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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Michael Cory Davis: Using His Gift to Make A Difference

by Cyrus Webb

When it comes to examples of individuals who know what they want in life and are going after it, you have to give a nod to actor and activist Michael Cory Davis.

Known to some for his roles on shows like the soap opera All My Children or on the SYFY network, Davis has gained international attention and respect because of the causes he has lent his time, energy and resources towards. In late 2010 he was enjoying the success of his latest project, the thought-provoking movie FOR COLORED GIRLS, directed by Tyler Perry, and this year he appeared in Tyler Perry's FOR BETTER OR WORSE on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Never one to shy away from a challenge or an opportunity to provoke discussion, Davis stripped down for his 2011 calendar BODY OF CHANGE as a way to raise awareness and funds for his non-profit Artists United For Social Justice. I have a great deal of respect for him not just because of the way he conducts himself professionally but also because of the way he uses the gift that is the public eye to make a difference. 

In 2013 he launched his new campaign I STOP TRAFFIC in an effort to increase awareness about child trafficking and child exploitation of American children by creating and distributing cause related multi-media.  In this conversation he discusses when he discovered his love of the arts, how he has chosen to use his celebrity when it comes to helping others and even how he views what he has been able to achieve.

Michael, thank you for taking out the time to talk with us. First of all, congratulations on your achievements on tv and in movies. I want to talk about what it was like to be a part of that project, but I first want to go back to the beginning. When did you realize that you were interested in being in the entertainment industry? Thank you for the opportunity. My parents encouraged creativity. I was involved in a lot of school plays. Growing up I also got involved in debate school. I realized early on that I always had a flair for being on stage.

Looking at what you have done so far and the projects you have been a part of, what surprises you the most about your career and how you are perceived?  What continues to surprise me is that people are surprised that I am a black man that has taken on what has been seen as a woman's cause. Let's face it, when it comes to topics like human trafficking. It tends to be more Caucasians bringing attention to it. It never ceases to amaze me how people perceive me. I welcome the surprise, because I am able to turn over the perceptions and let the world see black men are more than what pop culture says we are.

I as an independent filmmaker have been able to do so much. I have been able to raise tens of thousands of dollars for orphanages in a country (Bulgaria) where I don't even speak the language. My accomplishments let me know there is a whole lot more that we as artists can do to change the world in a positive way because we have the microphone to do it.

You mentioned your work in Bulgaria. That is, in fact, how I first became aware of you because of your short film. For those who haven't seen it, Svetlanta's Journey is a film you wrote, directed and produced that came about because of a victim of trafficking that you met. It was a 13-year old Bulgarian girl who had basically been sold by her adoptive parents into prostitution. The project has gone on to not only win awards but aired on national television in Bulgaria. What did you take away from that project regarding how we in the United States view issues like that?  I would say how ambivalent we sometimes are. If people are looking at children as commodities, that's a problem. If we have a society that has been victimized because they are not getting the services they need to heal, that's a problem. People don't speak enough about it,  especially in the black community. I think that's why more haven't taken on the cause. At the end of the day it deals with a form of slavery, and we should know about it and care about it. I do understand, though, that alot of the apathy about the subject is because alot of us are so focused on our own problems.

(Note: Though much of Davis' work over the past decade has focused on what's going on in other countries, through his new film project CLOSE TO HOME he tackles the issues in the United States. In a startling article for The Huffington Post in August 2013 he said this about what is going on in the States when it comes to trafficking, abuse and forced prostitution: "The United States has a child trafficking problem -- it can't be denied any longer, in particular after such horrors endured by the teen sex slaves in Cleveland have been exposed, and most recently with the FBI raids that resulted in the rescue of 150 children across dozens of cities.

I believe that one of the main reasons why this crime has been able to grow so quickly is because of the abundant supply of children, mainly girls, who are vulnerable and easily exploited for prostitution by shrewd pimps and traffickers... We as a society have done an excellent job of staying intentionally silent to abuse in its many forms that plague so many of our youth, thus leaving them vulnerable to pimps. We as a society have done the work for the pimps to make young children feel that their real core value and self worth comes from money and the "things" they possess, therefore it is okay to do whatever it takes to get that money, even if that means using their bodies for sex. We in society have done an amazing job of teaching our young girls that their beauty comes in the form of measuring up to Hollywood starlets who are air-brushed, starved, and altered for the masses to consume all the while helping to reinforce that beauty only comes from the external representation of oneself and thus focusing on developing sexuality before even truly understanding it.")

Michael you are in a business that is covered from all angles, both the good and the bad. What are your thoughts about the 24-hour news cycle and the public's desire to know so much about celebrities?
What's happened in society today is that we have made the internet a loaded gun. People learn things and share things instantly. What's worse is that you have people who make money off what goes wrong in an individual's life. I don't know why it is that whenever someone is on top and doing well, there is some need for us to wait for that person to do something wrong. When people look at me, I want them to know that I am just as human as they are. I am fully aware of the issues that we as men have with women. Though I have my faults as a man, I have empathy and compassion towards women that are victimized and that's why I do what I do.

Thanks again for this opportunity, Michael. We really appreciate the opportunity to share a snapshot of your life with our readers and your passion for the work you do. Before we let you go, I have to ask you about success. It's something that is relative to most people. What does success look like to you?  Success for me is being able to overcome challenges without having to compromise myself and staying true to my authenticity. It's having the power to create my own content and not having to have my hand out in order to do so. Success is also when I am able to fulfill my purpose being on the planet, challenging myself and using my art and talent to move us all forward.

That's not to say I'm always trying to do deep movies and stuff like that. I just want to do what I love and help others in society along the way. That's when I am most happy. That's success.

You can find out more about Michael by visiting www.michaelcorydavis.com. You can also discover more about the work of Artists United For Social Justice and his new campaign by visiting www.istoptraffic.com.

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