George Clooney may not have been the best Batman, but the socially-conscious star is proving himself a real-life superhero with his latest passion project.
The Hollywood heart-throb has launched a school in Los Angeles where underrepresented and disadvantaged kids can train for behind-the-scenes careers in film and television.
Minorities have traditionally struggled for inclusion in these industries but Clooney aims to change all that by making his academy of excellence a pipeline to top jobs. To make it happen, he’s leveraged his star power and contacts to get studios and streamers to pump in $4 million to pay for the program.
Clooney also has a commitment from the backers—who include Disney, Netflix, Amazon, and Paramount—to provide internships, apprenticeships, and jobs to the graduates from his initiative at Roybal Learning Center Film and Television Magnet.
The vast majority of the students at the downtown Los Angeles high school live below the poverty line, but they now have a chance of lucrative Hollywood careers as lighting directors, visual effects supervisors, cinematographers and so on with the addition of the necessary skills to the curriculum.
Clooney estimates there are 65,000 behind-the-scenes entertainment industry jobs available in California and is on a mission to fill many of them with this diverse crop of newly trained technicians.
“Whole communities haven’t even heard about these jobs,” he said in a speech to 150 teenage students on one of his recent visits to the school. “We aim to change that. We can very quickly change the face of the industry in a big way.”
He continued: “Our industry, really since its inception, has been pretty poor at inclusion. Usually, the way we try to fix it is at the end of the process, and that hasn’t worked out very well, as we’ve seen.”
While the need for greater diversity on camera is getting attention and action, it’s a different story on the other side of the lens, where crews fail to reflect the real America. One of the reasons Clooney was able to recruit so many leading entertainment companies to the cause was likely because of a shared desire to fix that problem.
The initiative is also a hit with US government officials, who see it as a model to be copied in other professions, from medicine to tech. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff have both toured the school recently and praised the program as a triumph for inclusion.
That’s good news for Clooney, who will need federal government funding in order to scale up the program to other production hubs like New York, Chicago and Atlanta, which is his stated wish.
The 61-year-old has long used his fame as a platform for good and has a record of humanitarian work around the world supporting causes close to his heart. It was a passion for campaigning that led him to meet and bond with human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, whom he married in 2014.
Talking of partners, Clooney co-founded the Roybal program with his agent Bryan Lourd and producing partner Grant Heslov. The trio swiftly recruited activist stars like Kerry Washington, Don Cheadle, Mindy Kaling and Eva Longoria to their advisory board.
Roybal is a “magnet” school, which is one that stands out by offering a specialist field of study that is something above and beyond the standard curriculum. Six months into this groundbreaking experiment in Los Angeles, countless award-winning experts in Hollywood’s craft and technical fields have been along to teach at the school.
They include Black Panther costume designer Ruth Carter, Ant-Man cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, Men in Black sound editor Bobbi Banks and Tomb Raider editor Michael Tronick. With the program thriving and pupils finding real hope of opening career doors previously closed to them, there are plans to double the student intake.
As a father to four-year-old twins Ella and Alexander, Clooney can presumably understand better than ever the responsibility of shaping a young person’s future. Maybe it won’t be too long before he is working on a movie set being lit, filmed, styled, or costumed by one of the youngsters who have graduated from Roybal’s program.