In performing these tasks, I came across an article about Stetson Kennedy in the New York Times from August that I was forwarded and had been meaning to read:
It was forwarded from a protege of Mr. Kennedy's to my father-in-law, who then forwarded it on to Stu, my husband (and producer of our film), who then forwarded it on to me. Don't you just love the internet?
Stetson Kennedy, who died August 27 of this year, was a white civil rights leader. Apart from an entire lifetime of civil rights work and collecting folklore, he was particularly well known for infiltrating and exposing the Ku Klux Klan. There is a documentary coming out this month on him that will eventually make its way to PBS. Rumor has it that Tobey Maguire bought the rights to his life, following in the footsteps of Humphrey Bogart. Hopefully, Mr. Maguire will be successful in getting his life onto the big screen for all to see.
As a producer, I have to ask myself and be able to answer the question, "why should anyone care?" I have to be able to answer it because if I don't know the answer, I can't explain it to someone else, and then voila: no money for fun times movie. What's interesting (and what I love) about White Alligator is that the majority of the current crew is not Hispanic. The only Hispanics we can claim right now are me, the writer/actor, and Raquel Almazan, the director. So, I often ask myself, why do these fabulous people that have dedicated their (unpaid for now) time, energy and resources, care?
Well, why did Stetson Kennedy care?
I'd like to think that White Alligator, despite having a main character from Puerto Rico, speaks to all walks of life. It's written and designed to have people across the board say, "yes, that's me, that's happened to me." But playing devil's advocate, which all producers do, let's say for some reason, it doesn't. Let's imagine the worst case scenario where a mixed audience sits in that theater and at the end, some say, "funny stuff, but what's this gotta do with me?"
In my dreams, I like to think that the Least Common Denominator should be able to see my film, have a good time, grab a beer afterwards and go to sleep content. Later in the week, when bringing in candidates for an open position for, say, fund structuring attorney and he/she looks at a pile of resumes and happens to have a Mr. Rodriguez with an excellent resume, I'd like to think that this person would now have the subconscious ability to think, "Oh, maybe this Rodriguez fellow won't come in with nasty crack habit and a fondness for glocks. He did go to Harvard Law School, after all. What the hey, let's bring him in..."
That's the worst case scenario. The next level of people in the audience are the ones that say, "what's this gotta do with me?" And this is the most exciting group of people to encounter. They're the ones that Stetson wrote for, the ones that are on the fence about caring, the ones that haven't yet been converted. They care enough to ask, "why should I care?" And they are the future. They still pass a homeless man on the street without blinking, but maybe later in the day when they're getting soup for lunch, they think about him again and wonder if there's anything anybody can do.
The real answer to the question, "why should I care," should be that we're all interconnected by an invisible string, and when one person falls down, we all come crashing down. It's hard to see this, of course, when you're in the middle of the grit of your own personal day. But some people, such as Stetson Kennedy, Oskar Schindler, Mike Daisey, can see that string linking us all. They see that that homeless man, if given the proper therapy and medication for his schizophrenia, has the potential to someday solve the healthcare crisis. They see the value and worthiness of every living creature placed on Earth.
Those are the beautiful souls that I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by in this project. They do not say, "I'm not Hispanic: what does this project have to do with me?" but rather, "this project has the potential to advance our humanity."
And for that, I am forever grateful.