Interview With Darryl
Writer & Director of “ America The Beautiful”
Dallas , Texas
Outlook: The first
thing I want to say is that I really enjoyed the film. When
I recently went to the doctor for my annual physical, he told me I should lose
some weight. So it’s not just women who are given these
kinds of instructions (about body image).
DR: I think, like
with doctors, they have this thing, you know, if you’re this height, you
should weigh this. Hopefully, because this is what I think
they’re talking about, it’s about optimal
health; not losing enough weight to be a size
zero, but just enough weight to be healthy. Because
that’s what I’ve been telling people. If you go on a
diet, do it through a doctor, going through a nutritionist, for the purpose of
optimal health, as opposed to trying to be skinny like some picture in a book.
Outlook: I was very
interested in your depiction of Gerren: her young modeling career, and then so
disappointed, and then the hopeful postscript, that’s she embarked on
somewhat of a normal life. What I enjoyed about your
depiction is that it was suitably complex. She wasn’t
just striving for some ridiculous ideal; to some extent, she was in control,
in the sense of injecting her own personality, and it was something she
wanted, even though she was just a child at the time… always having to deal
with her mother, and her mother’s expectations, and her mother living
(vicariously) through her life. So I thought you presented
well the complexity of her life, and the series of her decisions.
DR: Yeah, the
complexities when it was all happening, but remember she was 12 years old.
There are some valid questions to be asked, like, “Should she be doing
this?” A twelve-year-old showing her body like that,
getting undressed in front of a bunch of adults….
Outlook: I didn’t
see that part.
DR: This was what was
happening backstage, during the costume changes. I found
out from her later that she was having sex at 14. So you
have to ask yourself, “Is there a connection?” So I
agree with the complexity, as far as the storytelling, but I think there are
some things that need to be dealt with….
Outlook: Well, the
thing about being a model, and sexually active at 14, I’m sure she wasn’t
the only one.
DR: That’s what she
said. When I interviewed her recently she told me that in
her mind, it would’ve happened whether she was a model or not. It’s
peer pressure, it’s
what kids my age do, and that’s that.
Outlook: The whole
cosmetic industry is invested heavily, also, in this female
body image issue. Do you feel you’re kind of like Don
Quixote, tilting against the windmills here?
DR: It’s tough.
I just think we need to be careful when we just acquiesce, without
thought, to what the industry tells us is beautiful. We
need to apply some critical thinking into the process, kind of dissect it.
That’s just one more example of how it can be unhealthy to obsess
about the peer pressure thing: In Dallas,
there are a lot of private schools, catering to just girls, or just boys, the
idea being that the gender separation, and the uniforms, eliminate some of
that peer pressure, particularly for the girls, of always having to worry
about their appearance—makeup, clothes---and therefore concentrate on their
DR: I’ve heard that
when they do it, the girls’ grades are higher, because of a lot of
distractions that they don’t have…
Outlook: And also,
I’ve heard, eliminating that subconscious thing of not wanting to “show
up” the boys by out-achieving them…
DR: And taking away
the whole competition for fashion sort of thing…
DR: I think a case
can be made that a lot of times, if you give young people too many choices,
they won’t always make the right decision. So I kind like
this idea of a uniform, and splitting up (the boys and girls), and taking away
some of the choices, so you don’t have the $100 gym bag…..
Outlook: Your sermon,
embedded in all this, seems to be that we need to do our own thinking about
these things, rather than just being slaves to the fashion industry, which,
after all, is about making money….
Philosophically, that’s what needs to happen. But
in reality, we both know it’s not going to. I believe
that in the last decade or two, we’ve entered a state of moral decay.
If you believe the concept that art reflects society, and you go back
to TV shows like “Leave It To Beaver,” and “Brady
Bunch,” they show really strong families, morals and values.
And if you look at society today, all these rappers, all these stupid
TV shows not saying anything…should we be 300 million strong making our own
choices, or is somebody going to have to come and save us? Will
we do it naturally, or are going to have to be saved?
interesting is that I’m the preacher and you’re using the theological
DR: You’re a
DR: That’s great!
Outlook: The other
sermon I heard embedded in your work was, “Find something beautiful in a
person other than appearance”---such as, for instance, you have this kind of
calming presence, that makes people feel comfortable around you. So
I’m just saying “Amen.”
DR: Well, thank you.
Outlook: And thank
you for your time. It was a pleasure to meet you.
DR: The pleasure’s
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace
Presbyterian Church, Greenville