LOS ANGELES -- Highly acclaimed filmmaker and actor Robert Townsend is best known for Hollywood Shuffle, The 5 Heartbeats and Meteor Man. At the height of his acting career, Townsend decided to go behind the lens to inspire positive change through his art, propelling him to become one of the most influential multifaceted voices in entertainment today.
Robert sat down to talk about how he uses his craft to empower change at a recent event at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles.
"The importance of looking at a community that is underserved - I think that is important because ideas are powerful, images are powerful. If there is a way to shift how people think, the most effective way is using entertainment.
We are at a funny time in history where there is a lot of images that come across these various platforms that are negative, and so if you are fed negative things then you will give birth to negative ideas.
Children respond to what they see on television. They might not read books, but they watch a lot of TV, they are on social media, so what they see on Twitter, what they see on Facebook, Instagram can really feed their spirit.
I believe as an artist it’s my job... what I was put on this planet to do to create what we call counter-programming in Hollywood... where you give that audience, that underserved audience another look at themselves.
When I was a kid I grew up in a rough neighborhood on the west side of Chicago. I saw pimps, drug dealers, gangbangers all these different images. But I also discovered television. When I was a little kid I watched all this television and I saw images from around the world. I was a different kind of kid because I watched everything including PBS. So I watched foreign french films by Truffaut, I watched opera, I watched Shakespeare and all of that gave me another perspective of the world and what the possibilities were and are.
So I think this is a time in history where we need new filmmakers, new voices so that these young minds that are so impressionable and are looking for guidance, sometimes they try to find that guidance through what they see on these different platforms. And I think as artists and especially as artists of color, we have a responsibility to ... to make the world a better place if we can.
I think art is powerful ... it’s important what gets into your ear gates, your eye gates, what touches your heart. What you see and what you don’t see can have an impact on your life. I am committed 2000 percent to making a difference with my craft as I continue to create movies and television shows."
Townsend's latest movie is a documentary making the 1991 hit "The Five Heartbeats."