“In the darkest of times, you can always find incredible oases of connection, of care and of love,” said Still Alice director Wash Westmoreland to an intimate gathering of some of Hollywood’s most inspiring artists and creative leaders at Soho House in West Hollywood last Monday.
Celebrating the remarkable activist work of 2014 MacArthur “Genius” fellow and director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Ai-jen Poo, and the Academy Award-winning “story of care,” Still Alice, the private luncheon highlighted the pressing need for a “care revolution in America” and the importance of celebrating the unsung heroes and caregivers of our lives.
With 10,000 people turning 65 every day, Poo posed the question in her opening remarks of how we can provide dignified, adequate care for America’s inevitable elder boom. Citing a report revealing that “a full 80 percent of older Americans have encountered ageist stereotypes” and referencing a “media landscape that associates the discovery of our first gray hair or wrinkle with the end of beauty, especially for women,” the conversation fostered a poignant and compelling dialogue about what it means to age and live well in America.
“What I have learned from Ai-jen’s work and from this film is that the word ‘care’ really is ‘love,'” said NBC News correspondent and Emmy award-winning journalist, Maria Shriver, who was also a featured guest at the event.
We need to view the country’s “fastest-growing demographic”—the 11.5 million Americans who will be older than 85 by 2035—as a “blessing, not a crisis,” as Ms. co-founder Gloria Steinem writes in the dust jacket of Poo’s newest book, The Age of Dignity. That’s an enriching prospect, with endless possibilities for both caregivers and those receiving care alike.
What Westmoreland and his late husband, co-director Richard Glatzer, were able to accomplish with Still Alice is “construct a narrative of dignity” for people who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other related diseases. They created a narrative that humanizes characters such as that of Julianne Moore—a brilliant academic with early-onset Alzheimer’s—while shedding light on the unique role that family members, friends and caregivers play. The story hit particularly close to home: Glatzer was diagnosed in 2013 with ALS, and passed away Tuesday night. The couple’s experience helped shape the heart of the film.
“I once had the pleasure of having Wash and Richard over at my house for dinner,” recalled Shriver (whose father Sargent Shriver also had Alzheimer’s). “I wanted to bring them to show my kids that this is what love looks like”: a love built upon sacrifice, “a never-lay-down-and-give-in attitude” and uncompromising care. Westmoreland and Glatzer’s commitment to showing the humanity in those afflicted by disease remains the hallmark of Still Alice.
As the co-founder of Caring Across Generations, “a movement inspiring people to value connections across generations and promoting policies protecting the dignity and independence of seniors, people with disabilities, and workers who care for them,” Poo hopes that stories like the one told in Still Alice will continue to be recognized and praised.
“One of my favorite speeches of all time is one given by the author George Saunders in his 2013 commencement address at Syracuse University,” said Poo. “He says that what he regrets most in life are not the things he didn’t achieve, but rather failures in kindness.”
With other guests ranging from actor Marisa Tomei to Richard Glatzer’s caregiver to USC Thornton School of Music professor and composer Veronika Krausas, everyone in attendance at the luncheon took part in the indelible “power of stories” by sharing stories of caregiving one-on-one with the person sitting next to them.
With individuals from all walks of life and from vastly different caregiving backgrounds, the event spoke to the inspiring efforts of a filmmaking couple’s tireless commitment to storytelling, an activist’s ongoing fight for dignity, and the growing web of care that connects us all. As Ai-jen Poo made clear to Monday’s reception and as she poignantly writes in her book, “I truly believe that the demographic shift presents us with beautiful opportunities to connect and care across generations.”
Photo vourtesy of David Shankbone licensed under Creative Commons 2.0