Rising Star Saye Yabandeh: “I would like to invite each individual to think like a global citizen and bring attention and emphasis to the interconnection between all of us”

I really would like to invite each individual to think like a global citizen and bring attention and emphasis to the interconnection between all of us. I believe understanding the interconnection promotes people to become more conscious of their choices and decisions. There’s no doubt that each individual has their journey, but I trust that […]

I really would like to invite each individual to think like a global citizen and bring attention and emphasis to the interconnection between all of us. I believe understanding the interconnection promotes people to become more conscious of their choices and decisions. There’s no doubt that each individual has their journey, but I trust that every single person could benefit from thinking beyond any borders.

As a part of my series about leaders helping to make Film and TV more representative of the US population, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing SAYE YABANDEH is an award-winning international film actress and producer, who has been in over 34 films and several television programs since the launch of her career. The Iranian-born humanitarian uses her childhood experiences during the Iran/Iraq War and Kuwaiti Invasion as the driving force behind her prolific film career and her global humanitarian efforts.

Saye studied producing and directing at UCLA and drama at The Sanford Meisner Center. She has performed many different action roles and credits athleticism as the the key to her career success. In addition to her career as an actress, Saye wanted to have a larger impact in the entertainment industry and began exploring film production. She is the CEO of Leo Entertainment, an independent film group with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.

Her most important achievements have come through her advocacy and humanitarian work. Saye focuses on giving back to refugees and underserved children around the world through her non-profit, Saye.org. Through this organization, Saye focuses on strategic partnerships to provide global humanitarian aid to children and families in countries around the world. She believes in educating the future generation on the importance of global values, protecting our environment and the planet’s natural resources. Saye was recently appointed as the Global Ambassador to the Global Citizen Foundation, an organization focused on supporting children and youth in need through education initiatives, community-centered building projects, and sustainable development programs. She has traveled to over 50 countries attending events and supporting the organization’s initiatives. She also donates her time to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Red Cross, the Mother Miracle School in India, and AHEAD with Horses, an organization which provides therapy for disabled/disadvantaged/at-risk/special-needs children using horses.

Saye is an avid polo player, as well as a yoga and fitness advocate. She became a certified yoga instructor after being inspired to deepen her understanding of the practice following one of her visits to her children in Rishikesh, India. As a polo enthusiast, Saye has attended a number of polo events and fundraisers around the world including the Pink Polo Raising Awareness for Breast Cancer Event in Abu Dhabi and the World Snow Polo Championship with the St. Regis Polo Team.

Thank you so much for joining us Saye! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I studied production and directing at UCLA and then studied drama at the Sanford Meisner Center. I don’t know if I can pinpoint the specific incident that brought me to this career path, but what I know for sure is that this career path has provided an opportunity for me to be a better person through self-excavation and constant evaluation of myself. The ability to tell stories through the art of acting is a learning process in many ways. I learn from characters that I play, as well as from my colleagues and crew that I work within the industry. This is ongoing work for me which I find joy and delight in, and I’m grateful to be able to do what I love.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

When I started my career, there were hardly any roles for Iranian actresses, so I would often audition for anything else available. I remember going to audition rooms and having several awkward and funny moments with the people conducting the auditions. I attended casting director workshops at the time, which were hardly useful. After each actor performed, the casting director would give them feedback. However, when they would see a Middle Eastern or ethnic actor they wouldn’t know what to say. Their immediate comments would include something like “get rid of your accent,” which was very funny to me because my accent is what makes me unique. Not to mention an accent isn’t a simple thing to get rid of, especially when your muscles have been trained with an entirely different alphabet than the English alphabet.

However, I am delighted that the industry had taken a significant turn now you see more rolls available for really stern actors and what I love the most is that nowadays they specify Iranian or Syrian or an Egyptian before it used to be “ Middle Eastern” only

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started working on sets, I would always try to help the crew. I’d be on hold as an actress and somebody would call for a sandbag, and I would rush to get it and hand it to them. If the lighting department would call out for someone to move the tripod, I would rush over there to move it for them. I didn’t understand why the grip guys were laughing until I finally learned that by union law you should not interfere with different departments work at any cost. It was a funny lesson learned for someone who just wanted to lend an extra hand.

Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?

I believe that it is essential for our young generation to be able to witness diversity and inclusion visually, so I have made it my mission to cast and bring on board eclectic groups of individuals with diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

There have been studies done that during the years where women played the roles of scientist and engineers characters in film and television, the ratio of young women pursuing the career as a scientist and engineers were significantly impacted.

So to simplify this, what you see is what you believe most of the time especially for our youth with malleable minds.

Therefore, the more we see different types of people with a variety of cultural backgrounds coming together on the screen, the more the idea of inclusion of different races and nationalities becomes organic and natural. Global thinking is the way to go. We are more connected now than ever before.

