Interview With Darryl Roberts
                                    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 over beauty.
Outlook:  Talking 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 studies.
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…
Outlook:  Right.
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….
DR:  Absolutely.  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?
Outlook:  What’s interesting is that I’m the preacher and you’re using the theological terms.
DR:  You’re a preacher?
Outlook:  Yes.
DR:  That’s great! (laughs)
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 mine.
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas