13 Jun Exclusive Q&A: Edward James ‘Olmos Perfect’
Community Coalition’s President and CEO Marqueece Harris- Dawson recently sat down with legendary actor, director and activist Edward James Olmos to talk about his pioneering film career and his thoughts on fatherhood and race.
Q: You have played a lot of father or father figure roles in your movies. Why?
Olmos: It was not planned, but I have always searched out things that I have a passion for, that move me and have something to say. They have a social relevance to what’s going on. In all of the cases, like “Stand and Deliver” (1998), “Selena” (1997) and “Mi Familia” (1995), we’ve never seen those characters before. There have never been stories like this told about people of Latin culture in the history of film in the United States.
Q: “American Me” (1992) is a groundbreaking film about Mexican-American gang life and culture. Can you talk about what led you to that movie?
Olmos: I made the film, directed it, helped write and produce it. I also acted in it. The most important aspect of that film is that it tells an authentic and real story.
It’s a very difficult film to watch because of the truths and the images you see. It deals with a son who’s influenced by his surroundings and his father who was inside the [gang] culture. [The] father passed it on to his son Santana who passed it onto his brother who passed it onto the next generation. You see how the behavior takes form… what happens when you go into that world. Young people who see it today in 2012 get the same impact, if not more, than the kids who saw it in 1992.
Q: Can you talk about being a father and how that relates with your work as an artist and activist?
Olmos: Being a father is a responsibility that one undertakes by choice. I have two biological and four adopted children. A father doesn’t always become a dad. [A dad] helps the child grow and understand themselves. There is a distinct understanding… [between] fathering a child and being a dad. If the [dad] isn’t there then [children] start to lack the ability of understanding themselves at the fullest. The responsibility of the dad is to be there for their kids and
to show the male aspect of living.
Q: How can we help people in our society look past young people of color as criminals?
Olmos: There’s no difference between a Latino, Asian indigenous, African American or Caucasian person
when it comes to us as human beings. We’re all one race. I’ve been saying this for forty years. Inside that human race there are incredible cultures and ethnicities but we are all one race. Most people are not exposed to that concept. You hear parents using the word “race” divisively and dividing us from the very beginning. [Children] don’t learn that we are one race and that there are different cultures.
Q: Is there anything you’re working on that we can look forward to?
Olmos: My son and a friend of his directed together a movie called “Filly Brown,” which opens Sept. 21. It’s a story about a young girl poet who is a rapper. She uses her poetry to talk about her life and who she is. It is a really wonderful story. It’ll speak to everything we just talked about right now.