The fifth and final day of South by Southwest Interactive welcomed actor George Takei on to speak about social activism and bridging the divide between senior citizens and millennials.
Opening the session with a “selfie,” Matthew Segal, president and co-founder of OUR TIME, moderated the “intergenerational” discussion with Takei and opened the floor to audience members toward the end of the session.
With about six million Facebook ‘likes’ and one million Twitter followers, Takei has found a unique way to leverage his celebrity status to educate the public about LGBTQIA activism and organizations such as the AARP for senior citizens on various forms of social media. Even at the age of 76, Takei understands the importance and the value of social media for global interactions.
Contrary to the stereotype, Takei said he regularly encounters older people using social media to connect with their grandchildren. However, Takei realizes many people in his age group have a difficult time navigating the world of technology, joking they are “afraid to go boldly where they have not gone before.
“(Social media) is all embracing, largely in part because my generation is the ‘Star Trek’ fans, and they brought their children up right,” Takei said, with laughs from the audience. “Many of the children of ‘Star Trek’ fans have children too—they’re the millennials. I’m able to reach so many people by social media. I never expected it to grow that big, that fast, that diverse.”
Takei’s activism efforts and presence on social media are fueled by his family’s time in Japanese internment camps in the 1940s, as well as his desire to support those who are part of the LGBTQIA community like himself. This “painful” experience in his life inspired Takei to create a musical about Japanese-American internment camps called “Allegiance,” which is set to hit the Broadway stage soon after opening to a sold-out crowd in San Diego.
“My mission in life has been to raise the awareness of that dark chapter of American history, and the best way to do that is through a Broadway musical,” Takei said with a laugh.
Before landing his “breakthrough” role on “Star Trek,” Takei’s father encouraged him to be an architect. Takei continued to push himself toward acting, eventually attending the University of California-Los Angeles. While participating in the college’s acting program, he was discovered by a Warner Brothers casting agent. Takei described “Star Trek” as a diverse vision for America. It featured a cast of characters from different ethnicities in the midst of the Cold War, with one of the most trusted members of the Starfleet, Chekov, being Russian.
“By the time I was nine or 10, I was making discoveries about my sexual orientation,” Takei said. “When I wanted to pursue a career in acting, I figured (being openly gay) would block me from having that career. I was silent on all these areas of activism until the AIDS epidemic, then I started giving money to all these causes.”
As for Takei’s future, he said he hopes to continue filming his YouTube show “Takei’s Take” while raising awareness for the LGBTQIA community and the importance of technology. To this day, Takei continues to draw inspiration from his idol Martin Luther King Jr., who he met before his assassination in 1968.
“We still have a lot of struggle ahead of us,” Takei said. “Our democracy is dependent upon good people who are willing to sacrifice to make this a better truer democracy. It’s a work in progress. I hope my legacy is that the work in progress continues and continues.”