It’s been a few days since the hubbub (that’s right, I used the word “hubbub” right here in 2018) surrounding Cosby Show actor Geoffrey Owens. But as I watch the Emmys tonight, I find myself reflecting on this weird story that I felt a strong connection to.
In case you missed this bit of “news,” here’s what happened: Geoffrey Owens played Elvin Tibideaux on The Cosby Show back in the day.
Recently, he was spotted working at grocery store Trader Joe’s. Someone thought that this was amazing enough to take a picture of him while he was on the clock and then send that picture to Fox News. Fox News ran with this “news.”
Immediately there followed this very strange social media event where some people shamed him--he was a famous actor once. Why had he fallen so far as to be taking a “lowly” job like food-based customer service?? People found it hilarious that he was so pathetic now and many took great joy in making fun of an adult man for working at a job and feeding his family.
And then a lot of people came to his defense. People in the entertainment industry pointed out the fact that most actors have day-jobs/survival jobs to help them not starve to death in between gigs. They said that regardless of what it was, work was honorable and Mr. Owens should be praised for doing whatever it takes to keep his family secure, even if it wasn’t glamorous.
Since the “news” broke, Mr. Owens has done a few talk show appearances and also landed a couple of high-profile acting jobs. It seems his grocery bagging days may be in the rearview mirror for a while.
Tonight at The Emmys, two things will happen: One, a bunch of actors, writers, directors, DPs, makeup artists, etc., will be handed a bunch of shiny trophies, and two, some of them will make political comments in their speeches.
Tomorrow two things will happen: One, some people will retweet and share these political speeches and talk about how we as a nation need to get ourselves together. Two, other people will retweet and share these political speeches and talk about the problem of the “Hollywood Elite.”
The phrase “Hollywood Elite” gets thrown around every time a person made famous by film and/or television expresses a thought that is left of hard right. The logic goes like this: Hollywood People are super rich and out of touch and therefore, they shouldn’t offer opinions on what regular Americans are going through because someone who avoids gluten and has a trailer and a personal trainer could never understand what it’s like to have to work with your hands for 12 hours a day.
And you know what… sure, a lot of us who happen to work in the entertainment industry don’t know what it’s like to be a coal miner, or in the military, or a factory worker.
But that doesn’t mean we’re “elite.”
Far from it.
Yes, there are a handful of super famous actors, writers, and directors who make obviously huge amounts of money.
But the rest of us… we don’t. And we’re super regular.
While the A-listers get most of the attention, most of the work in this industry is done by very regular, very non elite, hardworking people.
Sure, every movie may have a fancy actor in it. But it also has:
Human Resources Professionals
Child Care Professionals
And a host of other positions that are not at all what one would call “Hollywood Elite.” Most of these jobs pay perfectly working- or middle-class wages. And many of us working these jobs on movies and TV show also have to take other side gigs to make up for financial shortcomings.
It always surprises me to hear that so many people don’t know how many “regular” jobs are created by every movie and television show. Yes, a movie budget supports talent trailers and directors’ desires for very specific salads, but that budget also supports a lot of very hard working regular people who are just trying to put their kids through school, pay for their parents’ medical bills, and eat from time to time.
It makes me sad to find out that so many people don’t realize how connected we all are through all of our work. Movies need cars and steel and catering and wiring and clothes--all things that we get from other great American industries.
And my heart always hurts when people deride the work we do in this industry. I know that some movies or TV shows can seem frivolous. But most of us have a favourite show or film that helped us get through a tragedy, bond with a distant relative, taught us something about the world, or simply stayed in our memory for any one of many many personal reasons. Most of us have, at some point, been moved to tears at an on-screen depiction of war or love or hope or family. That’s the work we make in Hollywood and I am damn proud to be a part of it.
Here’s to the regular people who make extraordinary work where ever they are.