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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  November 18, 2021 12:30am-1:01am GMT

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this is bbc news. we'll have the headlines and all the main news stories for you at the top of the hour, as newsday continues — straight after hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur. turn on the tv or go online, and it's not hard to find political content of all kinds, often delivered with all the nuance of a ten—tonne truck. rare is the tv show which offers commentary on the human condition, which is both entertaining
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and wildly popular. but it can be done, and my guest today knows it from personal experience. george takei was a fixture on the original star trek series as lieutenant sulu. the show�*s progressive values dovetailed with his personal activism, which continues to this day. do the values of star trek still resonate? george takei, welcome to hardtalk. good to be here. you're known to many around the world as an actor. do you see yourself more these
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days as an activist? both, as a matter of fact. i am an actor and an activist, as well. which is more important to you? acting is my passion, the theatre is my passion. but i was defined by my childhood imprisonment, and that has made me an activist in my adult life, so they're both equally important to me. you mentioned your childhood already, and i think we have to talk about it at the beginning because it is in so many ways extraordinary that, given what happened to you as a little boy, that you made it in america in the way you did because you, at the age of five, were defined as an enemy alien, somebody to be locked up. just explain to people exactly what happened. well, on december 7th, 1941, japan bombed pearl harbor.
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the next morning, the president of the united states, franklin delano roosevelt, declared war onjapan. and overnight, americans, japanese—americans, american citizens of japanese ancestry were looked at with suspicion and fear, and outright hatred simply because we looked like the people that bombed pearl harbour. and we were we were spat on and attacked on the street. our homes, our cars, our businesses were graffitied with ugly, racist slogans. the government imposed a curfew on us — we had to be home by 8pm at night, and stay home until 6am in the morning — we were imprisoned in our homes at night. the next morning, if we went to the bank to make a deposit or a withdrawal, we discovered that our bank accounts were frozen.
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our life savings was taken from us. we were financially straitjacketed. so there you were — your father, who was actually born injapan, your mother, who was ofjapanese origin, but she'd been born in the us, and you and two siblings — and you were taken to a camp. exactly, because of race. we were of japanese ancestry. the only immigrants to the united states... immigrants coming from all over the world were qualified to become naturalised citizens, except for immigrants from asia. and, despite my father's rearing in san francisco, his education there, he was considered an ineligible immigrant. do you remember going to the first camp, which was actually a converted horse stable where you were kept and then progressively to a couple of other internment camps?
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i do, but that memory is that of a five—year—old child. we were... the camps were still being built in some of the most godforsaken, desolate places in the country — the desert of arizona, blisteringly hot, or the swamps of arkansas, or the windswept cold plains of wyoming, idaho, utah. but they were being built, so we were first taken to the horse stables of santa anita racetrack. each family was assigned a filthy horse stall, still pungent with the stink of horse manure. for my parents, it was a degrading, humiliating experience, taking their children into that filthy horse stall. but to five—year—old me, it was exciting. we got to sleep where the horsies slept, so i do have memories of the same
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experience my parents were enduring, but totally different coloured memory. we were there for about 4—5 months until the building of the camps was finished. and then it was announced that we would be transported by train to the swamps of arkansas, the farthest eastern of the ten camps, and the trip would be four days and three nights. my father told us that we were going on a long vacation in the country, and so i thought every vacation by train would have armed soldiers at both ends of each car. but i wondered why the grown—ups looked sad and just devastated. some were even crying. i endured that trip, but for my brother and me,
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it was a lot of fun. crawling underneath the benches... as you say, the perspective you had as a little boy was very different from that of your parents. but ultimately, your childhood was disfigured by barbed wire, by searchlights, by armed guards at gates. the sentry towers, machine guns pointed at us. this was your reality. and here you emerged after the second world war was over. the gates were thrown open — suddenly and as irrationally as we were rounded up — but we were impoverished. the government had taken everything from us. they gave us a one—way ticket to anywhere in the united states, plus $25 to build life anew — $25. i would imagine that as a young man, there was a lot of anger in you. anger at the united states for what it did to your family, maybe some feeling of anger at your parents that they hadn't been
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able to protect you. mentally, how did you deal with it? it wasn't anger because i didn't understand my childhood imprisonment, and i had a very specialfather. i didn't realise that then, but he was an extraordinary man for a person of that generation. he knew about american democracy, and he told us that the ideals of our democracy are noble ideals — equaljustice under the law, government rule by law, due process is a central pillar of our justice system. all of that disappeared for us simply on the basis of race. and my father told us we have to be engaged in the process. and he encouraged my brother and me to be active in student government. and so, i was a student body president at mount vernon junior high.
