In a new documentary about his life, George Takei recalls his father buying a radio after he and his family were finally released after years in internment camps that Japanese-Americans were sent to during World War II.
He had just turned 5 when soldiers with "bayonets on their rifles" took his family from their home in Los Angeles in 1942. When they arrived, "the barbed-wire fence was just part of the landscape," says the former "Star Trek" star. He was almost 9 when they got out and by then, "I knew what the barbed-wire fences meant."
The new radio opened a "magical world" for him and his younger brother and sister, and one song he grew to love was "Don't Fence Me In."
In "To Be Takei," the actor, who first sang on Broadway in the early 1960s, sweetly croons, "Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above. Don't fence me in."
Over the years, the song grew in meaning beyond his memories of the camp. Now 77, Takei has encountered other borders, from the typecasting he faced as an Asian-American, to having to hide the fact that he was gay.
"I wanted my career. That was my passion," says the actor, who now has some 7 million Facebook followers. "When I started my career back in the '50s it would have been be lunacy for me to aspire to be a professional actor and be out at the same time."
"To Be Takei" came from an idea by filmmaker Jennifer Kroot. Along with highlighting moments in Takei's career, including the six "Star Trek" movies he made, she included his performances in theater, political activism and his life with his longtime partner, Brad Altman.
Though he kept his sexuality secret until 2005, Takei has long been a political activist, something he learned from his father, who had been a leader in the internment camps. After the family's release, they were left with nothing and forced to move to skid row in downtown Los Angeles.
When other returning internees began seeking his help, Takei's father started an employment agency and soon was able to open a dry-cleaning shop with a small apartment behind it in East L.A. Eventually, he became successful in real estate and was able to give his children comfortable lives and good educations.
In his teens, Takei and his father had long discussions -- "many of them heated" -- about being in the camps. What his dad told him stuck with him: "He said our democracy is vitally dependent on people who stand behind the fundamental ideal that all men are created equal."
Though it would be quite a while before he would tell the public about his homosexuality, Takei became active in numerous political causes, including the anti-Vietnam War movement.
Takei says he is not bitter about the internment experience, calling his father one of his heroes who inspired him. During a TED talk in Kyoto, Japan, in June, he told the crowd: "I am dedicated to making my country an even better America, to making our government an even truer democracy." He added, "I can stand before you as a gay Japanese-American, but even more than that, I am a proud American."
Takei and Altman have been together for 28 years, and the documentary sometimes amusingly captures the rhythms of their relationship, which like any one of that duration has its own quirks, ebbs and flows.
It wasn't until 2005, though, that Takei revealed the relationship and his sexuality to the public. That year the California Legislature passed a marriage equality bill, but then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it.
"Brad and I were watching the news, and we saw all these young people coming out on Santa Monica Boulevard protesting," the actor remembers. "I was inspired by their courage. The next day was the first time I spoke to the press as a gay man, and I blasted Arnold Schwarzenegger for his veto."
Since then, Takei and Altman have been active in numerous LGBT causes. When same-sex marriage was legalized in the state in 2008, the actor married Altman (who changed his last name to Takei). "Star Trek" colleagues Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols were best man and best woman.
"To Be Takei" also chronicles the making of his award-winning musical "Allegiance," which was inspired by his time in the internment camps. The San Diego production starred Takei and Lea Salonga, and now the actor is eyeing a Broadway run, though finding it tough going. However, he's optimistic that "Allegiance" will open within a year.
"If you're pessimistic that something can't be done, it won't," he says. "You determine your own destiny."
'to Be Takei'
Director: Jennifer Kroot
Opening: Friday in San Francisco