like he relies too much on the elements themselves, but his vision isn’t always clear on how to tie it all together.

What I question about Exodus: Gods and Kings is its purpose. Why is he making this film? What will this film provide us that hasn’t been produced before? If this film is merely an attempt to use modern technology to retell a film classic, then fine. There’s nothing really wrong with that, even if that is a lackluster motive. I certainly wouldn’t be impressed if a modern architect wanted to rebuild The Parthenon using modern tools. Been there, done that. Try something new.

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This film will undeniably be compared to its predecessors, the aforementioned The Ten Commandments and Prince of Egypt. The latter is animated, has a gorgeous musical soundtrack, and even entertains an atheist like me. What can this new film bring to the table?

Surely, Exodus will make gobs of money. Religious movie goers will be relatively easy to please, even if Ridley Scott is going for a more “realistic” approach regarding the mystical plagues of Egypt. (Realistic plagues, but not a realistic cast?)

What seems to be happening is a bit of scraping from the bottom of the barrel on this one. The film is derivative, Hollywood-ized, whitewashed, and unoriginal. What about a film from Ramses’ perspective?  Or even an original love story between an Egyptian soldier and Hebrew slave, with the events of the exodus as a back drop?

There are so many angles one could take other than the same old same old.