The Smartest Person In A Room All By Yourself

I am the smartest person in a room all by myself. Perhaps you too have felt this feeling, the idea that you’re too smart to be where you are right now in life. Maybe you felt that you were destined for greatness, something fitting for your intellectual ability. Yet you find yourself stagnant, directionless and spinning your wheels. You are both goal-oriented and yet unable to focus on a single ambition. As time goes on, you start to compare your situation to others and find that excuses such as a bad economy or high cost of graduate school are not sufficient excuses. You’re as smart as they come, but you have nothing to show for it. This is what it feels like to be the smartest person in a room all by yourself.

At Twelve, I was diagnosed with high-functioning Autism, specifically Aspergers. According to my school psychologist, and my scores on IQ exams, I am a certified genius with an IQ over 145. Yet much like other MENSA members, I am the smartest person in a room all by myself.

You’re probably rolling your eyes right now at that revelation, because who cares about someones IQ in a vacuum. You’d be correct to think that way, because it means absolutely nothing without accomplishment.

Like many others with Autism, I have found it hard to put myself out there for feedback and professional opportunity. More troubling, I have found it even harder to ask for help when directionless.

I have considered many careers, most notably my passion for the arts and desire to work in feature film/TV development. Before that, I studied political science and law with the hopes of becoming an entertainment lawyer. At other points I have found myself interested in studying conflict resolution and international relations in Europe. I applied to Sciences Po in Paris for the MSc program in International Relations, and was accepted to that institution (a school the last three French presidents have also attended). Undergraduate, I was accepted to NYU, and Columbia. I scored in the 97th percentile on my LSAT. Yet, I remain directionless, spinning my wheels toward the concrete wall of the big 3-0. While a lot of those declines on my part were financial, others said Yes to those opportunities and took the financial risk; a risk I was unable to take myself.

I strongly believe in the limiting factor of the ‘genius complex’; the idea that we have grand visions for ourselves. When you’re told that you are MENSA certified at 12, you come to expect great things of yourself. You begin to set unrealistic expectations, and then judge yourself for failing to live up to your own definition of success. It’s very narcissistic to believe that because you are brilliant you will succeed on that intellect alone. Yet this is one of the reasons many intelligent people are most unable to admit they need help and guidance. It’s hard to focus on the amount of years it takes to become successful when learning and new information came to us with such ease, so quickly.

While I’ve been told that I have a gift of language by the producer of my favorite films, an idol of mine, I am no closer to making films of my own three years later. Despite my solid academic performance, I am no closer to another degree or career. My resume seems weak in comparison to those even five years younger than myself. I have sat in a room all by myself whether I realized it or not. It is my fault that I am where I am today, and I accept that.

Sometimes when you have such lofty goals, it is almost impossible to put them into action. We remain our own worst critic. I crave intellectual experiences but have been unable to seek them out. While I have set in motion plans to move to LA, I have no idea what to do when I get there or what jobs I will even qualify for — who would give me a chance? My resume speaks nothing to my intellectual ability. Where most of my Twitter seems to be moving forward with projects of their own, I feel this constant state of imposter syndrome despite once having mentorship from a highly respected member of the filmmaking community. That fact alone keeps me lingering for a past that I wish could still be playing out in the present.

I am the smartest person in a  room all by myself. I am an autistic introvert with extroverted tendencies. I may socialize better than many of my autistic counterparts, but much like others on the spectrum I remain in a rut unable to propel myself forward. I am a genius but I am also a bum. I feel like I have wasted valuable years of my life, but I know my life is nowhere near over. I have failed by my own expectations. I want to get out of this room all by myself, I want to ask for help, but don’t no where to turn… except to the page, to this post.

15 Ways The United States is Closer to Russia Than European Democracies

  1. Military Force. We routinely use military powers to invade other nations outside of the rules of international law. We spend comparably on the military at the expense of infrastructure and other issues. Western Europe spends a far smaller percentage of their budget on the military.
  2. Incarceration. The United States has among the highest incarceration rates in the developed world, and houses 22% of the worlds prison population. It has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with Russia (and China) not far behind. Countries in Western Europe, like the Netherlands, are closing prisons under criminal law reforms.
  3. Police Corruption. As more and more video is shared across social media of US cops quick to pull the trigger, police abuses have become front and center in US political debate. The Grand Jury system, which depends on prosecutors who often share close relationships with police in the US, has failed to bring cops to trial to face justice for abuses. Russia is long notorious for not holding cops accountable for abuses, dating back to the policies of the USSR. Can you recall a police abuse video from Western Europe?
  4. Money in Politics. Putins party has close ties to the oil industry and several real estate tycoons, earning Russia the label of oligarchy. Post-Citizens United, the US has allowed record money to enter the political landscape with little oversight. Absent campaign finance regulations and two parties easily manipulated by corporate cash, the same label could easily be applied to us. Elections in Western Europe are publicly funded.
  5. Wealth Inequality. While Russia recently ranked the worst overall in the world for wealth inequality, the U.S. also ranks in the top five under the developed nations category according to the OECD. Countries like France do a far better job of equal distribution of wealth as it relates to investment in resources that provide for greater economic opportunity. This can be studied further by researching a countries Gini Coefficient.
  6. Democracy. Only two political parties exist in the United States, making it very easy to buy one of two parties to do your bidding as a corporation. In Russia, there are also only two major parties, with a very corrupt election process. In W. Europe they have proportional representation and several political parties. This forces coalition building and compromise, and it is far harder to buy out single parties. It also disallows 30% of the population from choosing the majority (like in 2014 US elections), because unlike the US or Russia, it is not a winner-take-all system but a system whose Parliamentary seats are determined by a percentage of the population, not an electoral college (i.e. if socialists get 30% of vote, they get 30% of the seats). Therefore W. Europe is more Democratic.
  7. Dynastic Politics. Putin is president again after past terms, and after his muppet briefly took over. We have a Bush and Clinton running in addition to an assortment of other members of the economic 1%. Many countries in Western Europe have shorter terms and a multitude of parties make it difficult for a person to be elected more than once, let alone winning re-election.
  8. Healthcare. The US healthcare law does nothing to address costs, only the uninsured population. Costs remain exorbitantly high because we gave private industry a mandate to purchase their product. We spend $7500 per capita on Healthcare (2x the OECD average) v. bellow $3500 in many W. European nations, which despite having nationalized insurance provisions (not government hospitals with exception of UK) is a more cost effective system.  In Russia,  they spend considerably less than the OECD average, but have higher death rates per capita. The US too for the first time in history will see this generation live shorter lives than their parents.
  9. Gender Inequality. Whereas Western European nations all rank considerably high up (meaning low inequality) in the Human Development Reports’ Gender Inequality Index, both Russia and US miss out on the top ten. The index calculates equality on the basis of labor market participation, reproductive health and empowerment. Glass ceilings remain in place in both Russia and the US, abortion remains a hot topic in both countries and political seats held by women in Russia and the US are far behind that of Western European nations.
  10. Work Life Balance. The myth between more hours worked and productivity is popularly subscribed to in nations like the US, Russia and China. In Europe, more time is devoted to family, personal time and pursuits with the average work week about 35 hours. These European countries are all advanced economies and their people are considerably less stressed than Russian or US workers. Europeans also enjoy significantly more vacation time for workers to recharge, with one month v the US standard of 1.5-2 weeks. Heck even in Russia the average vacation time is 28 days despite 40+ hour work weeks!
  11. Wages. The US has seen wages stagnate since the 1980s, despite a rise in worker productivity. Instead of raising wages, we’ve expanded access to cheap credit (personal debt). In Russia wages are similarly low with little worker protections. Both countries demonize Union workforce and corporations hold the upper hand in judicial battles. In W. Europe, wages are considerably higher and meet a livable wage. Personal debt is much lower since people complete purchases in cash not credit. While Nordic countries like Denmark have a high personal debt level, this is offset by above average savings (in the US people have high personal debt and little savings).
  12. College Education. Both the US and Russia have very high college costs as a percent of annual salaries. Both nations have tuition costs that far exceed the annual take home pay of average families, causing a reliance on loans (with the US actually far worse than Russia in this category). In W. Europe college education is free in countries like Germany, or significantly subsidized in other countries. In France attending public university is around 2,500 Euro per year for tuition! Western Europe also places greater emphasis on vocational schools.
  13.  Socio-Economic Mobility. Are you better off than your parents? Were you, like Trump, lucky enough to have money to make money? Or is your country more equal in terms of economic mobility? With the exception of the UK with its knighthoods and noble class, the US ranks behind all Western European nations, with less opportunity for class advancement if you’re not born rich. The same can be said for Russia, even more so.
  14. Intelligence Community. Neither of our intelligence organizations seem to operate under the rules of law, and routinely go un-policed by government oversight. Sadly Western Europe is not much better in this regard despite greater public outcry (perhaps that silly SPECTRE plot wasn’t so farfetched).
  15. Social Views on Gays. Putin has long condemned gays, even going as far as imprisoning them. Here we have a vocal chorus of those in political power who would similarly like to decline civil rights to Gay people and many use language like “barbarism” “inhuman” and “sick” to describe Gay people. While our Supreme Court recently upheld rights for Gays to marry, Houston just struck down a proposal granting protections to Gay people in the event that they are fired for their homosexuality under the guise of “no bathroom sharing for transgenders”. Europe offers considerably more protections to LGBT citizens, and has recognized Gay marriage in many cases for over a decade.

