Awarding a life

People like him exist to remind us that it is not just politicians, scientists, or humanitarian workers (category the latter to which he belongs without a doubt) who have the fate of the world in their hands. Artists do, too, and the wider their celebrity and their success, the bigger their responsibility for sharing their vision, their inspiration, and their example.

Art and activism meet in him to such a degree that it is impossible to determine where one ends and the other begins. It does not matter: Edward James Olmos does not understand his profession and his life except through a constant effort, determination and commitment.

In 2009, at the UN headquarters in New York City, he claimed that ‘there is only one race: the human race’ owning the main leit motiv of the acclaimed TV series Battlestar Galactica on which he was the lead star between 2003 and 2009. On it he gave life to Admiral Adama achieving such height of acting excellence that it makes the expression ‘give life’ more accurate than it ever was before. Last week, in the luxurious (and packed) salons of the Palace Hotel, downtown Madrid, he graced us with another one of his lines: ‘The future is one hundred per cent in our hands.’ And when he says so, with that voice and that gaze that compete with each other in depth, you just have to believe him.

Edward James Olmos has come to Madrid to receive the Honor Award on the IV Edition of the Platino Awards of Latin American Cinema. This recognition moves him to the core and his eyes get teary over and over again every time he expresses his gratitude. Both at the welcome photo call at Callao Plaza on the evening of Thursday, July 20th and during the press conference held in his honor the morning after, he answered the questions from the reporters and kindly welcomed those of us who approached him, compelled by our professional commitment to the coverage of the event as much as by the admiration towards his career and the respect for the values he represents.

Edwards James Olmos has that kind of charisma hard to describe but that you can recognize without a doubt when in its presence. When asked about what it takes for Latin American movies (and everything Latino) to achieve the recognition they deserve and get over the numerous prejudices existent in the US, his homeland, he tersely replies: ‘Patience.’ He says so with the calm, mocking inflection of those who have fought a thousand battles and keep hope alive because they have learned to postpone the reward: the tone of someone who has lived enough to know that dark times are just that. That you must always keep working for the things you believe in, for the necessary causes. That it is worth the effort even if you are not alive to see the outcome. That, sooner or later, truth shines and that history, even through setbacks, ups and downs, moves always forward.

His faith is unbreakable; his passion infectious; his idealism is no daydreaming: it buries its roots in reality, it works with both feet on the ground. It is down here that it finds its strength. Jaime Escalante crossed his path in 1988 and brought him (Jaime brought him as much has he brought Jaime) to the threshold of the Oscars. He did not get the figurine but he took over another role from his character in Stand and deliver: that of the great teachers. Education is, for Edward James Olmos, the tool to change the world, to end discrimination, to save lives. To the mission of spreading and promoting it he is tirelessly dedicated, body and soul.

When I talked with him at the welcome photo call, he said he felt good despite having landed in Madrid only three hours earlier. The morning after, however, at the beginning of the press conference he admitted a monster jet lag and joked about his age: ‘The 70 are the new 68.’ Little did it stop him from sharing his thoughts, experiences and sense of humor with us for more than an hour. When the press conference finished the audience beat incandescent, thick with that kind of energy that emerges from those people who inspire us, those trustworthy leaders that are such a rare species in our present lives. Those of us who have been lucky enough to listen to Edward James Olmos on other occasions already knew this would happen. It was no surprise, either, when so many reporters approached him to congratulate him personally and ask for selfies once the conference was over. He conceded with such gentleness and pleasure that you would have thought he himself was interested in those pics. Journalists, photographers and reporters are also fans, admirers… we are human. Humanity attracts us.

Edward James Olmos received his Platino Honor award last Saturday in a ceremony held in the Caja Mágica. His speech, which he gave overcoming the emotion that gripped his throat with the sheer force of his will (‘did you understand me?’ he asked me later, worried that his shaky voice might have blurred his words) was once again a lesson in strength, honesty and heart. A boost of energy, an invitation to shake off the excuses behind which we hide to avoid doing what we have to do. To avoid pursuing even those things we truly dream of. It is not for nothing that he is author of lines like ‘Do what you want to do even when you don’t feel like doing it’ and ‘if you fight you will be successful because success is getting the best you can get in what you love the most’. On Saturday I heard him say these words again, not during his speech but in some of the many interviews he granted to reporters from different media.

Among all the ideas he shared on the speech with which he received his award I choose this one: ‘Creativity knows no borders: it just requires opportunities.’ This powerful assertion summarizes the main energies running through his bloodstream and setting his life in motion: talent, diversity, dedication and equality of opportunities for everyone.

When I talked with him after the ceremony he passionately claimed that the Platino Award means more than the Oscar to him. This figurine is certainly the recognition of a life even more than of his art or his wide, varied and successful career. As I write this he has already started working on the new film directed by his son Michael: Windows of the World. A poignant story whose plot meets all the requirements to be something he would like to get involved in.

Movies, education, human rights, fight against prejudice and marginalization… When we ask him what has been his life’s main project he answers right away without an eye- blink: ‘My children.’ It is comforting: in the middle of the maelstrom Edward James Olmos stays well grounded.

Now that I think about it, I forgot to tell him something before he left. I am thus saying it here and now: all of us who have listened to him, who have found our lives inspired by his lessons, who have fallen in love with his roles and his characters are also, if only a little bit, his children.

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