I throw up in my mouth whenever I hear entitled millionaires like Leon Cooperman make insane statements. (In an interview in last week's The New Yorker Cooperman "warned" his fellow rich people that President Obama is reminiscent of Hitler. Newsflash, Mr. Cooperman: He's not.) Normally I would ignore entitled, clueless fat cats like Leon Cooperman, but with their open checkbooks and paranoia about taxes, the Leon Coopermans of the world have been on my mind ever since Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Theoretically, people like the Koch Brothers and Leon Cooperman can now buy the presidency for their favorite candidate with massive ad "buys" or television commercials.
I live in Hollywood, where image -- and marketing budgets -- are everything. Last week's Denver debate debacle aside, I still feel strongly that Obama is the better candidate. But strong feelings are no match for money, just as money is no match for votes. "But there are more of us than them," an activist said at one Occupy Wall Street event. "And that's what scares them."
Recently, three filmmakers (Coy Middlebrook, Melissa Osborne, and Jeff McCutcheon) picked up their cameras and challenged those monied interests with For Spacious Sky and Change, micro-budget short films that speak to the importance of voting. Both films use individual stories to highlight the right to vote and show exactly why conservative forces like the Koch Brothers and Karl Rove have spent so much money and energy trying to disenfranchise people of color, gays, and ex-convicts: Every vote counts.
Based on openly gay director Coy Middlebrook's real life, For Spacious Sky takes places on Nov. 4, 2008, and tells the story of Clay, a gay man who returns home to meet his estranged brothers and drives the younger brother to rehab.
Co-star Jonah Blechman (Leonardo DiCaprio's co-star in This Boy's Life) co-produced the film with Middlebrook. The pair conceived the movie as a "give," an organizing tool for viewing parties and fundraising, available for free on YouTube. Already, the film has been picked up by several organizations, including Pride Pac, and MassEquality. Middlebrook's college classmate (and People's Sexiest Man Alive 2011) Bradley Cooper saw the short and said, "A few of my friends have made a great short showing on YouTube -- For Spacious Sky -- check it out!"
"As an actor I've been typecast my entire life, but as a gay American I've also been typecast, especially in the political system," Blechman says, referencing being a gay man and playing a gay man with a white-supremacist brother. As a point of reference, the family in For Spacious Sky demonstrates where sexual orientation and politics intersect.
"My older brother never had an issue with me being gay, and then suddenly he did," Middlebrook says. "But my gayness provided stepping stones away from those hateful beliefs.
"My older brother wasn't able to vote until he was 40," Middlebrook adds. In the film Middlebrook's older brother (played by Andres Faucher) is arrested at 19 for drug possession, serves 18 months in prison, and emerges a white supremacist. The film shows the older brother after his second prison sentence, when he realizes the importance of voting. "He understood the value of law to help him to get out of prison," Middlebrook says of his real-life brother. "He struggled with getting a job after prison. I was careful to show, it's not about who he voted for but that he could vote, and the transformative change that happens when people vote."
Melissa Osborne and Jeff McCutcheon's Change, another film set on Nov. 4, 2008, takes a slightly different approach to the last election, telling the story of a gay African-American teenager struggling with his sexual identity on the night Obama was elected president and California's Proposition 8 passed.
Change co-director Osborne is a self-identified straight, white, cisgender female from the UK, but, like Coy Middlebrook, she set out to shift assumptions about what it means to be political, and why.
"The film came about because I wanted to make a short film that I hoped would do more than entertain -- that would get people thinking," Osborne said during an interview at the Palm Springs International FIlm Festival. "So I started imagining what that day might have been like for a black, gay teen. I was also aware of my blind faith that Prop 8 wouldn't pass. I naively assumed that because we lived in California -- a 'liberal' state -- there was no way the voting residents would let Proposition 8 pass. I was wrong."