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This one will be brief… I wanted to expand upon some thoughts I initially was going to post on Twitter, but felt would be better suited for long form.

Recently I had been giving some thought to this idea of admiration — not necessarily confined to famous people — but admiration of another person, infatuation even. We choose to interact with people on the basis of common interests, similar beliefs and values, and presumably because we also like the person. However that level of interaction can also exceed its limits, and that is what this post is about.

Recently I had been put into a few situations where I found myself interacting out of habit, not necessarily because I wanted to. I am a laid back person, and consider myself very nice. I don’t like to ignore people, or seem indifferent, I aim to please. However it took me a bit before realizing that I felt uncomfortable in my interactions with some folks, and that was because I felt like they had become too frequent, too much.

Interaction is really a two-way street. Especially in instances where you don’t know the person on a one-to-one, in person basis. Sometimes in our enthusiasm for another person, we don’t realize that we are not giving that person enough space. We don’t pause to consider how they might feel by us trying to talk to them all the time, especially if they’re not the person initiating conversation.

Even if the person likes  talking to you, or likes you as a person, it’s not personal. There are limits to whether any individual is going to want to engage. It feels kind of creepy when conversation and engagement is too much. Even if you don’t suspect the person doing this is crazy or insane, it’s just too much and so the interaction feels a bit… unhinged. It’s lopsided, it lacks a natural give and take — and at the end of the day we’re all just people. We put our pants on the same way, we all shit and eat (albeit some eat better than others).

I made this very mistake with a former mentor and perhaps in my own dealings with this, I finally have come to see his point of view. I’m not crazy, I would never  do anything to hurt anyone, I don’t have any mental illness. However, in my enthusiasm, I would try and extend DM conversations or fav his tweets once too much. And at the end of the day, no one wants to be overly flattered. No one, because it just feels like a violation of natural space (even if that space is digital).

If people start to feel uncomfortable, if conversation lacks that natural give and take, no mater how much someone might like you, appreciate you, or even want to mentor you — they’re going to move back or possible away entirely.

So as a parting thought, always be sure you consider the other persons point of view, despite your enthusiasm. That no reply isn’t personal, it may just be because they don’t like the nature of the interaction. No one is entitled to attention, everyone is entitled to respect. Part of that respect is to also respect another persons space and time.

Is Your Internship Exploitative Or Not?

Recently I have been trying to make a career change within the entertainment industry. I came up in production, worked in festivals and even associate produced a short web series with a proper budget and distribution deal. However, my passion has always been on the development side of the industry; writing, providing coverage, assisting with research and feedback on submitted materials. In order to get work in this field, I needed to add some experience on this side of the business to my resume. So at 27, I found myself looking for an internship for a couple days a week to add to my resume before relocating to LA in January (the mecca of development work, and the industry in general).

What I found was that per usual, despite many lawsuits and moral debates about paying interns, most positions were still unpaid or for a small stipend. This post is not a debate about paid or unpaid internships. My first few gigs in production were also unpaid, and this industry is not going to change from that model as most people paid their dues by not being paid anything. Is that wrong? Sure, but it’s not the hill you want to die on if you plan on making a lasting career in this business.

This post is about the substance of internships, and whether you are being exploited or actually gaining something from your experience. A lot of postings are deliberately vague. In other instances, you are promised several possibilities that don’t actually exist. More often than not, you will feel unsure as to whether or not you’re even being exploited — that you’re just a typical intern doing typical intern duties. I want to make a few distinctions about all of these things in order to help people avoid exploitative situations. While it goes without saying that not all internships are created equal, this point is often overlooked in assessing the quality of individual programs.

So here’s a breakdown of how to assess whether or not your internship or the internship you are considering is exploitative or a benefit to you both.

1. What Do You Want To Do?

This isn’t always clear to the prospective intern. However it is essential to know going into an internship because it helps you to focus on the things that you want to learn and improve upon.

For me,  I want to get more coverage samples and have more opportunity to work in a production company or management company that deals with submitted materials. Perhaps for you, it could be editing, casting, set production or even legal work.

If you know what you want going in, then you know whether or not the internship you are in will give you this experience or merely promise it to you without ever planning to deliver.

Many internship programs are unstructured, they don’t have a specific set-up. They exist to offload work onto unpaid kids looking to get a start, and so they are unstructured because they function on an as-needed basis.

While this alone isn’t necessarily exploitative, it is if it is the sort of work given without any chance to allow the intern to explore their strengths or interests. Everyone has to do grunt work to start, to gain trust and prove work ethic. The question any intern must ask themselves is whether this company specifically will allow for the opportunity to focus on what they want to gain experience in.

2. What Does The Company Want To Do?

Once you ask yourself what it is you want to do, then comes researching the sorts of companies that do what you want to do.

Many companies that offer unstructured internships don’t have a focus. They may have a variety of free-floating needs that may not correspond to what it is that you want to do. The way they get you to sign up for this kind of grunt work is by promising you that you will do the sort of work you want, but by doing all the grunt work first… only you wind up doing only grunt work because the work you want to do isn’t possible with them.

Where this becomes exploitative is when there isn’t really a chance to focus on the work promised to you. This is where understanding their needs becomes very important, because they will definitely try and promise you the sky without being able to deliver. If your needs are different, chances are you’re just being used for free labor to do all the tasks that paid employees don’t care to perform — that’s not a benefit to you, and that’s not a proper learning experience that you will professionally grow from. It must be a give and take process.

For example, if you find yourself in a company that is doing mostly commercial work, but they say they’re interested in expanding into Film/TV properties, this is usually a good sign of an exploitative situation, a red flag — not always, but often. These companies may even have experience doing creative projects in the past. However, it is up to you to determine whether their current slate and projects will provide you with the kind of work you want to do.

For instance, if a company has no upcoming projects, and seems to be focusing on commercial work, chances are if you’re interested in development you’re not going to see any chances to review submitted material like screenplays. Alternately, if everything they have going is in post-production, then chances are you’re not going to see set-work if that is what you wanted. Vice-versa, if everything is in production, chances are you may not get a chance to hone your editing skills. It behooves you to know whether your needs are being met by theirs. Otherwise you’re just being used.

3. Talk To Other Interns And Observe Their Progress

In my own situation, I wound up talking to another intern to realize the situation I was in was exploitative. In fact she realized the same thing and quit the same week as me.

As alluded to in the previous example, many companies (especially ones with unstructured programs) will try and promise you things they cannot deliver. They will find out what you’re interested in professionally and tell you that you will get those opportunities if you work hard and prove yourself capable of being given those tasks.

In my case they told me I would be given the opportunity to provide screenplay coverage and be part of development meetings. About three weeks into my program I realized that they didn’t have such meetings because all of their priority projects are commercials and are currently in Post on deadlines. Additionally, the remaining projects are documentaries currently being submitted and pitched to festivals. Instead of doing grunt work AND coverage, I wound up just doing all of the overflow work like editing, logging, footage research and audio selects. While I am not adverse to doing all of that, I also want to be given more opportunity after I have proved I am hard working and a fast learner.

In the case of the other girl I spoke to, she was promised set work. An aspiring director they told her she would work on set and gain experience in camera since she wanted to apply to the DGA training program. None of their projects will be filming during the duration of the Fall Internship. So they basically dangled a carrot in front of her too. When I told her about what they told me, we quickly realized we were being sold a pipe dream.

Also keep in mind what other interns are doing, specifically ones who have been working at the company for a longer duration. Presumably if they have also been promised the kind of work that they wanted to do after proving themselves with grunt work, they would be doing more. In my case, the intern who had been there for two months was doing the same redundant grunt work tasks that me and the other girl there for only two weeks were doing. This young man was a hard worker, also interested in development. Presumably he would be doing some screenplay coverage at this point. Clearly since no coverage opportunities exist, he was still stuck doing the work that clients need from the company, except that company reaps the full reward because they’re not even paying you for that work. It’s of ZERO benefit to the interns. This a golden example of exploitation, plain and simple and it is VERY common.

4. What Makes a Good Internship Program?

Now that I’ve gone over what makes an exploitative program, I wanted to conclude by highlighting the kind of internship that is not exploitative. Again, this is true of both paid and unpaid internships.

A good program will do what they promise; they will actually be up front with you about the kind of opportunities you will get and tell you specifically about what they need. The less vague a company is, the more honesty you can expect. If you know what their exact needs are, you can assess whether your interests and skills are a benefit to them and as to whether or not you will learn from them. A program that exists to want to help you while also getting work done themselves will want to know whether an intern is a good fit. Because they are specific about their needs they will also have an idea of structure and what an intern will specifically be doing.

I believe in being up front. The more you know about someone or something, the more you can do your research. While you won’t escape grunt work with any internship, a good internship will allow an intern that has proved him or herself the ability to take initiative and make a real impact. A good company wants to benefit from their intern as much as they want to see the intern benefit themselves.

An internship is ultimately a networking opportunity as well. There has to be respect there and a mutual understanding of goals and needs. An exploitative company isn’t worth the reference because they’ve just used you, and you likely won’t have gained anything from the experience to add to your resume anyways. A good internship program is happy to offer advice to interns and where possible hire from the pool of interns. These companies promote from within, or at the very least step up to be a mentor or guidance program.  The relationship should be symbiotic, the good programs are.


I hope that this post has been helpful. Sometimes we are quick to accept whatever opportunity we are given in the entertainment industry. The business is competitive, and it is always nice to feel wanted. Unfortunately, like any career, some things aren’t worth your time and aren’t worth adding to a resume.

Much like an actor considering roles, you as an intern or entry-level employee need to be thinking about how the position will allow you to take the next step. Positions should only be accepted with the understanding that it is of mutual benefit. You wouldn’t just star in any old film as an actor, because your brand matters. So too does your brand as a worker behind the scenes. What goes on your resume and what experience you gain is of vital importance as to whether or not you will move up or merely move laterally in your career. If you want to move up, then taking an exploitative position is not a good move. Learn to stick up for yourself and to identify exploitative situations. People will always try and take advantage of you in this business as in life. Learn to know your worth, what you want and be diplomatic but decisive and negotiate hard for yourself.  You do that, and you’ll be just fine.

September 11th, As Told From The Daughter of a Fireman and First Responder

September 11th has come to mean a lot of things over the years. For many, it is a chapter in a history book, a moment in history whose geopolitical consequences are talked about far more often than the moment which caused them. “9/11” has become highly politicized, used as a recruitment tool for military and Jihad alike. It has lead to unprecedented national security overhauls and vigorous debate about privacy and the role of government. September 11th is not discussed in the context of 2001, but rather in the present. It has become a hyperbolic symbol of both the best and the worst of our nation. While September 11th is often referred to in the context of our “post-9/11” world, for some of us, we’re still very much stuck in 2001.