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my father took me to volunteer at a presidential campaign, adlai stevenson for president. i volunteered in countless political campaigns, and so i became aware of how citizenship in a democracy works. and so rather than anger, i was engaged in the democratic process. so i'm already hearing that george takei was becoming the young, liberal progressive activist, and that's something, of course, that you've pursued throughout your life. you also, much later in life, just a couple of years ago, wrote this book or co—wrote this book. it's a sort of illustrated cartoon version of experiences of you and other japanese—americans in the second world war — they called us enemy, it's called. do you think america has learned the right lessons from what it did then and how it treats immigrant populations today?
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we have not. and because we didn't learn that lesson, we keep repeating it over and over again. when we were imprisoned, there was the sweeping generalisation, or presumption that because of our race, we were all potential spies, saboteurs and fifth columnists, which we were not. and there was no evidence of that and we were imprisoned. i noted this quote from one senator at the time, he said, "there is not a single japanese in this country who would not stab you in the back." senator from tennessee. there's that fundamental fear of the other. exactly, and it still exists. of example, when trump became president, there was his sweeping assumption that all muslims are potential terrorists, and he tried to get an executive order accepted called the "muslim travel ban".
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the deputy attorney general had learned the lesson, that chapter of american history where japanese—americans were imprisoned, and she said — sally yates is her name — "i will not defend this case." there are many americans who sympathised with those muslims who were, in their view, being discriminated against. but there are also many millions of americans who backed donald trump's immigration policies. that's correct. and indeed, we see that joe biden, to a certain extent, has kept in place many of the measures that donald trump put, particularly on the southern border. there are massive detentions happening today under the biden administration. the camps, the centres for those, quote—unquote illegal immigrants, are still full. not all the children have been reunited with their parents. this is this is an issue which, in america today, goes beyond, far beyond donald trump.
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i just wonder if you feel you're out of tune with today's america. because of the damage done by trump, president biden has had a massive job to clean up after trump. and, yes, what's happening on the southern border is quite close to what we experienced, and to deal with... the migration is again still massive because central america now is in turmoil. people are literally fleeing for their lives. women have seen their husbands shot before them, and they're fleeing with their children. and so the rush to our southern border is great. and the trump will... i mean, biden will deal with that. i want now to turn to george takei, actor. and having gone through the background you went through, it was pretty remarkable that you made a very successful acting career in the 1960s. and by 1966, you'd met gene roddenberry, and he had invited you to take part
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in a new series. he was calling it star trek. he wanted you to be lieutenant sulu. it changed your life. but did you take it — and this is where it links the actor and the activist — did you take it because you felt in roddenberry�*s vision there was something idealistic, something progressive that combined your acting and your beliefs? his vision was the magnet. but also, i was a scrambling young actor for every opportunity to act, and i saw that this opportunity, being a member of the leadership team on board the starship enterprise, which he told me was a metaphorfor starship earth and the strength of this starship is in its diversity, coming together and working in concert as a team, each contributing his
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or her vantage point, background, experiential history, cultural background. but what you say is fascinating because in a sense, you're acknowledging that your casting in the role of sulu was, to use a blunt and arguably a difficult word, tokenistic. you were something of a token. it was an amazingly positive token at that time. it was notjust casting an asian face because he was a leader. he had interesting qualities about him. his hobby was fencing of all things. initially, the script had me going crazy with a samurai sword, but i told the writer, "that's ethnically consistent because i'm of japanese ancestry, but when i was a kid, i saw the adventures of robin hood starring errol flynn, and i was enamoured of swashbucklers." and i said, "why not put a fencing foil in sulu's hand?"
