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Director Justin Baldoni Discusses Masculinity, Relationships, & Activism In Virtual Lecture

Penn State’s Student Programming Association (SPA) hosted director, actor, and producer Justin Baldoni for a virtual lecture Tuesday evening.

The director discussed everything from his prominent role in “Jane the Virgin” to breakups and intersectionality in the entertainment industry.

Baldoni began the event by asking the audience, “How’s your heart?” He explained that people respond so robotically and absentmindedly to the question, how are you, and that nobody is really listening to that, so it’s important to ask more complex questions. Baldoni empathizes with the struggles that college students are facing during the pandemic.

Baldoni explained that his personal background influenced his urge to use his voice for good.

Baldoni grew up in a small town in Oregon, had insecurities, and grew up as the perpetual “friend.” He was a DJ at the local radio station but never thought entertainment would become a career. He never saw himself as an actor but rather a creator or filmmaker.

Additionally, Baldoni’s Baha’i faith taught him the importance of service.

To get to where he wanted to be, Baldoni used his role in “Jane the Virgin” to propel his success forward so that he had the resources and power to tell stories and “fertilize the soil.”

Baldoni credits his experience with ‘Jane the Virgin’ as a way in which he learned about the importance of diversity. He spent five years without almost any white people on the show, and he had the opportunity to learn about intentional diversity and inclusion.

“Our show was true intersectionality,” Baldoni said. “Privilege is blind to those who have it. I didn’t even recognize my own bias sometimes, so I’m glad I had these opportunities.”

Baldoni explained that the entertainment industry needs to change, but that it actively is changing. Five to 10 years ago, everyone on TV was white, he said. Now, actual representation in entertainment in American is growing and becoming what it should’ve been all along.

Later on in the lecture, Baldoni talked about his newly released film on Disney+, “Clouds.”

“Clouds” tells the true story of Zach Sobiech, a teen who lived an incredible life but sadly died of rare bone cancer.

“Zach’s story gives me hope,” Baldoni said. “If you’re thinking about, ‘What am I going to leave behind?’ it changes the way you live.”

Baldoni explained that “Jane the Virgin” has given him the platform to tell meaningful stories like Zach’s.

Later, Baldoni spoke about his new book, “Undefining My Masculinity,” and his own story with masculinity. He explained that masculinity is a topic that gets politicized, so he tries to avoid words such as “toxic masculinity” that have certain connotations.

“We don’t participate in partisan politics,” Baldoni said regarding his faith. “We care deeply about social justice, and we show our opinions with our vote.”

Baldoni explained that it is important for men to recognize and come to terms with their feelings. Men feel obligated to only feel certain emotions, so they repress them until they turn into rage.

“I use my story as a way to hopefully invite men to look at their story,” Baldoni said.

Toward the end of the lecture, Baldoni talked about relationships and a man’s role in relationships.

“Are you man enough to be brave?” Baldoni asked the audience. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Why do I take up more space? Why don’t I really listen?'”

Baldoni prided himself on being the one his friends call for breakup advice. He gave a disclaimer that all of his experiences and stories come from his own sphere, so they don’t necessarily apply to everyone.

“What happens in a breakup is that the heart never breaks even,” Baldoni said. “You have to be very careful to not try to manipulate or take power intentionally and space. There are two people that are feeling different things, and it’s important for men to recognize that.”

Continuing the conversation, Baldoni discussed life partners and marriage.

“The best way to be prepared for a life partner is to do a lot of work on yourself,” Baldoni said. “Work as hard on your mind and your heart and your feelings and trauma as you do on your fitness.”

Relationships need the goofiness and the dances, but they also need the fights and the deep stuff.

“You have to go deep. You gotta dig into the dirt. Why do I react the way that I do?” Baldoni said. “If you ask yourselves three ‘whys,’ you’ll always get to the core.”

Finally, Baldoni ended the lecture with a question from the audience regarding how to run with an idea and simultaneously create change.

Baldoni explained that nobody should be penalized for an idea, especially in the film industry. But it’s important to have a crew that is representative and can speak on issues that you can’t. Everyone benefits and the end product is more meaningful.

“You’ll make more money and touch more people if you bring those people in,” Baldoni said. “Otherwise, you could be profiting off other communities.”

He explained that meaningful change in the entertainment industry comes when studios are actually run by these communities.

“We have to hold ourselves accountable for the things that we do,” Baldoni concluded. “We have to make things better than how we found it.”

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About the Author

Colleen Nersten

Colleen is a washed-up biology grad and former associate editor. Her legacy will live on through stories like “10 Questions With State College Sensation ‘Hot UPS Bae’”. If you’re a STEM girlie, this is your sign to take the leap of faith and learn to write. It’s pretty fun. Colleen misses the hate mail and can be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

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