Musical 'Allegiance' comes to cinemas

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday December 6, 2016
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George Takei (right) in his musical <i>Allegiance,</i><br> screening in SF. Photo: Courtesy the subject
George Takei (right) in his musical Allegiance,
screening in SF. Photo: Courtesy the subject

For openly gay Star Trek icon George Takei, the unexpected rise of Donald Trump to the Presidency has taken on a deeper, more personal meaning. In his youth Takei, who is of Japanese descent, spent several years in an internment camp. During WWII the U.S. government kept countless Japanese Americans, none of whom had committed any crime, under lock and key in the aftermath of the bombing of Hawaii's Pearl Harbor by the Japanese government.

During his campaign, Trump spoke of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The President-elect has also suggested a ban on Muslims entering the country, and a possible "Muslim registry." Trump continues to promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants as soon as he takes office.

"I was hoping Trump would moderate his words and behavior with the thought of the Presidency becoming reality, but now, with his selection of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, I sense something ominous beginning to rise," Takei told the B.A.R., speaking from his home in Los Angeles. "I'm worried. And he has done little to quell many of his own supporters' actions, which also has me worried. The sight of neo-Nazis sieg-heiling in victory, just blocks away from the White House, was chilling."

The President-elect has since made a few comments in which he denounced hate, but Takei feels these statements weren't enough. "Trump must do more to distance himself from such hate groups and to moderate his own rhetoric and actions that seem always to divide rather than bring us together."

Takei's recent musical Allegiance was performed in San Diego and New York. The show, which was taped before a live audience, recalls the Japanese internment camps. It will screen in cinemas nationwide on Dec. 13.

"Allegiance follows the story of a Japanese American family caught up in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and the internment," Takei explained. "The storyline centers around a brother and a sister who choose fatefully different paths in response to their unjust incarceration. Allegiance involves two love stories that blossomed behind those barbed-wire fences. The fracturing of the family metaphorically represents the rupture of the Japanese American community under the strains of the internment years."

Takei plays dual roles in the show. "In the beginning, I am the older version of Sam Kimura, in the present, looking back on his life," he said. "I am an old veteran with a big chip on my shoulder over what transpired many decades ago. But once we go back in time, to the story that took place just before, during and after the war, I play another character, Ojii-chan, which means grandfather in Japanese. Ojii-chan is a jovial old farmer who helps anchor the Kimura family in their Japanese culture and traditions."

Allegiance co-star Telly Leung. Photo: Leon Le Photography

Takei, now an elder statesman for the acting profession and the LGBT community, spoke warmly of Telly Leung, the young openly gay Asian actor who co-stars in Allegiance.

"Telly is an enormously gifted and disciplined artist who has the promise of becoming a commanding star. He is my hope for the future of Asian Americans in theater, film, television and the performing arts, a multi-talented star. He also happens to be a great friend."

Leung feels the same about Takei. "George is one of the hardest-working men in show business," Leung told the B.A.R. "At 78, he did eight shows a week, he never missed a show, and his stamina and dedication to the story we were telling, his story, were an inspiration to the entire company. He also found the time and energy to be a top-notch, warm, generous human being."

Leung shares many of Takei's concerns for the future under a Trump presidency. "Trump's surrogates have suggested that the Japanese-American internment was a lawful precedent for the intense vetting of Muslims entering the U.S.," he said. "This eerily echoes the kind of speech and rhetoric of 1942, when Executive Order 9066 forced thousands of Japanese-Americans to relocate to camps because of prejudice, fear, war hysteria and poor political leadership."

The actors also expressed their concern for the future of gay rights, as Trump has appointed a number of openly anti-LGBT people to his cabinet.

"No one, not a single appointment, is an advocate for the LGBT community," Leung pointed out. "Many of them have been vocal about their opposition to marriage equality. Trump has said he is a supporter of LGBT rights, but actions speak louder than words."

But Leung isn't giving up. "I am confident that the LGBTQ community will fight relentlessly for equality," he said. "The spirit of those first, feisty, brave brothers and sisters at Stonewall, the spirit of Harvey Milk, of Edith Windsor, it is something we have in our DNA as a community, and we will not have our rights taken away without a good fight."

"We need to be ever-vigilant," added Takei. "Trump has begun to appoint very troubling people to his cabinet, with the transition team headed by the most anti-LGBT Vice President in our history. Many of his short-list picks for the Supreme Court are publicly anti-LGBT, some even saying that consensual gay sex should be criminalized."

These are some of the messages which Takei hopes people will take from Allegiance. "We live in a time when we again hear the chilling words of irrational fear and hatred against Muslims, as well as Mexicans and trans people," he said. "We must never allow the mass hysteria and racism that happened to Japanese Americans during WWII to be inflicted on other minorities. If there is any takeaway from our show, it's to demonstrate that this type of massive tragedy not only did happen, but could happen again to another group if we are not vigilant."

Alligiance will screen on Dec. 13 at the Sundance Kabuki and the AMC Van Ness Theaters in SF. Tickets: fathomevents.com.