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and he said, "yeah, this is science fiction. why not?" and that was one of my most successful episodes. i remember that episode. i mean, you were a very prominent character, and so was lieutenant uhura, the black woman played by michelle nichols, who also had a key role on the starship, also did something which many viewers around the world and listeners will remember, that is, shared a kiss with william shatner, captain kirk. now that, again, broke barriers. indeed, it did. and ijust wonder for you as a cast, all of you as a team, were you aware that that you were actually doing something that culturally was something of an earthquake in the united states of america in the late 1960s? we were very profoundly aware of it. gene roddenberry told us that he is using metaphors placed in the 23rd century to deal with the issues of our times, which was the civil rights movement,
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african—americans demonstrating for equality, or the vietnam war, so... and i just want to interject. martin luther king, it turns out, was an avid viewer. yes, he was. nichelle nichols tells this extraordinary story about how, when he, dr king, learned that she was intending to leave the show in the fairly early days, he said... silly woman! well, but she didn't do it because king said to her, "you mustn't do that, the show is too important." in fact, the exact words were, "don't you understand what gene roddenberry has achieved? for the first time on tv, we will be seen" — he meant black people — "will be seen as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can go into space. roddenberry has opened a door for the world to see us. if you leave, that door will be closed." i just wonder if you felt pretty much the same way. from the very beginning, i saw that that was going to be
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a breakthrough opportunity for me personally as an actor, but also as an asian—american, representing the people of asia. and the same thing with uhura, of africa being represented as part of the leadership team. and we also had a young russian lieutenant, chekhov, in the middle of the cold war. absolutely. here's the tough question — if there was all of this positivity, idealism, hope on the set, why were personal relationships so bad, so difficult, sometimes toxic? why, for example, did you and william shatner, captain kirk, not get along? not get along at all? you know, it was all of us. leonard nimoy — mr spock. jimmy doohan — scotty, the engineer. nichelle, chekhov. all of us had our difficulties because of his personality.
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you mean with shatner? shatner, yes. i spoke to shatner a few years ago. shatner said to me, he said, "i had no idea until much later when i was actually writing a book and spoke to george and others, i had no idea that they didn't like me." he was totally oblivious of his behaviour. you know, he's an engaging man, charming, witty on the surface, but he is a primadonna star. and he had to have his way, even at the cost of his colleagues. we mature actors knew that to make a scene work, it's a two—way street. it isn'tjust one person. and he didn't have that understanding, so he would whisper to the writers or directors — and suddenly a line would be missing and it'd be ours, or suddenly the direction of the scene is changed. these whispered conversations with the director or the writer
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off camera resulted in the focus on the captain. well, you portray the problem as his ego, but you, to be fair to him, have been sniping at him for many years. you have an extraordinary social media following and, even to this very day, you go after him. you were sniping at him even when shatner went up into space in the rocket the other day. you said, "he's boldly gone where loads of people have gone before." that is a fact. that is the truth. but why, what's this animus? it's not animus, a statement of fact. he answered by saying, "don't hate, george." hate? he's so obsessed with being hated that he finds hate where none exists. it was a statement of fact. and i added, "he's a good guinea pig. actually not a good guinea pig, because he's not as fit as a good guinea pig should be." well, he's 90 years old. 90 years old.
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you're in your 80s, you're both doing pretty well. i'm six years behind, you know. no, i know. but i intend to be there, too. well, we'll see if one day you may get to space, too, but... i've already been. i took the parabolic flight and i've been in zero—gravity floating. you've been weightless? weightless, and he would not float because of his weight. he stood right by that window, looking out at the dark galaxy, talking about death. we've perhaps talked enough about captain kirk. we've just talked about boldness and here's a thought for you. i just think in your activism, you've reflected a great deal on the different causes that you've fought for over the years. you didn't, for a long time, fight for perhaps the cause most dear to your own heart — that is gay rights, equality for gay people, because you were a gay actor in hollywood for an awful long time who stayed in the closet.
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why? because i wanted to be an actor. i passionately wanted to be an actor. when i was a teenager, my heart—throb was a handsome, young blonde actor named tab hunter. he was starring in almost every warner... he had a warner brothers contract, every movie coming from the warner brothers studio — battle cry, damn yankees. i went and saw every one of them until he was exposed, by one of our scandal sheets as being gay, and suddenly he disappeared. it was forcefully made... it forcefully made me understand that you cannot be gay and be hired as an actor. and so i spent my childhood behind barbed wire fences, but as an adult, i self—imposed an invisible barbed wire fence on myself.
