Everyday, thousands of homeless people go unnoticed by millions. We know they exist, but how many of us actually stop and extend a moment of recognition with one of these individuals? Actor turn activist and filmmaker, Jacquelyn Aluotto, 36, saw this disconnect between humans on the streets of New York City and felt compelled to make a documentary depicting their story.
She cast veteran actor Luis Guzman, known for his roles in Anger Management, Runaway Jury, and Yes Man, to go undercover and live an authentic homeless life for 72 hours in New York City. This is the NIMBY Experience, a docu-series Jacquelyn is directing to showcase domestic issues through the eyes of celebrities. “It’s to raise awareness of what is going on in the world but through an entertaining and engaging way so that we can impact as much of society as possible,” she tells MiLLENNiAL.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, 610,042 people were homeless in America. And, in 2014, the number of unaccompanied homeless children and youth reached 46,924. Among the top three states that had the highest population of homeless people were California (136,826), New York (77,430) and Florida (47,862).
Diving into the Work
To produce the film, Jacquelyn and her crew joined Guzman in going undercover as homeless people to disguise their presence. With cardboard signs that read “Love is Your Legacy” and “I see you, do you see me?”, Guzman was met with a few smiles, but not nearly enough for him to feel a part of society. After three days, Guzman began to lose his mind. “He started talking to himself, he wanted to give up, he became depressed, his back hurt. We needed to get him checked out by an EMT,” Jacquelyn says.
The message behind this film: We are all human. Stop and acknowledge those who walk the streets. A smile goes a long way. As a filmmaker, Jacquelyn is determined to use her films to deliver the truth of a situation. By filming a realistic portrayal, she hopes to inspire a change in everyday behavior. “We desperately need a social transformation,” she emphasizes.
Her work with Pick It Up Pictures has inspired the NIMBY Pledge, a new effort to hold brands, celebrities, and communities accountable for initiating positive human interaction. “The NIMBY pledge is a pledge by companies, brands, and celebrities to really take part in socially conscious entertainment,” Jacquelyn explains.
She insists the industry is crying for “films with messages” and points out that female voices are often neglected in Hollywood. In 2013, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University found that only 16 percent of all writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers were women. Jacquelyn believes there is a direct correlation between the films out in theatres and their male counterparts. “The media controls what society thinks, whether its racism or sexism or poverty or violence, and you really wouldn’t want a woman in charge of that because a woman’s voice and perspective is going to be so different,” she says.
Films with Purpose
As a civil rights advocate, Jacquelyn insists, “I’m not a feminist. I’m an humanist.” She knows that in order to create any real growth and change in society it takes both men and women to join the conversation. “You need men in all facets of life. Luis is in my film because men really love him.” When a film has a man that other men respect, men will be more inclined to listen to what the film has to say.
The purpose of each Pick It Up film is to not only inspire a positive reaction in the audience, but also better inform them on issues at hand. While producing content with a strong message is key, Jacquelyn says, “We really want to educate and say this is the dynamic…here are the solutions. This is our call to action.”
Jacquelyn’s previous documentaries focus on domestic abuse and the foster system. For seven years, she immersed herself in underground women’s shelters to show what life was like for these battered women and children. She found that 1 in 5 15-year-old girls will become victims of domestic violence. With the root of the problem stemming from masculine aggression, Jacquelyn has teamed up with the Father’s Initiative to start the conversation with both boys and girls on how to treat each other with respect.
Media Controls the Minds
This violent conditioning in children primarily stems from television programming. Jacquelyn believes that in order to start protecting children from subliminal messages in today’s youth programing, parents should actively monitor their children’s viewing habits. “As parents we get distracted, and we watch things in front of our kids that kids should not be watching.” Recognizing that millennial parents have an opportunity to improve the way children are raised, she says, “We need to figure out how to really spend a lot of time with our children.”
As a new mom, Jacquelyn adds that her 14-month-old daughter, Alexandria, has taught her about being in the moment and understanding what is really important in life. “I feel like the luckiest person.” Fighting to create a better world for her daughter, Jacquelyn inspires all to go after the issues they are passionate about and share their message with the world. “Activism is sexy. Making a difference is sexy.”
To learn more about Jacquelyn Aluotto or find out how you can watch The NIMBY Experience, visit Pick It Up Pictures.