For those of us, like myself, who witnessed that day firsthand, September 11th is still very much cased within the context of what happened in 2001. While I can divide my life perfectly between the ignorant bliss I lived in before 9/11 to what has come after, on this anniversary, I am not able to live in the present. For that day will always be a very personal one, one which would come to define my young life as much as it would define the world at large around me. I am the daughter of a NYC firefighter and 9/11 first responder and this is my story…

Actual radio recording…

Go ahead Battalion 1.

We just had a –  a plane crashed into an upper floor of the World Trade Center. Transmit a second alarm and start relocating companies into that area.

Ten-Four Battalion 1. All companies stand by at this time.

WESTERN NASSAU COUNTY, NY (14 miles from the World Trade Center)

A phone rang, just as I was already late to school. My father, a fireman with Engine Company 58 in Harlem (Manhattan) would be my ride. Lateness for me was becoming a habit. I had recently transitioned back to district, following many years in private school, and I had an argument with a childhood friend about lunch table seating. We shared a first period class, and I was determined to miss it. It was my father, on vacation at the time due to bereavement following the loss of my grandmother, who convinced me otherwise — just ready to leave, I picked up the phone.

It was my father’s firehouse, the fireman on the other end sounded very serious and asked to speak with my father. “A commercial plane?” My father seemed shocked to hear what was told to him — “turn on CNN right now,” he urged me. “The department has recalled the entire force, I have to go into Manhattan,” he told me as CNN sprung to life on TV, a gaping hole in the North Tower of the World Trade Center from a helicopter view.

We barely had time to digest what we were seeing; undoubtedly the worst plane crash to befall the US in years — when the second plane came in on live TV, crashing into the South Tower in a massive fireball and screams…

I think part of being the daughter of a fireman, you sometimes discredit how dangerous their job is. You know they can die, the danger is real, it is omnipresent, but every time your father returns home — they’ve escaped that danger, and you begin to take for granted that they will continue to come home. As the footage repeated on loop, the anchors struggling to compose themselves, the danger became clear all at once. The old moniker of the FDNY “When everybody runs out, we run in” felt less like a tee-shirt slogan, and more like the grave threat it stood to actually represent. My father was not headed to fight a fire, not to respond to a plane crash — he was headed to war, and on the front lines.

As I exited his car to make for my High School, I turned to hug him and told him I loved him. To most, this seems like standard protocol, but my father was always a very stoic man, not one for hugs or much in the way of physical expression of his care. He always quietly expressed his love. He would do what he could to interest me in baseball, bring me to games, coach my teams — hugging just wasn’t one of the ways he showed he cared. On September 11th, 2001, I hugged him, and he hugged me back. The fear in his eyes was palpable and real, in the back of both of our minds this was not just a hug, but the potential for good bye. It was understood from the very beginning, that men would likely die this day and he pulled away from the curb knowing that, as I entered my school knowing it too.

Long before the days of social media, I was one of the first to bring news about the attacks to my High School. As the periods went by, and the scope of the tragedy became clear, we understood there would be no learning today. Parents came to collect their kids from school. The usual noisy airspace en route to JFK overhead fell eerily silent following the grounding of America’s planes; quiet but for the occasional F-15 that would become common place over the skies of New York in the weeks to come. It was evident even before the Towers fell that we were living in a War Zone. Much like my parents reacting to the news of the JFK assassination, kids like me knew America would never be the same again. As it was in 1963, the optimism around the election of Kennedy, would fade into a decade of complex geopolitical tragedy and perpetual war along with the activism and cynicism that it would instill in my parents generation. 9/11 would become the same for my generation, with the latter half of my life living under jingoist fervor, and perpetual war with a grave existential enemy.

As the Towers fell, it was evident thousands had died. I kept replaying the scenarios in my head, assuring myself my father wouldn’t have had time to get down there. In my heart, I knew it wasn’t true; I knew that there was a good chance that he was dead. I began to think about all of the moments I could recall with him at once; a projector image of happy memories to distract myself from the horrors of the present. I watched the news replay the implosion — and I hope that no one need ever feel what it is like to watch as your loved one dies in front of your eyes — It is a horrible, horrible feeling, and it is what I felt watching it at that moment. It is also why, largely due to PTSD, I am unable to watch much footage from that day.

As I made my way into the guidance counselors office, the scope of the tragedy became clear. The counselors were overwhelmed, as so many in my town had parents who worked in the fire department, police department or in the towers themselves. One girl was on my soccer team, she was one of the girls who had been mean to me of late. Today she was besides herself in tears, her parents both worked in Cantor Fitzgerald and her aunt was on the way to pick her up. Both her parents were assumed dead, as the firm took a direct hit from the hijacked airliner.

All of the lunch table drama was forgotten then, as we talked, tried to come to terms with loss. I recalled the times playing Mario Kart on N64 in her basement. Her mother once picked several of us up from soccer practice and ordered pizza, while we played games and blasted the Spice Girls. If there is one thing I remember on 9/11, it’s how much I missed the 90s. I so very much wanted to return to the days of soccer practice, pop music and N64. I longed for the days of Manhunt and Pokemon cards. In 2001, I was forced to become an adult a lot sooner than I wanted to be. I had to learn to understand things that I wasn’t meant to come to terms with until much later in life. The reality of pre- and post-9/11 became so incredibly, painfully clear to me at that moment.

The hours dripped by slowly from there. The school was practically empty as parents had picked their kids up. The school remained open, because for kids like me, a fireman father and nurse mother, my parents needed to help others. I felt like an orphan, sitting as the only kid apart from two others in my 8th Period class. Though I kept trying to bury the thoughts, tired of crying, it was also possible that one of my parents was likely dead. I sat there in English Class with all this on my mind. My teacher, she sat behind the desk, very still. She told us, we didn’t have to do anything, today would be a moment for reflection, and free-writing if we wanted. Nobody moved.

When I finally returned home, thanks to the help of a neighbor, I was told the news. My father was in the hospital, several of his company were critically injured in the collapse. He was there to provide comfort, before returning to the wreckage to try and find their Lieutenant, buried under the Command Center of the Marriott Hotel. Lieutenant Nagel survived the first collapse, taking refuge in an elevator bank. Unable to escape, the rest of Engine Co. 58 had teamed up with a local ladder to try and use heavy equipment to free him and others trapped beneath. His last known words were not of selfishness, a Vietnam veteran, and natural leader — his last words were “how’s my men?”

As the second tower fell, the company made for a parking garage. Yet debris still took its toll on the survivors. One of the men was rushed to surgery, in serious condition.

