Commerce of Creativity to Explore Power of Film with Director Robert Townsend

Robert Townsend

Robert Townsend

Acclaimed actor, director and producer Robert Townsend will explore the power that filmmaking has on the “commerce of creativity” during a lecture, titled “Trusting Your Instincts,” later this month at California State University, Northridge.

Townsend, who has been called one of the “godfathers of the independent film world,” will be speaking on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. in the Campus Theatre in Nordhoff Hall at the southwest corner of the campus at 18111 Nordhoff St. in Northridge. He is the latest presenter in the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication’s Commerce of Creativity Distinguished Speaker Series.

“Robert is a trailblazer,” said cinema and television arts professor Nate Thomas, head of CSUN’s film program. “He’s in the film history books. He and Spike Lee, working separately but with a similar synergy, broke the rules. Robert was locked out of Hollywood, so he went out and made his own movie, ‘Hollywood Shuffle,’ anyway, then he sold and distributed it. Because of him, independent filmmakers changed the way they make movies. They all give honor to Robert Townsend, as well as Spike Lee, for setting in motion a different way of making films.”

Thomas has worked with Townsend on several projects, including a behind-the-scenes Comedy Central special on Bill Cosby for which the director hired several CSUN students to assist in the filmmaking.

“Robert is really very fond of our students,” Thomas noted. “He respects their knowledge and our film program. He has hired our students as interns and crew members for major productions, including ‘Why We Laugh,’ a documentary about the history of black comedians and black comedy. Robert’s a good man and wants to help our students, who in turn truly appreciate the opportunities he offers.”

Townsend grew up on the west side of Chicago and was one of four children raised by a single mother on welfare. He caught the acting bug while in high school and worked for a time at Chicago’s X-Bag, the Experimental Black Actors Guild. He moved to New York and became a regular at the acclaimed comedy club, Improvisation.

Townsend then made the trip to Hollywood. His first film appearance was as an extra in the urban classic, “Cooley High.” His break came while performing on several television comedy specials, including “Rodney Dangerfield: It’s Not Easy Bein’ Me” and “Uptown Comedy Express.” He co-starred opposite Denzel Washington in “A Soldier’s Story” and appeared with Diane Lane in “Streets of Fire” and Kevin Costner in “American Flyers.”

While in Hollywood, he noticed the difficulty black actors had and the lack of good work available for African Americans in the film industry. He used those observations to create “Hollywood Shuffle,” the 1987 critically acclaimed satire depicting the trials and tribulations of black actors.

The film’s success led to other directing and producing opportunities, including “Eddie Murphy Raw,” “The Meteor Man,” “The Five Heartbeats,” “Carmen: A Hip Hopera” and “10,000 Black Men Named George.” He also served as president and chief executive officer of production for The Black Family Channel for four years before it was sold to the Gospel Music Channel in spring of 2007. Townsend has been nominated for more than 30 NAACP Image Awards for film and television.

He continues to act, direct and produce. His latest projects include the Comedy Central special on Bill Cosby and “Why We Laugh,” and the pioneering Internet series “Diary of a Single Mom,” which received critical acclaim and several awards, including “Web Series of the Year.”

The Commerce of Creativity Distinguished Speaker Series began in the fall of 2011 as a way to connect members of the CSUN campus, alumni and the community with compelling and provocative storytellers who have made significant contributions to the arts and the art of business.

The lecture series is open to the public. Seating is limited. Reservations are recommended. To make a reservation, visit, email or call (818) 677-7038.

California State University, Northridge’s Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication is inspired by the shared belief that art is community, communication is an art, and that art and communication are essential pillars for building and maintaining community. Its programs, including those in art, communication, music, theater, cinema and television arts and journalism, have an international reputation for graduating skilled professionals who succeed in their respected fields.

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