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and i was closeted and still active on all these other socialjustice issues, except for the issue closest and most personal to me. and that was torture in itself. torture ? because there are all these other people, young men and women out there fighting for my cause, the gay liberation movement, and they were sacrificing their lives, their careers, theirjobs. and you stayed silent. and i stayed silent. they lost their families. i wanted to keep my family with me, and i stayed silent until their success, the gay liberation. we don't have much time, so just to finish this thought, you came out in 2005, you've now married your partner. america has embraced gay marriage. it's backed by the supreme court.
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it seems it's backed by american public opinion. and here's the final thought for you — star trek was an immensely positive, hopeful, idealistic show. yes, indeed. when one thinks about what america has achieved in terms of gay rights, perhaps less so in terms of attitudes to immigrants, do you still have that deep optimism about human nature that was so obvious in star trek? 0r over the years, particularly recent years, have you lost that optimism? no, not at all — because we have made progress. from my imprisonment because of racial prejudice to my self—imposed imprisonment in barbed wire, invisible barbed wire fences, we have made amazing progress. at the beginning of my career, i could not have had a career as a gay man. now we have marriage equality.
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we have equality on so many issues. the transgender issue is the big sticking point now, but when i compare myself to my teenage days when i was aspiring to be an actor, and today, we have made amazing progress. certainly, there have been setbacks. three steps forward, two steps back, three steps forward. it's progress and i am proud of where we are today, despite the challenges that we still face. and you continue to boldly go... where others have gone before, too. yes, i know! george takei, it has been a pleasure. thank you for being on hardtalk. the star trek vulcan greeting — live long and prosper. thank you so much.
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hello there. the weather isn't changing in too much of a hurry over the next few days, because high pressure keeping things dry, settled, and very mild still for this time of year. so another mild and quite breezy day to come on thursday. dry weather for most of us, but not everywhere. we have got this weather front sitting close to the north of scotland, so that'll produce outbreaks of rain mainly for northern and western scotland, but high pressure to the south dominating the weather for most places. and, with that high pressure, we're drawing in winds in a south—westerly direction, so bringing the mild air and the orange colours really right across the uk. might be a bit of a chilly start for some southern and eastern parts of england first thing, the odd misty patch around. generally, the cloud will increase from the west through the day, but there will be some spells of sunshine for east anglia and the southeast, up towards eastern
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scotland, as well. still a bit of rain to come for the northwest of scotland, but the breeze blowing over the mountains is likely to create something called a foehn effect, lifting temperatures to around 17 celsius for aberdeenshire. widely 111—15 the top temperature — and compare that to the average temperature this time of year of only about nine celsius, so well above average. it'll be windy again particularly in the northwest, with gusts of wind about a0 mph, but lighter winds further south. so through thursday evening now and heading overnight into friday, it'll be a pretty cloudy picture. a bit of low cloud and hill fog likely, some drizzle around some coastal hills in the west once again. but it will be a very mild and certainly frost—free start to friday morning, but we've still got that rain continuing across the western isles and northern highland, as well. into friday, no great changes — there's that weather front across the north of scotland, there's the high pressure in charge for most places. so quite a cloudy picture, i think, but predominantly dry through the day on friday, away from the north and northwest of scotland where we've got that weather front continuing to bring outbreaks of rain. temperatures again getting up
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to 14—15, even 16 celsius through the foehn effect once again through the east of scotland. it won't last forever, this mild weather, though — into the weekend, saturday, we'll see a cold front moving south across the northern half of the uk. into sunday, that slips its way further south, and it'll introduce the blue colours, the colder air mass with these northerly winds moving across all areas. so gradually through the weekend, things will be turning colder. we'll still look at temperatures in double figures through the day on saturday but, by the time we get to sunday, things will be noticeably cooler — maybe time to dig out the winter coat. bye for now.
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welcome to newsday, reporting live from singapore. i'm karishma vaswani. the headlines: two men convicted of murdering the us civil rights activist malcolm x more than 50 years ago are set to have their convictions overturned. another u—turn, prime minister? borisjohnson admits he made mistakes in handling the conservative lobbying scandal, but he doesn't apologise. the committee will agree that i have accepted that it was a mistake and that it was my mistake. everybody else has apologised for him. — everybody else has apologised for him, but he won't apologise for him, but he won't apologise for himself stop a coward, not a leaden _ emergency measures are announced in india as pollution levels rise, leaving a toxic haze over the capital delhi.

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