The most physical connection I had of that day was the smell. You could see the smoke, but the smell was the worst part. It had a metallic burnt smell, like an electrical fire mixed with heavy chemicals. The worst smell of all was that of burning flesh and the trauma as a 13 year old, knowing that was what I was in fact smelling.

14 years later, September 11th is still very much within the context of 2001 because for those who dealt with its consequences firsthand, it is not a documentary, it is not a chapter in a history book — it is reality.

As Lt. Nagel asked “hows my men,” the answer is, many are sick and/or dying due to the exposure to toxic air while digging at the disaster site. While the EPA fraudulently claimed the air was safe, those like my father who dug down there knew they were risking their health to try and find survivors, or any part of a body to give a family closure (Lt. Nagel was never recovered). My father, the picture of good health, a fitness enthusiast and marathon runner, has been diagnosed with cancer twice. Thankfully both were curable. Others have been less lucky, and even my father has a nodule on his lung that will one day likely become cancerous and need operation. Our local representatives have worked tirelessly to reauthorize the James Zadroga Act in Congress to help permanently fund the World Trade Center Health Program to provide health care to the thousands that desperately need it.

On an even more personal front, my parents divorced in 2003. The trauma of 9/11 on my father was too much to psychologically bear. He was inattentive and unable to communicate the horrors he saw, only once ever telling me about the time he dug out a human arm from the debris. He served as family liaison to the Lieutenants family, guilty about not being there, that he was on vacation. Survivors guilt is real, and it is a pressure that was too much to come to terms with. He spent more time with his fellow firemen, and his lieutenants family than he did with his own. The Concert for New York City, and Bowie’s Heroes playing through my dads cell phone as he called me from the event was a high point, and about the only one. The rest of that era is mired by divorce, family drama, war and what has largely become an intentional blur for me.

Since that day, I’ve done a lot with various Firefighters organizations. I helped give private testimony on the importance of the Zadroga Bill.  In 2003, working with my father and several other 9/11 survivors, and the School of Visual Arts program of Art Therapy, we created a tile mural that is now on permanent display in Bellevue Hospital in Lower Manhattan (where most of the days injured wound up). In 2016, I hope to run the NYC Marathon to raise awareness of 9/11 illness and the various complex cancers that make up a large share of those cases (I have been training for it constantly, as it is also the one race my father never was able to run).

I have grown a lot from that day, and grew up a lot on that day as well. Each and every time this anniversary comes around, the day and its immediate aftermath plays on endless loop. Despite many years in therapy, the day is still fresh in my memory, to the point where the adage “never forget” seems almost tacky. How could anyone ever forget 9/11? As many turn to documentaries and special tributes to mourn the tragedy, those of us who witnessed the event firsthand will forever play our own documentary in our heads. While this anniversary is September 11th, 2015, for those of us who lived through it in NY that day, today is again September 11th, 2001 and will be for the rest of our lives.

Are There Double Standards in Persistence Between Men & Women?

The following is a true story, gathered from conversation.

“You might be insane,” he said when she asked the man, a producer, to meet for coffee while in town for his premiere. She was heartbroken, she knew she crossed the line by emailing him while not getting back a response, in fact she admitted that much in her apology. It didn’t matter, the first impression was already made. The only thing she wanted to do, was be mentored by her idol. While he had given her a second chance at a first impression, it seemed like there were still some reservations on his part. In spite of getting some advice from him and general good-natured support and encouragement, they never met.

Twenty years earlier: Approaching college graduation, inspired by his love for music, that young man called several times to a record executive in New York. Clearly the executive was none too happy about it, half-dismissing him, he told the young man (then located in a rural mountain-west college campus) to relocate to New York within a week of graduation for a job. After partying hard the night before the end of college life, exiting with barely passing grades, the young man drove to New York, missing his own graduation. He got a job on the spot with a top record company, moving to LA shortly thereafter to pursue a career in film (the exec allegedly paid for his cross-country gas).

This is exactly the kind of subtle bias at work for a woman pursuing the entertainment business.

I am absolutely NOT suggesting the producer in this story is sexist, NOT AT ALL. For a fact, he’s both hired women and done well to encourage others, including the woman in this story. However, it begs the question of how male and female persistence is greeted and treated differently in one circumstance over the other, generally speaking. One got a job offer. Only many months later over a bizarre turn of events did the young woman get some encouragement and positive feedback before the man disappeared out of her life without a word. One started a career, the other is still pursuing the same level of mentorship the producer got right out of college.

That’s not to say he didn’t struggle in between driving to NY and when he landed in LA. No one avoids the struggle, male or female. But not all struggles are created equal either.

All too often, male-female interaction is reduced to possible sexual innuendo. Even where someone may be attracted to the other, it is assumed better to avoid than to possibly entertain third party presumptions of a relationship or to invite emotional attachment. The man in question is indeed a very handsome man, and he knows it too. He also knows the young woman finds him attractive, and that presents this complicated layer of male-female interaction professionally.

There’s no certainty that this is the case with this story, but it is a viable assumption given industry tendencies. Instead of assuming both parties could act professional in spite of attraction, many industry men prefer to avoid working with a woman outright. In spite of all they had in common, it is then possible to assume this man may never have felt truly comfortable to do anything more but offer advice to that young woman. In an industry where men are the vast majority of those in charge, this creates a challenge for young women to find male mentorship required for success in “above-line” endeavors.

Ultimately, one can only wonder whether the same series of events would unfold similarly if that young woman were a man. Even then, such a thought too would only be an assumption. The woman in this story remains nothing but grateful for his interaction with her, and makes no accusations against him of any kind. At best, this post serves to present general questions about possible cultural bias stemming from two stories of persistence.

So I will leave you with this assumption, just assume a man wrote this email to their professional idol two months out of college and form your own conclusion:

This should only take a minute to read — I merely admire you, and wanted to share with you a brief inspiring story of why I have tried so hard to speak to you after our brief text conversation in June;

In 1995 Derek Jeter was a rookie for the Yankees who had the chance to meet Mickey Mantle, someone he admired. Jeter chose not to meet Mantle, as he felt he was just a rookie with little to offer. Mantle died later that year & Jeter never met him. Today Jeter, a future first ballot hall of famer, has surpassed 3000 hits & will go down as one of the greatest Yankees of all time. Jeter didn’t know he would become such a legend. Surely, I do not know what will become of me. One thing I can say is that unlike Jeter, I reached out to you knowing that I have tremendous potential, despite a lack of direct Hollywood work experience. Jeter always knew he wanted to play short stop for the Yankees. He knew his potential. I always knew that I wanted to work with you (or get to know you). I know my potential, and it is limitless. While I may not overtake Avatar’s box office record the way Jeter did Gherig’s franchise hit record, I know enough to be of promising hope that I may do at least something great. The Yankees took a chance on Jeter. I am hoping that you, (Producers Name), will one day take a chance on me. If you would like to take that chance, I have a one page resume, with a brief addendum containing my film and business courses/skills that I could send to you. I can only hope to hear from you before I never get the chance again.

