“I’ve Always Been The Kind Of Person Who Would Stand Up For Myself” Debbie Allen Gets Real About Why She Once Had To Put Hands On A Cab Driver
If you’re a thirty-something like me you may remember actress Debbie Allen urging Whitley Gilbert to “Relax, Relate, Release!” as a guest star on A Different World. If you’re a little bit older like my sister, you recognize Allen as the iconic choreographer behind the line, “You want fame? Well, fame costs.” No matter when you were first introduced to the legend that is Ms. Debbie Allen, you know she is a force to be reckoned with both in front of and behind the camera, and definitely on the dance floor. BET caught up with the dynamo who after appearing as “Katherine Avery” on Grey’s Anatomy, tossed back on her director’s hat to work with Shonda Rhimes on a new short film called An Hour With Her, a project with Dove Real Beauty Productions.
The film challenges audiences to consider the power of mentorship by spending an hour with a young woman in their life since experts agree that just one hour talking to a girl about beauty, confidence and self-esteem can change how she sees herself for the rest of her life. Research shows eight in ten girls with low body confidence will opt out of important activities, such as raising their hands to voice their opinion. Allen shared a few stories about maintaining her own self-esteem, her thoughts on the #MeToo movement and making sure all girls feel like they not only deserve a seat at the table, but can command the whole room.
Allen shared how she learned about the project and why she thinks there’s such an urgent need for this message in this day and age:
“I found out about it through Shonda Rhimes. And I’m always aware of what she’s doing and I didn’t even know the Dove self-esteem project existed until this spring when they were looking for a director for the launch of season 2. And I was really impressed with what Dove was doing and has been doing for 17 years.”
“It felt really good lending my creativity to this project. We need more mentors out here. We need a lot of that, especially with social media being as big as it is and people hiding behind it. This is a time when we need to pull people up into a positive space.”
The 68-year-old reflected on building her self-esteem and entering the dance world during a time when many dance schools were denying acceptance to African-Americans. She reveals she finally was admitted entry to a dance school at 14 and was just happy to make it in the room after witnessing the fight for basic human rights. Once she literally got her foot in the door, she says having thin-skin wasn’t going to cut it:
“So the dance world is born on criticism, so when you can take those kind of criticisms and you’re not thin-skinned, and you don’t fall apart and shrivel up and go cry in a corner, you can really make it in the outside world. I recommend dance for everybody, because it’s certainly formed me into the person that I am and the pressures that I had to go under and those glass ceilings that I had to break. The dance world got me ready for that, big time.”
When it comes to the #MeToo Movement, Allen has shared in the past that she has been sexually harassed in the entertainment industry. She says when it comes to being violated, she refuses to be a victim and deals with disrespect directly, a trait that once led her to putting hands on a cab driver:
“Of course. I think because of the nature of who I am and how I grew up, I always dealt with it right then and there. I didn’t have to wait to tell someone or to complain. I dealt with it directly. Cause when you grow up with racism as majority of your life, you’re certainly not going to tolerate someone belittling you in that kind of way.”
“I’ve always been the kind of person who would stand up for myself and, you know, one time a cab driver said something bad to me and I punched him right in the face. Oh yes, I did! And I was such a little thing and it made me so upset. I started crying and then I found the police. And the police were just laughing at me and they were like, ‘We’re gonna have to arrest you. And I was like, ‘But he said something nasty to me.’ That’s a true story.”
When it comes to the #MeToo Movement, Allen says it’s been a long time coming and now that folks are listening, it’s up to women to make sure that the movement is giving a voice to people that need it the most:
“So when I look at this right now, I know we’ve come a long way and that the #MeToo movement is yet another step forward because we’ve had women that have cried out, but there’s been no movement to support them. And there’s a big movement that’s actually addressing things now. We just have to be mindful of it and that we do things honestly and that people are using our movement to make a name for themselves, but for the right reasons.”
You can check out the first film from season two of the Dove Real Beauty Project below: