Actor’s Activism

This is chapter ten of the book RPS/2044: An Oral History of the next American Revolution. RPS/2044 has its own book page, with front matter, reviews, essays, interviews, testimonials and place for user interaction with the interviewees. It is available via Amazon. In its nixth chapter Cynthia Parks and Andrej Goldman discuss 
building RPS chapters.

Celia Curie discusses Hollywood activism.

Celia Curie, born in 1994 you were an aspiring actress at the time of the first RPS convention. You became highly active in RPS while a successful actress in Hollywood. You were a Secretary of Popular Culture for the RPS shadow government, and you later became Governor of California, an office you still hold. Can you tell us how you first became radical?

I was raped by my uncle when I was fifteen. I didn’t tell anyone. I was afraid, and, at first I thought it was my fault. Later I didn’t want to create what would have been chaos. My father’s brother did it. The fallout would be horrendous for my dad and my uncle’s family, for everyone. I didn’t think my uncle was violent with others and I still don’t know what came over him.

Afterwards, I used the internet, in private, to learn more about rape. I went deeply into the subject and became familiar with and indebted to many feminist writers who saved my life and opened my door to radicalism.

Being raped, watching a loved one killed or jailed, being torn apart by unemployment, alcohol, or drugs, becoming malevolent, or suffering preventable illness, dominates many peoples’ early memories. I had difficulty escaping my dark times not least because all around me, every year since, there were always reminders in what I saw and endured.

Just ten years later RPS was percolating, and soon thereafter, Hollywood RPS got going. Do you remember where and how it started?

The first Hollywood chapter of RPS got going when some Hollywood actors and other film people started to meet face to face to discuss how they could relate to RPS. It was shortly after the first convention and we took a few meetings to settle on joining RPS and undertaking three types of activity. We would reach out to other people in our artistic communities to join RPS. We would agitate for changes in Hollywood film practices to make our industry better reflect RPS values and aims. We would reach out to the broader population using film and our visibility as actors.

It started with just eleven Hollywood people. We got less curious about fellow actors and more curious about ideas. We assembled some RPS literature. Deciding whether to join was like deciding whether to relate to a film by collectively assessing a screenplay. As we read the material, we practiced expressing RPS views among ourselves until we were confident we not only liked RPS, but were prepared to participate in its refinement and expansion.

At that point, we began reaching out to other Hollywood people. It was tricky not just because we had to address other people’s concerns, something we weren’t in the habit of doing, but because one of people’s foremost concerns was “Why should I bother?”

To join, required people addressing much they would rather ignore. It would cost scarce time. To what end, they asked? What would I be doing, other than talking? We thought talking, like we were doing with them, was a lot, but it quickly became clear we had to have activities beyond talking to others that new members could relate to. So we came up with some.

What was the experience like for you?

Once we committed to RPS, what we did to expand it so defined who we were becoming that it was like immersing deeply into a film role, except RPS wasn’t fiction, wasn’t temporary, and we weren’t paid to do it.

We had been actors, but also directors and camera folks. We were men and women, Black, Latin, white, gay, straight, fathers, and mothers. All these attributes affected how we saw ourselves. Like everyone, we occupied role positions in society and our roles largely determined who we were by the requirements they imposed on us. But joining RPS changed us, often without our even knowing it was happening.

It may sound exaggerated, but it isn’t. We were no longer mainly an intersection of our mainstream institutional roles. It wasn’t that the mainstream roles were gone. The daily pressures of our situations, contracts, and people’s expectations still pushed and pulled us. But now we were also part of RPS. We were revolutionary, and that became who we were at a more basic, defining level than the rest.

Didn’t obstacles you faced intimidate you? What did you do?

We knew progress would be neither swift nor easy, but we didn’t dwell on that. I don’t know how to explain our reaction other than to say it was the mood of our times. No time to hesitate, time to agitate. Be the change you want.

Within a year we began three projects. The first was a school for people in the movie industry. We assembled courses about understanding current society, developing and advocating vision for a better society, and addressing the mechanics and possibilities of the film industry.

Some of us taught, but we invited some more experienced RPS folks also offer classes. We created our own curriculum, but we also borrowed materials from other RPS chapters.

Hollywood people had always been severely time stretched and we were saying to participate you need to free up ten days, and more if you wanted to teach. So we asked a lot from highly accomplished adults who were used to other people doing their bidding. Attendees not only learned a lot, they enjoyed themselves and made new friends. The schools graduated capable members.

For our second project, we uncovered and publicized the pay rates of everyone in Hollywood and then agitated for more equitable relations. You can imagine how that went over. It was a difficult sell, but the ethics were clear and with informed persistence we eventually turned the tide. Instead of our appearing crazy, those defending old ways began to appear greedy.

Our third project reached beyond Hollywood. We pressured local media producers to give space and tools to grassroots participants and we created short films and later some full length ones promoting RPS ideas and program.

I wonder if you remember when you first got together?

Eleven of us first got together at a famous actor’s outrageously fancy house. We met in an enormous ornate living room. One wall was all window overlooking a massive deck with a huge pool. Beyond that floated the Pacific.

Some of us lived more or less comparably to our host. Others, including myself, had never even seen a house remotely like where we met. Those ironies and tensions played out over and over during our development.

After some chit chat, a famous actor made a tepid pitch about having held a funding event for a local candidate, saying he hoped we would do similarly in the future. Had that set the tone, we would have gone nowhere. But Matt chimed in saying that kind of involvement wasn’t enough, and that the conditions most people endured overseas, as well as in the U.S., were too abysmal for band aids. He referenced global warming and war and mainly how we all knew damn well that RPS was right about society needing a new social system. His passion resonated, and we were off and running.

What opposition did you have to overcome?

Actors, directors, writers, cinematographers, singers, and artists would tell us, “Creativity is different. We are not like other workers. We should enjoy incomes commensurate to our excellence. We should do whatever we like, not having to worry about balanced job complexes sapping our focus.” “It is insane” they ridiculed us, “to think that the public should have a say in planning art. Artists have to do that, and then the public likes it or not. To require artistic creators to negotiate their work with the public would extinguish all art.”

We heard that over and over and continually had to disabuse artistic people of their outrageous conceit that they were uniquely special and deserved special benefits. A scientist is creative, as are doctors, designers, and builders, and, with training and balanced job complexes, we would all be creative for part of our work time. More, creativity should be its own reward. What warranted remuneration was only working hard, long, or in difficult conditions.

We pointed out that saying actors, directors, or other art workers shouldn’t do balanced work implied that others who do creative work shouldn’t have to either, meaning 20% of the population should dominate 80% of the population. Yes, balancing artists’ circumstances for empowerment would reduce their time for creativity, but everyone doing balanced work would free the creative potentials of vast new constituencies. It would also broaden the comprehension of any artist communicating about life.

We explained that workers and consumers having self-managing say wouldn’t mean the public decides what goes in a novel, play, or film, any more than it would mean the public decides what research a physicist or biologist does, or how an architect designs a building. It would mean, instead, that the public decides, in cooperation with producers, what benefits society, and, based on that, what people can usefully produce as socially valued work.  If the public wanted no music – then creating music wouldn’t count as socially valued work. If the public wanted little music, then the number of singers, musicians, and composers who could earn income for creating music would be accordingly low. One could still produce or create music not wanted, not least hoping to change the public’s mind, but one couldn’t yet call it socially valued labor.

Likewise, the same applied if the public wanted no novels, or no engineering, or no medicine. But the public doesn’t have to understand or appreciate every film or painting, song or performance, every construction method or research project, to know it wants society to have art, engineering, and science. What the public settles on in light of reports from those who do the labor is what amount it wants, which in turn determines the amount producers can produce for income. But producers then decide what they create and how. The new economic logic applied just as compellingly to artistic and intellectual endeavors as to rote ones. The worth of equity, classlessness, and self management applied equally for all people, groups, and activities.

How did you understand Hollywood Stardom at the time of the first RPS convention and how did that start to change in the convention’s aftermath? 

When RPS first convened I had been in some commercials and gotten some minor supporting parts. I had prospects, but I certainly wasn’t anything like a star. My income kept me functioning, but little more. To me, a star was a larger than life person who endured an odd loneliness, constantly threatened by out of control paparazzi and even by fans or psychopaths. My attendance at our first meeting in the actor’s palatial home reinforced that view. But, before long, I started to think of Hollywood stars as people who by dint of special inborn qualities, hard work, and a lot of luck, gained access to a particular art loving audience. I started to feel we didn’t deserve excessive income, yet we received excessive everything. I felt we should renounce our excessive wealth and if wealth had to be distributed unequally until we could win new social relations, we should put most of ours to social ends.