Sincerely & with utmost admiration

………A woman

Tyler Bryant on stage with Jeff Beck at The Paramount, Huntington, NY, April 17th, 2015.

Music and Meritocracy: Witnessing a Legend

He strutted to the stage wearing bell bottom jeans and a loose fitted shirt. His dirty blonde hair down past his shoulders, a couple of tussled curls fell over his relaxed face; a youthful 24 years of age. Before him stood a crowd of those predominantly from the Baby Boomer generation, blown away by the young man’s talent. He has the likeness of Robert Plant if you squint your eyes, but more like Jimmy Page if you close them and just listen. His name is Tyler Bryant, and he is opening for Page’s Yardbirds companion, Jeff Beck at The Paramount, a modest converted movie theater in suburban Huntington, New York.

What year was this, you may find yourself asking. If you answered 1972, I would say that’s a good educated guess. However, the year is 2015, and in my late 20s, I was probably among the youngest at that show.

My generation is far more content to listen to Top 40, as is any generation in their youth. The difference of course is that Top 40 has changed significantly over the years, relegating the music of yesteryear into a niche. Joni Mitchell recently told New York Magazine that today’s music scene which she quit in 2007 is less so about the talent, and more so a look:

[producers] were tyrannical and trendy. They would have squelched my need for risk and invention. They would have straightened out all the quirks and oddities and steered me toward the dog race where the bigger profits were. It’s just gotten worse. Somewhere after 2007, around that time, I think, I heard on the radio, a record executive saying quite confidently, ‘We’re no longer looking for talent. We’re looking for a look and a willingness to cooperate.’

As I stared in awe at Tyler Bryant, melting the neck of his acoustic guitar in a blazing solo, I couldn’t help but wonder if this old soul was born to the wrong generation; a Hendrix reincarnate born into the times of commercialized Hip Hop, auto-tuned vocals and polished pop-rock. He is someone, I recall saying to my father (60) standing beside me, “[who] should be on the cover of Rollingstone, not Justin Bieber.” My father agreed, we both agreed, that if he had come up 40 years ago, he would be bigger than Bieber is today.

Though I doubt Tyler would agree with that sentiment. He was so incredibly humble, just happy to be doing what he loves  for a living. “Thank you for coming,” he said sincerely, “when I was young, I had posters of guys like Jeff Beck on my wall, so it’s an honor to be here.” He was gracious for all his opportunity; a story of young success, a prodigy who moved to Music City at the age of 17 only a year after playing on stage with Eric Clapton. Though I doubt he’d like the word prodigy either, and made sure to invoke his band (Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown) back in Nashville rather than make it all about himself.

After the show, Tyler greeted fans by the merchandise table. I can imagine so many other young men afforded the same opportunities would be fickle and elitist. Tyler was anything but. I quickly purchased his new tour-exclusive EP, Bombay B-Sides, and walked over to shake his hand and take some photos. Even though my father couldn’t effectively take the picture, Tyler was patient and offered to wait until we got it right (we did, sort of). He signed my EP, and after thanking him for coming to New York, I realized on my EP it was him thanking me — and others too. “Thanks, Tyler Bryant” the cover of the EP read, a musician who shared the stage with legends, a legend in the making himself, thanking his fans.

As I stared at the “Thank you” I realized that any sense of feeling bad about the fact meritocracy is seemingly on decline was misguided. I realized that this was someone just happy to be doing this. It is all too easy to complain about your circumstances, or the lack of perceived merit — “thank you” I stared at it again — “thank you” was signed by someone just happy to be on this ride.

We can’t control the record industry, or what Top 40 is. But we can support great talent. Please check out and support great talent, you can buy Tyler’s records on iTunes & check him out at his band page.

Woman's Eye and World Globes

Silicon Valley Prophets

Most organized religion works with the promise of an eternal resting place, an afterlife where man may live in harmony with his Creator, provided he is a faithful person. While the description of Heaven varies with each religion, it is more or less consistent in terms of its general definition: the promise of eternal life after death.

For those who have devoted their life to science, the idea of immortality in Heaven, or a spiritual after-life, is difficult to believe in absent any empirical evidence. So it was only natural for some brilliant scientists and inventors to want to create a Heaven that is actually real.

Meet Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity movement.

Kurzweil is an inventor, computer scientist and prodigal graduate of MIT. He has gone on to create many important inventions and has helped to advise on multiple projects within his field of computer science. He is currently employed with Google in an advisory/research role where he has significant input on futurist projects, presumably under the program Google X.

After the death of his father, he became obsessed with the idea of being able to talk to him again. You see this emotional side of him in the documentary Transcendent Man — which has become the video-bible to his futurist vision. Kurzweil does not believe in a Judeo-Christian version of Heaven where he may speak to his father again, and so he’s tried to find a scientific solution to where this may be possible. Kurzweil gets blood tests  frequently. He takes massive amounts of pills and supplements every day, all in the hopes of living long enough to see out his predictions for a man-made afterlife (which he claims will be in 2045). He’s even wrote a book on how best to diet to improve your chances of reaching the year of his prediction.

Why is he doing this? Simply, as a human, he like all of us, fear our own mortality. There is a constant worry that we will not have enough time in our mortal lives to accomplish all we desire. Unlike religious people who believe in a spiritual afterlife, individuals like Kurzweil see our time here as limited and finite. What Kurzweil is ultimately trying to do is invent a technological Heaven for those who don’t believe in the religious/spiritual version of it. He, like centuries of men before him, is using his life on earth to try and beat death. However, this existential crisis is thousands of years old, and so far death has held an upper-hand. Of course Kurzweil, also like many before him, believes he will be the one to beat death once and for all.

The Singularity, as envisioned by Kurzweil, is a sort of religion for those who do not believe in God or an afterlife. It is the idea that in spite of no spiritual heaven, if we invest enough in technology, the core idea of Heaven, or immortality, can be attainable.

Kurzweil as a Jesus-figure for this movement is a complicated, but noble man in his intentions and beliefs. Some may even say obsessive in his quest for real immortality, or as he and his followers have come to call it ” the technological singularity.” The technological singularity is the idea that through ever-increasing computing power and technological innovation, man will be able to augment his body to overcome mortal biological defects. Taking this idea a step further, Kurzweil argues we will be able to implant computer chips in our brains which will then be able to upload our conscious into a machine. This he argues will happen by the year 2045, the all significant year of when this Heaven through technology will be complete according to a rather flawed interpretation of Moore’s Law.

The year of Singularity, 2045, is referred to as a singularity because much like the physics term it borrows from, we cannot know what happens after the point of a singularity. Yet, that does not stop either Kurzweil or his disciples from trying to predict after this moment anyhow.

