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By: Heidi Levitt
Hollywood, the dream machine, the center of global entertainment and movie culture was built by immigrants like Samuel Goldwyn, from Warsaw and Louis B. Meyer to Minsk.
The history of Hollywood includes films and filmmakers who challenged the status quo, went to jail for defending their free speech and who have made a difference by speaking out. And yet, in 2016 Hollywood cinema, perhaps The United States most important export, the beacon for global cultural exchange is dominated by blockbusters, tent pole, sequel, superhero popcorn movies that are led by a white male presence.
Now is the time more than ever to shift the paradigm and make movies that matter. We need to include voices and faces of those who have been left on the perimeter of our industry.
Last years #OscarsSoWhite seems small in light of this past week’s election results, but it is not small by any means. In fact, now more than ever we need to show the country and the world that we in Hollywood have compassion, empathy and the power to open hearts and minds. We must make certain that those behind and in front of the camera reflect who we are; Black, White, Brown, Yellow and every shade in between.
Recently, the hugely talented actor Jon Leguizamo wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about this subject called “Too Bad You Are Latin.”
In this year’s Oscar season we have already seen an excellent contender in Barry Jenkins film, “Moonlight“ that authentically allowed us into the world we seldom see on the big screen. I hope that Moonlight gets the attention it deserves, because not only is it a powerful film, but it is a film about people who are black, gay and poor. It delivers a sense of hope through humanity. Donald Trump and his supporters could take a few lessons from watching a film like this one that opens your heart and leaves you feeling breathless and transformed.
For example, if we only tell the story of Mexicans crossing the border without papers, then that story becomes the story of the undocumented and we fail to see and know the individual. Through great storytelling and the power of global cinema, we can break racial and ethnic prejudice by allowing us to see the person, the character and not merely the color of their skin nor the accent in their voice. These kinds of stories will enable us to see how much we share in common as the human experience is not defined as much by color and language, as it is by the universality of the shared experiences of mothers daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, and sons.
2017 is the year for Hollywood to focus on producing films that reflect the true population and not the Electoral College. 2017 is the year to push the envelope not only in America but also around the world where the refugees and the disenfranchised are fighting for freedom and a better life. Let us show President Trump and the rest of the world that making films and television reflect who we are.
To the 11,000,000 undocumented, the refugees, the exiled living in poverty, the minorities, women and anyone else who feels marginalized – Hollywood can help make America great again because in less than 15 years from now the American population will be more brown than white. I hope and pray that inclusion and diversity in our voices and numbers will translate into a society that is accepting and empowered. Hollywood can and must do their part to change the culture.
Los Angeles Protest, November 12, 2016 @Chessdesign
Heidi Levitt with some advice on how to be an actor and the relationship between actors and casting directors.
Every actor strives to find the spark of truth in every action and every word spoken. The goal is to act without showing you are acting. This is a truly an extraordinary task. It is important for actors to realize that just as hard as they work to get the part, the casting director will have worked equally hard to find them. Every day and often into the night, too, we are seeking to fulfill the vision of the writers, directors, and producers by casting the actor who fits so seamlessly into the role, that it is almost impossible to imagine anyone else playing the part.
The journey of casting is a shared adventure between the seekers and the talent. I consider myself a terribly conscientious hunter and gatherer; I feel pangs of guilt knowing I may have skipped over a submission or email. I am all too often Googling late into the night,much to my husband’s chagrin! The Internet has given us an endless supply of talent to sift through and study.
Honestly, we must rely on all the curators of talent. How can we possibly know everyone? And though some actors may slip through the cracks, the best ones tend to stay in the game long enough to be discovered. If we missed them the first time in their equity waiver showcase or in that fleeting guest spot, the talented actor will do it again and again until that tastemaker, agent, manager or casting director, finds them and knows that attention must be paid.
I think actors who have built long careers are those who approach their career from a similar conscientious point of view: learning, researching and practicing their skills, arriving at auditions with pictures and resumes stapled, in hand. (I consider myself a 21st-century techie CD, but I still need tactile reminders.) Actors must prepare to find the extraordinary moment in the room with us.
At The Golden Globes in 2010, Meryl Streep stated it was not that she herself is extraordinary (Who are you kidding, Meryl?) but more importantly, that she is the vessel for extraordinary characters. Well, not every role will be a Meryl Streep-award-winning-kind-of-part and not every actor will have that opportunity, but just as every casting director must do the extra work to discover the best talent, actors must strive to be extraordinary in roles big and small, starting from the ground up, building a career that lasts.
Truly we all want the same things. Both the seekers of talent and the actors that fulfill themselves by giving life to a character. Sometimes, I may be a discoverer, sometimes a doula nurturing the process, sometimes a mother hen protecting it, but always like the actor, I am seeking the truth.
Rest assured, the casting directors are the first ones watching you celebrate as you walk the red carpet. Remember us as you celebrate the extraordinary. Chances are, we were there, behind the scenes at the very beginning.
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CJ Johnson the host of Movieland on ABC out of Sydney stopped by Heidi’s office to sit down with her and talk about her 30+ year career since breaking into the art of casting in 1985 when she was promoted from intern to casting assistant by the casting directors of Angel Heart, and was tasked with finding a true musician for a key supporting role by director Alan Parker.. Listen to Heidi’s Full Podcast Interview with CJ Johnson