For a long time, many actors, media moguls, and other rich people, had given to various causes, some frivolous, some important to people’s lives. I didn’t disparage that as being only self serving, tax evading, or press priming, which it often was, but I did decide that what was more important was everyone trying to literally eliminate poverty.

What RPS activities led to new creativity in movies, theater, and all art? 

Our school did so, by broadening the consciousness, skills, and confidence of workers in the industry. RPS demonstrations and policy campaigns did so as well. Less celebrated and visible, so did seeking new allies and working to solidify the commitment of existing members and especially to improve their ability and willingness to demonstrate and pursue campaigns.

The production of films about social issues where each film offered positive potentials, helped. Also important was the way those involved contributed increasing proportions of a film’s revenue to projects the film advocated, as was including activists’ voices, and workers and actors linking up with the associated projects and advocating them in interviews and public displays.

The major dramatic film about RPS, “Good Will Winning: The Next American Revolution,” which came out in our early years and included so many famous participants, foresaw much of what later happened and elevated RPS visibility. Those who worked on it functioned collectively, with balanced responsibilities and sensible salaries. The film was a tipping point for the industry, celebrated by the many Oscars it won and our speeches on Oscar night.

You are being a bit modest. It was your Oscar and speech…

I had a great starring role and the times and the artistry of the script and film were such that I got the best female actor award. And, yes, my speech was a highpoint, but please don’t exaggerate my personal role. I was in the right place at the right time. I delivered a speech many people helped write.

In any case, transcending that film and its impact, there followed the great industry strike, long nurtured by continuous agitation and organizing. It spurred change and was, I think, perhaps the first time coordinator class members in such large numbers were so outspoken for dramatically reducing coordinator class advantages. We accepted and celebrated working people’s leadership. That not only turned our industry inside out, it helped spur similar activism from the sciences to architecture, law, athletics, medicine, and media.

What Hollywood resistance to RPS remains?

We now have workers councils operating throughout Hollywood and while owners and other officials still do some films the old way, well over half of today’s films are done almost entirely in new, RPS ways. The new has challenged the old, gaining steadily, especially in the commitments of people first entering film work. It is the same pattern that has unfolded in schooling, health care, and most fields.

But resistance still exists, and, indeed, some people will retain their old ways until Father Time takes them offstage. One kind of opposition is honest, “I won’t forego my massive income. I won’t do tasks I find onerous. I like my coordinator advantages.” That clarity is rare, however, because even rich people like to look in the mirror and admire themselves, not to mention retaining relations with their children, so they deny the greedy truth.

More commonly, film industry resistance to RPS asserts that “RPS would destroy artistic quality and kill aesthetic motivation. To work for RPS’s ‘equitable incomes,’ eliminate corporate divisions of labor, and cooperatively negotiate economic allocation, would gut art.”

It’s the same complaint as twenty years ago, though back then the naysayers were everywhere and we had to argue with nearly everyone in the industry using analogies between racist and sexist nonsense which was at least well understood by most in Hollywood, and classist nonsense, which was foreign to most – or using some modest thought experiments to try to get our views across. Now, the naysayers are relatively few and though the beliefs and analogies are still applicable, even more compelling are the hugely successful projects undertaken in RPS style and the gigantic good will those projects generated.

How will RPS success alter future artistry for creators and audiences?

The audience for artistic work will grow due to people having more time for enjoyment and inspiration, and also new knowledge that increases “consumer” benefits. But artistic workers, like all others, will receive equitable incomes and work in balanced job complexes in industries that relate to the will of both workers and consumers. Artistic workers, like all others, will collectively self manage their involvements. Society will still admire and celebrate great art, but won’t excessively enrich great artistry.

But will there be as high a level of creativity and excellence as now? 

In the first decade of this century, how much high creativity and excellence was there beyond outrageous special effects and exploring the psyches of murderers? But even if we set that aside, we should see that high levels of excellent art, though important, should not be our only criteria of judgement. Think of it this way. Suppose you are looking at a workplace producing shirts. Do we have as our highest and even our only aim maximizing the quality and quantity of shirts that come out the door?

Many would initially say yes, but if we did, why not work people to death and then just dump them in the alley while calling in replacements? Why not produce way more shirts than people want? Why not produce only for the gaudy tastes of rich clientele while ignoring less expensive tastes?

Sensible output has to take into account those doing the work, those receiving the product, and those not receiving other products that could have been produced instead.