In order to make this prediction even remotely feasible, it will take billions invested into technological innovation. Naturally, the Singularity must go beyond books and documentaries, and into venture capital pitches in order to have any shot at success with its vision.

Singularity University was launched in 2008 by Kurzweil, and Silicon Valley investor and inventor, Peter Diamandis. The goal was not to create a formal university, but an executive retreat where silicon valley entrepreneurs would be given the chance to hear about all of the benefits of investing in the vision of Singularity and how to find funding and start projects of their own in accordance with its vision. The “university” is today supported by NASA Goddard, Google and countless other esteemed organizations and individuals such as Google’s Larry Page and PayPal investor Peter Thiel, thus lending it legitimacy within the Silicon Valley community.

The problem with this pseudo-religious technological goal is that not all of Kurzweil’s followers are as noble in their intentions as he is. Kurzweil is notoriously optimistic about our future, promising an abundance of resources, human immortality, conscious-uploading and no problem technology cannot solve. Those who invest in these visions have a different goal: money, and to make more of it.

Ultimately our resources are finite. If people could live forever, the earth would naturally only be able to hold so many people. As long as money is king of controlling resources, like say the technology to grant immortality, it is unlikely the average citizen will stand to benefit much from Kurzweil’s visions. In fact, the plot-line to the SciFi film Elysium seems more likely than the utopia he envisions, as sad as that might make him.

Peter Thiel himself is a Far-Right Libertarian, and major donor to Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. Not only does he believe in an “every man for himself,” “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” vision of America, he also wants to insulate himself and his allies form the consequences of when this rose-colored vision of Darwinian determination fails. Recently he pitched the idea of a sea-steading island colony of technological entrepreneurs where a handful of well off billionaires and millionaires could invest toward a Singularity free from government regulation and interference from average citizens. Basically, an oceanic version of Elysium (presumably until they can relocate into Space).

The difference in vision for its outcome is precisely why Singularity as religion is troublesome. Like Christ, Kurzweil is not a bad person — his followers however leave his visions open to exploitation. On the one hand you have Kurzweil who wants this technology for everyone. On the other hand, you need venture capital to make this a reality, and those investors do not want this available to everyone because scarcity creates more profit. Additionally, where this technology is scarce, only the rich will be able to afford it.

Another problem is that the word Singularity has become rather loosely defined over the years, moving further and further from Kurzweil’s definition as more entrepreneurs take their stab at bringing it into reality. As many scientists doubt the occurrence of this Kurzweilian prediction within our lifetime, believers (those in a serious existential battle against death) try and find loosely correlated examples of Singularity’s existence in everyday life.

Much how like religious people share stories of miracles and unexplained phenomenon in every day life to justify their belief in God without any empirical evidence, Singularity believers try and loosely attach everyday technological gains and inventions to prove that “the singularity is near” — a common utterance by those convinced of its inevitability.

While Kurzweil’s is a very noble goal, one which may even usher in important technological inventions, it’s imperative to remain skeptical of such Utopian claims. Ultimately as is, this movement is a profit center for venture capitalists, and even the media empire Kurzweil has built around himself with books, documentaries, TV shows and speaking engagements. Also, it is entirely convenient how like many prophets before him, the year of reckoning will occur within his lifetime (provided he reaches almost 100).

While I do not believe Kurzweil to be a narcissist the way many prophets before him were, I also don’t believe he is capable of being critical of his own predictions — which is essential as a matter of scientific hypothesis. I believe he is a man who never dealt with the psychological consequences of his fathers death,  and so he has set out a goal for himself to remedy this problem of death and afterlife through his mastery of science. To make this goal a reality, he has had to pursue the money and resources of those who may not share his Utopian vision of the future, leaving open the chance for this technology to be abused or harvested solely for the economic elite. I hope those who support the important goal of technological innovation and progress do not put too much stock into any one prediction of the future. Kurzweil plays an important role in encouraging investment in technology and how technology can if done properly make our world a better place. When a religious undertone is involved like it is with Singularity, the prospect of critical thinking is reduced and in turn the chance for abuse of a movement is born.


SNL 40 Years Later: How Gentrification Stole our Cities Creative Soul

Saturday Night Live after 40 years has quite a bit in common with your average 40 year old; cynical youth that eventually donned the suit they once so fervently despised.

I started watching last nights broadcast hoping to see some stellar performances from years past, the murky era of 70s politics that spawned the shows creation, the city that inspired generations of comics. Then about an hour in I realized this broadcast wasn’t going to be so much a nostalgic trip down memory lane as it was a highly visible corporate event aimed at ingratiating modern culture. Kanye had more screen time than Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and Eddie Murphy combined!

It was somewhere in between the skits about 70s era New York crime and Disney buying property in Hooker-dominant Times Square that I realized Saturday Night Live has become victim to gentrification too. In fact it was one almost forgettable line in the middle of the broadcast that cemented this arc, a paraphrased one-liner uttered in the mid-90s on gentrified New York:

“it’s like New York got married and had kids.”

Only the gentrification now is in hyper overdrive. While it may seem nice for politicians and investors to claim “we cleaned up the streets” they cleaned up something else too in the process: our culture.

What made SNL so brilliant in its early days was the culture of comedians and their diverse backgrounds. Ultra wealthy Chevy Chase aside, you had comics like Eddie Murphy who grew up in lower-middle class Roosevelt, NY. You had large swaths of the East Village devoted to punk rock and anti-establishment shows and comics. Chris Rock grew up in the ethnic enclaves of Brooklyn, inspired by Murphy’s performance on SNL. Louis CK although not a cast member, he struggled in New York when people could still afford to do so.

Communities of artists, comics and musicians made 70s/80s NY, while dangerous, a place which inspired creativity. That is the New York SNL grew out of, a diverse and wonderful New York with soul, spirit and a gritty edge. You had graffiti on the subways. Underground comic clubs and punk rock shows. Nickel shows and oddities and adventures around every corner. Some of this lasted through the early to mid-90s too, depending where in the city you were.

Today almost nowhere is unscathed by gentrification. Brooklyn is the most expensive area to live in the nation, and Manhattan as entire island is now completely unaffordable to the middle class. Even Western Queens is starting to gentrify as newer yuppies get displaced by rising rents elsewhere in the city. It is a tidal wave of sterile culture perpetrated by a class of artists who can afford $3000/month in rent.

When nobody from the lower and middle class can afford to struggle on a bar tenders salary to perform in New York’s night clubs or Broadway theaters, what you get is the same Point of View: the upper middle class, rich Point of View. This has become very apparent in modern New York, as convenience has taken a priority over culture. You have banks on every corner, chains in place of local establishments, high end eateries in place of local diners and shiny glass condos in place of graffiti stained walls of New York’s creative past.

