SEATTLE — Densho, a nonprofit that uses digital technology to share the stories of Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II, announced Nov. 17 that it is taking down a video narrated by actor/activist George Takei.
“After careful consideration and internal dialogue, we at Densho have made the decision to remove a short video narrated by George Takei that was previously featured on our website and YouTube channel,” the organization said in a statement. “In light of the very serious allegations of sexual assault brought forth by Scott Brunton last week — as well as a troubling interview with Howard Stern where George jokes about groping men against their will — we feel we cannot remain silent on this issue.
“We wish to be clear that this is not a judgment of guilt or innocence. For his part, George has denied the allegations, stating: ‘I want to assure you all that I am as shocked and bewildered at these claims as you must feel reading them.’ So we are not here to drag George through the mud.
“But neither will we contribute to the institutional silence that protects abusers by ignoring the statement of an alleged victim. As Jenn Fang wrote for Reappropriate earlier this week, each of us has a moral imperative to listen to survivors of sexual assault and treat their stories ‘as though they are at least credible — no matter how much we might admire those who stand accused.’
“Our mission at Densho is to tell untold stories, to shed light on dark and ugly truths so that our country might one day live up to its promise of justice for all. If we turn the lights off on George’s accuser, we send a message to countless others that their own stories of harassment and assault will not be believed.
“To create real, lasting change we must be willing to talk openly and honestly about sexual abuse in our communities. We must speak out so that victims and survivors have the support to speak up.”
The decision has elicited both praise and criticism on Facebook, including the following.
“Thank you, Densho. Tough and very necessary conversation and stance to take.”
“Sad this had to happen, but completely behind the decision and thoughtful yet important explanation.”
“Hold your ground. Good call.”
“This is absolutely the right thing to do. Survivors of sexual abuse should be believed.”
“Well said, Densho! We all need to take each story seriously until proven wrong.”
“I think that based on the Stern interview, the very least is to remove the video while the situation can be considered and evaluated. In that interview, George Takei brushes off and laughs at the idea of obtaining consent. Whether he ‘meant it’ or not, it was in extreme poor taste during a discussion of [Harvey] Weinstein and his position of power and the apparent agreement with that behavior. It saddens me to think that George may actually think this way. It also saddens me that many men in our community are quick to jump in and defend such actions wherein a person in a position of power has the implicit right to perpetrate abuses without thought to the victims. Removing the video until more information is revealed is prudent and shows sensitivity and leadership by Densho. Thank you for being brave and showing that our community is willing to investigate serious claims against one of our entertainment icons rather than turn a blind eye to such serious allegations.”
“This must have been a difficult decision to make. Especially with our collective history as Japanese Americans. I support and thank you for taking action.”
“So what now? Wait for proof? I agree it is wrong to meet such a serious claim with silence or disrespect, but the truth will never be known. Do we erase Mr. Takei’s body of work over one alleged incident? Not a rhetorical question. I really don’t know. In other cases, there is a pattern or history of both abusive behavior and publicly disrespectful attitudes about sex and power. In this case, the opposite.”
“He is not convicted. If you take action based on someone accusing someone, you will have nothing left.”
“I cannot help but note the sad irony in seeing a great organization dedicated to memory of those who were falsely accused and condemned without trial or due process do essentially the same to one of its biggest supporters and champions.”
“Sorry, but I think this is an overreaction by Densho. Statement says it isn’t a judgment, but this move is exactly that.”
“How is removing an unrelated video narration helping the alleged victims? How is the unrelated video contributing to ‘institutional silence’ or ignoring the victim’s statement? How is removing your association with George Takei show you’re willing to ‘talk openly and honestly about sexual abuse in our communities’? I don’t want to believe that such a respected part of the community would want to distance themselves from someone before any actual judgment has been made, but that is the message I’m getting.”
“George Takei has been an unwavering friend of the Japanese American community forever. The least he deserves from the community is a unwavering demand that he be treated with fairness. Unless the video is offensive in itself, Densho’s decision to suppress it from view is most decidedly an action designed to appease George’s accusers and the others who want to drag his good name through the mud. He has apologized for his comments on the Howard Stern program. Densho has declined to say what more is needed from George Takei regarding that incident. Densho is completely blind if it does not see that its decision causes injury to George Takei’s reputation in the absence of proof from Scott Brunton. Densho, let’s face it, you can’t make this decision and still credibly criticize the internment of Japanese Americans, which was also based on hysteria and fear and not evidence and facts.”
Densho posted the following statement on Nov. 28:
“In the spirit of openness and honesty, we’d like to respond to criticism that this is an overreaction or personal attack.
“First, our statement is not an intractable, irreversible legal action. We agree that George should be treated with fairness, which is why we did not and will not indict his character or assign guilt. But his accuser also deserves to be treated with fairness. As Mari Ko said in an earlier comment, ‘In a climate where the perpetrators of sexual assault are vastly privileged over the victims, it is wise not to discount the allegations because of our respect for George.’
“This was a decision based not on hysteria but on facts: The fact that women and LGBTQ folks are sexually assaulted and harassed with heartbreaking regularity. The fact that victims do not believe they will be taken seriously because too many men see rape as fodder for a joke. Rather than turning a blind eye, we should use this moment to open a dialogue about the pervasiveness of sexual assault in our society and about the ways all of us are (willingly nor not) complicit in the silencing of victims.
“Finally, we feel we need to address the troubling comparison being made between our decision and the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans. 75 years ago, Japanese Americans were targeted by the federal government and condemned for their ancestry en masse. George has been accused as an individual by an individual, and the removal of one video is a far cry from being imprisoned in a concentration camp. Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were evicted from their homes by armed soldiers and subjected to race-based mass incarceration because they lacked the political power to stop it and those who did have that power chose to remain silent.
“And so we repeat: we must speak out so that victims and survivors have the support to speak up.”