RPS’s cooperative planning recognizes it is fine if we sometimes seek less output or settle for good output when seeking more or better would impose too much hardship on those involved. But that said, people in each industry will be far better able to provide more, and the public will be far better able to benefit from more, because the population will have far more of its creative potentials nurtured and supported.

Consider someone, let’s call him Donald, who worries about a decline of art – or about a decline of doctoring, engineering, ecological research, or what have you. Donald bemoans lost output due to people who previously only did empowering tasks now doing balanced work. Donald believes the loss won’t be offset by newly cultivated and expressed talents of the 80% of the population who were formerly silenced and subordinated. He says they lack needed talent. RPS believes Donald’s view is no less classist than earlier generations thinking women and Blacks couldn’t contribute creatively was sexist or racist. To claim incapacity of women and Blacks was nonsense despite that it benefitted those protecting advantages, and even seemed to explain why Blacks and women weren’t doing empowered work. “It is because they can’t,” said the racist or sexist, “not because they are prevented.” Similar, rationalizations about class seem to explain the fact that workers aren’t producing art – or other creative outputs – though increasingly less so with the incredible growth of workplace councils and balanced job complexes in Hollywood.

When you attended your first Hollywood meeting, I am guessing you weren’t yet revolutionary. What brought you the rest of the way?

The literature I was reading taught me a lot but working in our group was key. We become what we do, so when our group transcended aloof liberalism, I did too. For me, another big factor was thinking about kids. It wasn’t, what do I want to leave them? It was, what should I say to them about right and wrong? Each good answer I had pushed me as much as them.

What was the turning point when you felt the struggle had matured from trying hard to have a chance to being assured of victory?

It was when writers, actors, directors, editors, videographers, techies, designers, drivers, dressers, stunt people, and music people, marched through Hollywood chanting and singing, and then went to neighborhood meetings for conversation and dinner at community gatherings. And especially when we did it again, and again, the same way, in New York, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Houston, Nashville, Memphis, Miami, Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Minneapolis, Detroit, and Cleveland.

I hope it is okay if I ask you a personal question about acting and your experiences of it? You have been considered beautiful all your life, and I wonder what place you think this had in the past and should have in the future, in Hollywood and in society, too?

It is personal, but it is also fair. Growing up, what you look like used to have, and still has, major implications. I was, and I guess I am, by our society’s standards, beautiful. None of us can see that, easily, in ourselves, but I see it in others. Sometimes a person’s beauty can be mesmerizing and even addictive. But there is more to it, especially in a horribly sexist society.

At a young age I learned behavior patterns that could get me things I wanted. I didn’t understand why, but I noticed how my smiles affected people, or how my being coy or flirty affected people. And these behaviors became part of who I was, with attendant gains and losses. Materially, I benefited. Psychologically, too, because I got confidence and style. But my personality warped and I got mired in feelings of entitlement and guilt.

Hollywood exaggerated the dynamics. Beauty was bankable for women, and for men too. And what was bankable was cultivated and sought, but also thrown out when it faded. So in the old days beautiful women – and men – were signed on and if you could perform reasonably well, and you weren’t annoying for producers and directors, you would have a career, at least until your looks faded.

I don’t know entirely how I feel about it. Being eyeballed from my preteens on, being hit on, and being sexually fantasized in many people’s daily lives is horrible. Think about knowing that thousands and maybe even millions imagine doing things with or to you. Everyone undervalues everything else you are. Transcending that requires help, which is all too often absent. We should eliminate objectification and exploitation. We should also not reward riches or power to beauty.

Suppose someone is born really strong, or able to run outrageously fast, or with great reflexes, or able to think really fast. RPS says the person should not be able to turn that genetic luck into wealth, power, or unfair circumstances. So that should apply, as well, to being born looking special. But about reflexes and thinking, we don’t mind that they are admired, or that having those attributes means you can do some things which, without them, you could not do. So, though it makes me nervous, shouldn’t that also apply to appearance?

The odd thing is that special traits, features, qualities, or talents, in old societies, all had both benefits and debits for the person. The sex overlay gave one of those an added dimension, but if you think about it, any special quality tended to convey advantages, pressures, options, rewards, and often at least some costs. So I have a feeling all of this is going to work itself out in a new society in ways we might not be able to fully foresee yet. But I think what we can already say for sure is being lucky in the genetic lottery should not convey material advantage, greater say in society, or freedom from responsibility, nor should it impose pressures, denials, or abuse.

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