One morning, over breakfast, my father said to me "If a man can't go his own way, he's nothing. The moment you give up what you stand for for fame or money, that's the moment you lose your soul."
Yeah, it's heavy talk for a kid over Rice Crispies, but, my Dad was a pretty deep guy. And, he was a man who stood up, and spoke the truth. Sometimes, it made me cringe with nervousness. But, in the end, it was what made me most proud. And that was how that morning's particular chat started. I asked why more people like him didn't stand up and speak up. He told me the truth.
Hollywood is full of pussies.
It always has been. There have always been those that bowed out from doing the right thing, and hid behind whatever cloak they think made their cowardice palatable.
And then, there were those few. The mavericks. The do-what-is-righters, no matter what the cost is on the other end of maintaining their integrity. The ones that stood up to be counted on the right side of history. The ones who weren't afraid of losing something as pointless as wealth or fame in the face of doing the most important thing. The right thing. The moral thing. The thing that God gave you the wealth and the fame to speak against. So that you could make a difference.
You were granted the power. You didn't earn it. You didn't deserve it. You were blessed with it. That's how fame and fortune work. Some, who are full enough of themselves to think that they are in charge of fate itself, talk of "hard work" and "paying your dues" and "fruits of my labors" and blah blah blah. There are a hundred other people. A thousand other people. Hell, more. Who want it as bad as you do. Who work as hard as you do. And who deserve it as much as you do. Probably more. But they weren't in that one place, at that one time, where everything changed. That was luck. That was fate. And that was the Universe telling you that you have been chosen.
Not because it wants you to buy a big house with a swimming pool and a movie theater, not because it wants you to have big parties and invite all your famous friends over to eat goat cheese and see your new piece you bought in Paris last week, not because it wants you to shield your eyes from the paparazzi while running to your car from your workout with your trainer.
The Universe granted you a gift for you to STAND THE HELL UP.
You were given power so that you can use it. You were given people who follow you, and look up to you, so you can point to things in the world that are unjust, and call those people to action. You were given that giant, swelling bank account so you can use that money to ease the suffering of someone, something, somewhere, in the world. You were given the ability to do the right thing, because it needs to be done.
Because the world needs real heroes, not the ones you play on the screen.
And I'm not talking about the kind gestures, where you stop to greet your fans spontaneously, or meet some poor soul whose dying wish is to get your autograph. Those things are great, and worthy, and by-God-of-course-you-should things that all famous people should do. That should be the minimum cost of doing business. What I'm talking about are HERO actions. You know, the ones where you stand against the system, where you stand against your "people" that say "that won't be popular in China/MidWest/Indonesia/BibleBelt/Middle East/Russia/ButmostlyChinawhereticketsalesarehuge!", where you look at those people and say, simply, strong and quiet, "F*&K. THAT."
Where you realize that you have enough of the money, and the house, and the stuff, and the fame, and the power. But what you don't have enough of is peace, equality, righteous action, bravery, humanity, love. You don't have enough of that moment, when you stand back from what you've done, and can say to yourself, quietly, "There. I did that thing. The right one."
The thing that makes the difference. The thing that helps, that saves, that changes. The thing, in service, to any other than yourself.
Call out social injustice. Make films that others refuse to, because they are too unwatchable/unpopular/controversial/notbankable. Point you finger towards those things that need attention. Stand out in the sun, in the rain, hand in hand, with those who need you. Go on camera, and speak out for a cause you believe in. Post it on your instagram, and your Twitter, and don't think for one second, as you push that send button, "I hope I don't offend my audience base...".
Stop being a pussy. Start being a hero. And do the right f*$king thing.
I won't list here those that I have learned would rather protect their net worth than speak out. Those that are more worried about their "brand" then the duty to their soul. That care more about those that buy their tickets than those that need their help.
Instead, I will list a few folks from this glitzy, great world of make believe that, then and now, made their mark as a person who stood up. Who spoke up. Who were ready to be reckoned with. Those ones, the real men and real women, who did right. And, I will start with my gutsy, outspoken and fierce folks who paved my way.
Tom Laughlin. Delores Taylor. William Wellman. Mark F*%KING Ruffalo! Ryan Gosling. Leonardo DiCaprio. Marlon Brando. Jospehine Baker. Bette Davis. Jane Fonda. Harry Belafonte. Marlene Dietrich. Ida Lupino. Joaquin Phoenix. Alvah Bessie. Herbert Biberman. Lester Cole. Ring Lardner, Jr. Kirk Douglas. John Howard Lawson. Albert Maltz. Samuel Ornitz. Adrian Scott. Dalton Trumbo. Teddi Sherman. George Clooney. Willie Nelson. Patricia Arquette. Carrie Fisher. Emma Watson. Cate Blanchette. Rooney Mara. Kate Mara. Charleton Heston. Sidney Poitier. Paul Newman. Ossie Davis. Robert Redford. Ruby Dee. Frank Capra. George Stevens. Elizabeth Taylor. Quincy Jones. Heather Rae.
Let's make this the tip of the iceberg, Hollywood. Let's decide that being the hero in real life is more important than being one in fiction. That being the heroine, working to end real suffering in the world, is better than big box office. That being a fine, brave human being whose voice stands firm and strong in the face of adversity, no matter the cost, is the ultimate measure of success.
That decency, with some rebel tossed in, is the true happy ending.