Film and television have the power to create visual validation, and there are times that unfortunately it is used negatively in today’s media. I want to help bring awareness to the importance of diversity in film and television, and I would like to invite other filmmakers that have the power to visually impact the minds of their audiences, especially our future generation, to make conscious choices in regards of promoting diversity and inclusion moving forward.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?

I am an advocate for diversity and inclusion beyond just the films that I work on. I also do a lot of work with my nonprofit organization that aims to help underserved children and families around the world have access to resources and materials needed to live a better life. I’m also passionate about teaching others the importance of yoga and physical wellness, especially after being personally inspired by one of my visits to see my “children” in Rishikesh, India.

One evening as I was speaking to a sweet lady named Susan who was introduced to me by a distant family member. I was doing my yoga stretches on the floor while Susan was sitting on a chair chatting with me. A few minutes into our conversation she decided to join me on the floor, and I was helping her with some stretches as we continued talking. She was so inspired that evening that she committed to sponsor and support yoga classes until we raise enough funds to install solar panels for my children in Cambodia who live in a children’s home which used to be an orphanage.

With her help, we have reached our goal and I will be on my way to Cambodia to install the solar panels in the village where they currently cannot rely on electricity to keep the food in the refrigerator fresh and the fan going at the same time. I am so very grateful for the gift that was given to me in the form of inspiring others which had a chain effect for my children of www.saye.org.

Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in film and television and its potential effects on our culture?

There is no question about the media’s influence on society. The only way we can help our future generation become one of acceptance, understanding, and tolerance is if we accurately mirror the image of the world in which we live. In America alone, there is a blend of so many beautiful races, ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds that make this country what it is. Hollywood has to continue to do a better job of reflecting the people that make up this world. It’s essential for the little boys and girls of color to see people who look like them reflected in what they see on television and film so that they can be inspired and feel confident. Not only do we need diverse representation, but we need positive representation outside of the standard stereotypical roles cast for minorities. Also, the stories of different backgrounds need to be heard and seen. It is the same diversity in storytelling that reflects the broad spectrum of people in our world today.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

We need diversity represented on screen through the actors, on the set with the crew, and in leadership roles from the producers to the writers. If diversity and inclusion is a part of the film culture from top to bottom, that is how we will see true success in the future within the industry.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

It is common this day and age for people to assume the typical leadership formula of one strong leader with the rest following. This is finally changing. Leadership is reframing as a collaborative network of people working together as equals in many successful companies. I believe strong leadership relies on clear vision and the right intention. The people in leadership positions that I admire have similar characteristics — those with a strong will and calm manners. The TV and film industry is not easy, and it comes with a lot of risk and uncertainties. A true leader can navigate the challenges with poise and grace and helps keep others inspired throughout the process, truly making it a group effort.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?

Slow down! I wish someone would have talked to me about slowing down and understanding the value of the meditative mind. Our peace of mind is so vital to our wellbeing and it influences every area of our lives.

I would’ve loved if I was introduced to yoga earlier on so my mind and body would have benefited from it sooner. But for those looking to explore those options, it’s better late than never. Don’t wait until tomorrow for what you can do today.

I wish someone would’ve mentored me on mastering and understanding acting from a place of love and not fear. This advice applies to different areas of our lives. If every choice that we make is from a place of love, the outcome is joyful regardless. Versus the choice made from a place of fear resulting in negative habits and behavior.

Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do anything. If you want it, work for it and do whatever you can to achieve it. The only thing standing in your way is yourself.

But saying all these, I still believe in the journey and that the teacher appears when the student is ready. Trust the process and continue with perseverance in everything you do.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I really would like to invite each individual to think like a global citizen and bring attention and emphasis to the interconnection between all of us. I believe understanding the interconnection promotes people to become more conscious of their choices and decisions. There’s no doubt that each individual has their journey, but I trust that every single person could benefit from thinking beyond any borders.

That is what I try to encourage through www.Saye.org. The objective is to use my platform to bring awareness and resources to the children that are underserved and lacking the basic necessities many of us take for granted. Our lives are bigger than ourselves, we are a part of a global community connected by inherent love and kindness.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Lead with an open heart. It’s important to be kind to one another. We live in a world where there even in the midst of chaos and tragedy, we can still be connected through love and kindness. This has been the message that has driven my career as an actress and film producer, as well as a humanitarian. I’ve met and mentored wonderful people and children all over the world, and make sure to always lead with an open heart.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would like to I have lunch with innovator and entrepreneur Elon Musk. Knowing that he lives down the street from me in Bel Air it wouldn’t be too much of a commute.

I truly appreciate what he’s doing for humanity and have always had a personal fascination with space. It doesn’t matter where I am in the world when I receive alerts about rocket launches I make sure to watch it live. I would even volunteer to be part of the first group to go to Mars!

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