Education. Educate our children, starting as toddlers, about equality and teach our children the true history of African heritage and what has come to pass in this country. If we are honest about history, and have honest conversations with our children, then perhaps our society will naturally become more inclusive.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Michelle Tomlinson.
Michelle Tomlinson is an Actor, Acting Teacher, Director, Producer and Children’s book author who believes in authenticity being the driving force to creativity.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Thank you for having me!
I was very lucky to grow up in a home with two amazing parents who knew how to communicate with each other and with me and who loved me very much. The three of us were extremely close and it was a pretty rad childhood in my home — my Dad was a Vietnam Vet who was a Marine and my Mom was (and still is!) an Artist. We lived in Northern New Mexico my entire childhood.
Something I have always valued about my childhood is that I was raised around every type of human you can imagine. I knew ex-cons and multi billionaires and everyone in between, all races and genders, and realized at a very young age that we all share the same basic human condition that we call living.
These experiences informed my development of compassion, empathy, and a decent B.S. detector. My parents encouraged me to treat others like I want to be treated and to be true to myself and those are qualities with which I am raising my own daughter.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I read the Celestine Prophecy when I was either in high school or at the start of college. I loved the adventurous story the book had to offer, and my biggest take away was: Everything happens for a reason. We are all interconnected and we need to be on the lookout for messages that we need to receive. We won’t necessarily always find out why something we enjoy or don’t enjoy happens, but to trust there is a divine reason was a game changing influential thought for me as a young person.
In recent years, I have fallen in love with the likes of Yogananda, Louise Hay, Paulo Coehlo, and Don Miguel Ruiz.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Ani DiFranco talks about “building her empire with car tires and chicken wire”, and that’s been a favorite quote of mine since I was in my early 20’s. That is the very definition of building a career in the entertainment industry. I have had so many different jobs within the industry, and I have been fortunate to pick up a lot of tools about filmmaking along the way. As indie filmmakers, we literally have to think of the “skinniest” way we can create and execute a project, while staying on a shoestring budget.
Whenever things get stressful for me, as I continue to build my career, I literally think of car tires and chicken wire!
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is an inclusive position which brings people together to form a cohesive bond in order execute a creative vision.
I had many examples of leadership when I was a child, through my Dad. He was a natural leader who formed cohesive bonds with people from all walks of life around him in the work place to execute plans/visions. I also witnessed him having to make challenging decisions that he did not want to make when it came to business. Leadership has humility and humanity mixed in with it. Anything else is simply dictatorship.
In directing a project several months ago, I had to let one of the actors go and replace them by holding auditions and booking someone else. It was not a decision I made lightly, and I did not like that I needed to do that, but the project itself required something that the original actor could not deliver. In order for me to lead the project per the writer’s intent and vision, I had to make a few of those tough decisions.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
The last year and a half has provided some significant challenges and blessings that have ranged from successful production meetings and shoots to difficult and terrifying personal mountains to climb. Simultaneously.
I try to treat all of them the same.
If there is paperwork prep to do, I jam out to some good tunes and take care of the paperwork.
My spiritual / emotional / physical prep includes envisioning my dream outcome.
I burn a lot of sage and I talk to our Creator.
I listen to guided meditations, I keep my yoga practice and if I am still feeling extra stressed, I add working with my kicking bag and listening to hard rock. The kicking bag helps me ‘knock out’ any negative emotions I have that might be trapped and surrounding a set of circumstances.
My biggest tool, though, is my inhale. When I focus on taking a huge breath in, that will start to relieve my relieve my nerve endings.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
If we look at the real history of African Americans, we see that this country has consistently exploited black people in the name of commerce and power.
The racism ‘machine’ has never paused, it has never taken a nap for a few minutes. It has been a constantly raging, boiling, living thing since before our government was formed. (Including the genocide against Native Americans)
Imagine a pot of boiling water. And you put a lid on it. Still, the water tries to boil out of the top. So you put a brick on the lid. Still. The water boils.
The pot of water that has been boiling and trying to become part of the world can only stay shoved in that pot so long!
IT IS TIME!
The murder of George Floyd was the long-coming straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s like the late 60’s created space for perceived equality with the breaking down of the bussing system, separate bathrooms and drinking fountains, etc.
However, racism has not been vanquished.
Black Lives Matter.
We have told black folks they don’t matter. We have seen to it that they don’t get a leg up in society, unless they bring us commerce and power. (Athletes and Entertainers)
The kneeling on the neck of George Floyd has brought about what I hope is the most powerful movement for black human beings. Out of that tragedy, may there be justice born for every single crime brought against our black communities and may we all find our way home, together, with a stronger understanding of our oneness.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
When I took a theatre directing class in college, I worked on a play that involved two sisters and I cast racially different women. One black, one white. When I had professors asking me why I did that, I said: Why not? In what world is it impossible to have racially different family members, when there are so many divorced families who later blend with other families.
Anything is possible and I wound up getting a good grade on the assignment.
Working with diversity is key to bringing a project together. Watching my dad work with different races and backgrounds of people my whole life has simply paved the way for inclusion to part of my creative life. Looking ahead, I want to be more consciously aware of inclusivity and not take it for granted.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
It’s all about perspective. Example: If I have a crew of only white people from Beverly Hills working on a project, the entire perspective of the project would be skewed to one culture and belief system. It’s one dimensional. If I have a crew of different ethnicities with different backgrounds and different educations and different belief systems, suddenly I have a project that’s rich in perspective, culture, and the creativity flourishes to create a whole project with a strong narrative woven from different fabrics.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Education. Educate our children, starting as toddlers, about equality and teach our children the true history of African heritage and what has come to pass in this country. If we are honest about history, and have honest conversations with our children, then perhaps our society will naturally become more inclusive.
- Let’s quit saying “us” and “them” and let’s start saying US. One human race.
- Have an open door policy to encourage everyone to use their voice and speak up about racial inequalities so that solutions can be found, together.
- Bend “the rules.” Gender bend and race bend characters and create a more interesting tapestry for your film.
- Listen. We must listen to one another, in order to gain understanding and perspective on the human condition we all share.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
Sometimes it feels like the intensity of our present moment will last forever. And then my optimism does kick in and I remember what is possible, if we come together. I have hopes that the fires, both literally and figuratively, have ignited a passion in all of us to rise up and lift each other into a higher consciousness and be better. That we will finally recognize that we are one race of beautiful humans: the human race.
(A HEALTHY human race!)
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Ani. DiFranco. She is a light in the world, having created her own empire, quite possibly from car tires and chicken wire. She has fearlessly created her own record label, represents women in a strong light, represents racial equality and uses her unique songwriting to consistently speak her truth.
How can our readers follow you online?
Official Site: http://MichelleTomlinson.Net
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank YOU! It has been a true honor.