New York has become the playground of the ultra rich, and with their money comes their taste preferences and the culture that caters to them. In a nutshell, CBGB’s is now a John Varvatos clothier.

When Spike Lee took to ranting about his neighborhood being “Bogarted” by a bunch of mostly white affluent transplants, he ranted at great length about how they took the neighborhood and made it their own – completely disregarding the areas past.

It is the folks who live in Greenpoint and Brooklyn who will tell you they are the artists, that they are the cultural backbone of our city. But this is bull shit, these people, these transplants who shell out $3000 per month in rent on average have never been to New York – because the New York I grew up in, the New York Spike Lee grew up in, the one Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy grew up in, died with the invasion of these self-described artists.

There is a whole generation of transplants who’ve never been to actual New York. And yet like Spike Lee said, they try and own the culture; to be a part of something they are NOT.

When the only cultural point of view is white suburban hipsters, that narrative becomes dominant, and it prevents other narratives from being heard. The entertainment industry is already hard enough to break into, but when the city-centers of media are at a record lack of affordability and entry level opportunities have been replaced by a revolving door of unpaid internships advertised at elite colleges – you are further restricting that point of view to the upper middle class, affluent and mostly white.

New York once prided itself on its cultural diversity. But that diversity is in danger now that gentrification has amped up and spread like a cultural parasite throughout our city. Banks replacing bodegas and shiny corporate theaters taking over comedic factories, sponsored by the bank next door.

As I sat through Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary special, I wasn’t just nostalgic for old SNL, I was nostalgic for old New York, real New York, the New York that inspired a generation of comics, artists and gritty cinema – and Saturday Night Live itself. And as that New York rapidly disappears under a layer of corporate sanitizing in the wake of gentrification, so too does the show and the soul of culture that made you actually feel at home – “Live from New York it’s Saturday Night,” only this was Sunday prime time, and it certainly felt like it too.

Through the White Looking Glass: How People of Color are Portrayed by Hollywood

Just this past week a well-intentioned look at racial relations hit the theaters, Black or White. No sooner did it make it’s critical review debuts than did people in the film community begin to take notice of its very white point-of-view. In her brilliant piece in Forbes on the film, and how it dangerously waddles into “white savior” territory, Rebecca Theodore (@FilmFatale_NYC on twitter) notes the following:

The movie is chock full of Black tropes and stereotypes…“Black or White” practices the same type of lopsided storytelling where Elliot’s alcoholism is contextualized with the death of his wife, yet the Black characters are devoid of any kind of complexity or humanity. While Elliot harbors very bigoted views, his thoughts and actions are still framed with a sympathetic gaze while the Jeffers family is essentially penalized for their own family dysfunction and deemed unworthy of raising Eloise.

When the creators tried to promote the film with the hashtag #LoveKnowsNoColor – many reacted with similar disdain, recalling how it is avoiding the discussion of color and resulting prejudice altogether. It is in avoiding this topic of race/color that creates so much discomfort and misunderstanding. To say there is no color is exemplary of how for whites, it’s not about color, because whites are not qualified by the color of their skin by society at large, they are not “people of color.” White people don’t fear being stopped by police, or having people lock their car doors as they pass, because for them, there is no color. To deny the topic of color is the epitome of white privilege.

And this is the problem, these well intentioned films get filtered through the White point-of-view. These progressives are essentially the white-savior types themselves, attempting to educate people on a topic they themselves barely understand. And it is in this misunderstanding that people like Ms. Theodore note is just as problematic as blatant discrimination and prejudice.

But how and why does this even happen? Simply because most films are written by White people, commissioned by White people, directed by White people and marketed largely by White people. More specifically, by White people who before their time in big cities home to many media companies, had very little interaction with the Black community.

Allow me to contextualize my own authorial bias. I am a native of the five boroughs of New York City. Unlike many of the Midwestern transplants and folks that come from homogenous White townships and counties to places like New York and Los Angeles, I grew up in an ethnic enclave of many races, religions and beliefs. Flushing, New York is probably one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in New York City. I grew up with “Black friends” just as I did with Italian friends, Chinese friends, Irish friends, German friends, British friends …only I never called them my “black friends” any more than I called my Italian friends “my Italian friends.” I don’t think White people realize how ridiculous they sound when they qualify someone by their background in one context, but never for other white people.

The problem with onscreen representation of People of Color is not just that it is filtered through a White Point of View, but an ignorant one. I don’t believe it is intentionally ignorant, but until we have a serious conversation about race and how where we come from shapes that impact, I don’t believe we will overcome this racial tension and bias. You may be well-intentioned, but when you come from a small town with a >2% Black population in the whole county to Hollywood, you are unintentionally biased by your own upbringing.

“No, not me, I am racially tolerant!” folks may say. This is the problem, instead of getting defensive, try and listen for once, try and see the other point of view instead of looking at the topic through your own White looking glass defense. I want people to really question the way they view folks of color. I want people to really think about when they moved to the city, who did they hang out with? Other folks from the same state, probably from similar economic backgrounds, but most importantly: other White people. I look at these folks, and see people scared of their own progressive White shadow. They really have hid from the fact that they have no concept of what it means to be Black in America, or what growing up in a racially diverse community is like. They are White, their POV is White, they only know White – specifically 98% White.

This film should be a calling-card for diversity in Hollywood. We need to have more point’s of view behind the scenes in order to have a more impactful and sincere version of our diverse culture. We need more films written by POC, directed by POC, promoted by POC. The main force behind the film, the screenwriter/director of Black or White grew up in a town with a .91% Black population!  Not even 1%!!!! The producer grew up in suburban Alabama, which needs no introduction to race. The star, Kevin Costner, grew up in suburban (mostly White) California. All three men are middle-aged, and White. Their POV is middle aged and white.

Of course the other issue here is that you don’t want to typecast POC into only writing/sharing culture about themselves. Why is it someone who grew up in a town with less than 1% Black population can write about Blacks, but a Black man or woman is mostly reserved for “re-writing Black characters” or “Black comedies?” We definitely need to see a more authentic POV, but the other problem is in the way Hollywood typecasts career roles for one race, but not the other.

Lets get real about racial representation on film. The same goes for one-dimensional women, damsel in distress, rescued by smart man tropes for female characters written by guys. Diversity isn’t just common sense, it helps paint a more true/diverse picture of our greatest cultural export: film/TV. And oh, by the way, it sells pretty well too. If that cultural export is largely filtered through the White Looking Glass, then we are doomed to only be sharing a small sliver of our cultural bias: the White male POV. So today, whether you are a creative or not, step outside your comfort zone and ask questions, listen and stop getting defensive. Improving diversity begins with learning how to exit your own unrealized biases by taking those important steps toward understanding.