Publisher’s Note: Todd Lieberman, who co-owns Mandeville Films and Television with David Hoberman, has been a prolific producer of films from Beauty and the Beast to The Aeronauts, Miracles, Stronger, The Fighter, The Muppets “and” The Proposal “. Like most in Hollywood, he spends time on the pandemic prep projects for the cautious upswing in production launches and discusses the president’s policies – sometimes equally. Here he describes how this led him to return to his hometown in Cleveland in search of a real discussion of the high stakes of the upcoming elections. With most of the Hollywood community coming here from elsewhere, it sounds like a pretty effective way to have real dialogue that isn’t about preaching to converts on social media.
Mandeville partners David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman join Universal
A few months ago a friend complained to me about the state of politics and wondered how we had got here – he couldn’t believe that the system allowed us to get to a place where the division of the country seemed insurmountable , and the President himself is the one who lights the flames of this department. Confiding that depression crept in because of all of this, he felt that the only answer for him (and the country) was a change in leadership at the top. I asked him what he was going to do about it. “I’m not really a protester,” was his reply. That was a lightbulb moment for me, not because I judged it, but because I was it.
When we think about a change we want we have a few options. We can slowly become consumed with anger and dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. We can completely ignore it and live in our own safe bubble where the realities of the world do not exist. Or we can do something. Historically, I’ve been the bubble type – I believe the system works and I desperately cling to a positive attitude. Sure, I donate to the campaigns I like and I participate in organizations that I think are politically valuable, but I generally felt uncomfortable discussing my views out loud. I welcome a good debate, but absolutely thrive more in peace than in discord. If my eyes have been opened to anything this year, we can try to make the system better, even though it doesn’t always work. And within that system we all have the right, and in many cases an obligation, to use our votes.
But when you do that in Hollywood, most of the time you get an affirmative nod. Although it is not inherently pleasant for me to use my voice for political reasons, this discussion has made me uncomfortable. And if I took this step, I would do it with people who might feel different from me. I wanted a real discussion. I toyed with a lot of ideas, spoke to a few confidants, and finally decided to get to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio and contact my city directly to ask them to take my point of view on the elections and most importantly into account . I used it to place full-page ads in the local newspapers [click to enlarge].
Much of what followed was not surprising: messages of support for expressing what many are feeling (family, friends and strangers); Messages of pure hatred (all strangers … and maybe a few bots because I didn’t really think humans could be that mean!); and a handful of people who send polite responses without saying much (mostly family members who are likely to disagree with my reasoning). A family friend actually decided to write a letter to the editor to discuss my points in print – he made me smile.
For all the cacophony of the reactions, it could have been easy to lose the substance. Most surprising, however, was the news from people who really wanted to connect. People who really wanted to know why I feel what I am doing and want to understand why I am so firm in my beliefs. I was amazed at how many people are so tired of the system and dislike both candidates that they wanted to suspend the elections in protest. They want to do the right thing, but are so overwhelmed with information that they have become sluggish.
Dealing with these people was the most rewarding part of everything. These were not anonymous trolling tweets or posts with no responsibility or impact. These were real people who wanted to connect, understand and share points of view. And while many of them disagree politically with my views, in some other areas (like sport in Cleveland!) We were able to find common ground by discussing uncomfortable topics in a respectful way. Yes, talking to all of these people was awkward, frustrating, time-consuming and exhausting. but it was also revealing and exhilarating.
When then [Deadline co-editor in chief] Mike [Fleming Jr] I’ve been asked to write a guest column. My first impulse was that I was already stepping way outside of my comfort zone for my hometown, and I wasn’t ready to do so here. But the death of the RBG reminded me of the urgency of this moment. And I know many of you can use your voice the way I do, and turn to your hometowns to have these awkward conversations. Out of the myriad of people I’ve spoken, texted, and emailed with, half of those who were undecided or who were about to sit still, ended the conversation saying they would do more research and agree report to me. A quarter of the people I spoke to ultimately told me that they want to vote now. The gap between victory and defeat in many countries will be unfathomably small. Every single vote is important. And that experience has shown that while many of us sit with the strength of our beliefs, there are still many who yearn for guidance and counterpoints to the dizzying information we receive. I recently watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix (a must-see IMO) and it put into words and pictures what we all intuitively know – that the amount of disinformation in the world is incomprehensible and the way it is how it metastasizes, petrifies. The disinformation cycles only seem to thrive more in the isolated environment we have all lived in for six months.
So what can we do about it and why did I write this column? Lightbulb Moment # 2. My experience has shed the brightest lights of an encouraging truth: There are undecided voters out there. There are people who long for the clarity that some of us already have in our heads. But it’s only the human connection that can cut the haze. And that obliges us – and in these phases of our democracy also the obligation – to visit them. As I said in my home newspapers, I believe that what makes our country great is that we can have these discussions while we remain friends and neighbors. I found that true, and my guess is that you will too. The number of characters and the courtesy are still there. You have the power to initiate this dialogue. And having that dialogue with people you grew up with outside of Hollywood is well worth the effort. With only a few weeks left to determine our future, I urge each of you to harness this power and find comfort in feeling uncomfortable.