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'Star Trek' star George Takei says sci-fi can be 'a trailblazer' for social change

Television star and gay icon George Takei tells NBC News that science-fiction has the power to help "move society forward.”
Image: Star Trek: The Star Fleet Academy Experience Preview
Actor George Takei attends the Star Trek: The Star Fleet Academy Experience Preview at Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum on June 30, 2016 in New York City.Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

Can science-fiction be a driving force for social change and help society "boldly go where where no man has gone before?" "Star Trek" star and gay icon George Takei thinks so.

“Science-fiction can be a trailblazer to move society forward,” Takei said in a recent interview with NBC News. “To have that imagination unleashed, to see a more utopian world."

Takei, known for his role as Hikaru Sulu in the original “Star Trek” series, said while the sci-fi genre often explores other worlds and galaxies, it also has the ability to push social boundaries toward the aspirational ideal.

In 1968, for example, “Star Trek” made U.S. television history by airing the first interracial kiss. The groundbreaking smooch occurred between actors William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols in an episode titled “Plato's Stepchildren."

Takei recalled that the trailblazing episode aired at "the height of a lot of turmoil in the U.S.”

“The civil rights movement was going on, where African-Americans were being assaulted by law enforcement officers with fire hoses," he said. "The Vietnam War was going on."

"There was a cultural revolution," he said of the late '60s, "but it was science fiction that envisioned this optimistic world."

Science fiction — and the "Star Trek" franchise in particular — is still a "social benchmark" to aspire to, Takei said.

“Star Trek: Discovery,” the newest addition to the franchise, includes a same-sex couple played by Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp, who are both openly gay in real life as well.

“We have made tremendous progress," Takei said, adding, "I spent half a century of my life in the closet."

However, there's still more work to be done when it comes to LGBTQ equality, Takei acknowledged.

“The most challenged group of people now, are the transgender people," he said. Citing the policies of the Trump administration and the president's conservative court picks, he said, "It's going to be a real battle, but we have to be strong.”

Takei, who has more than 10 million Facebook followers, is vocal on social media about his disapproval of the president and his administration. He said the immigrant detention centers that have made headlines over the past several months, remind him of his own experience in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II.

“My parents were the ones who gave us stability and comfort inside those barbed wire fences," Takei told NBC News. "What Trump has done is tear infants, toddlers and children from their parents, incarcerate them and then scatter them around the country.”

"But the strongest hearts are created by hard times," he added.

Takei's most recent project, an augmented reality app called “House of Cats,” allows the TV star to troll the president and raise money for charity at the same time. A portion of the proceeds from the satirical app, which features characters like Trumpy Cat, Meowlania, Vladdy Putin and Lil' Rocket Pug, will be donated to Refugees International.