Franklin Livingston

Franklin Livingston: “Keep adapting and keep evolving!”

As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Franklin Livingston.

Despite its struggles, the U.S. is still the most generous country on Earth, providing attention and assistance to those in need all over the planet. Despite political turmoil and differences in practices, America is still united and still tries to help anyone that it can.

Franklin Livingston is an award-winning actor, director, and producer. Franklin’s desire to study various acting techniques encouraged him to attend Guildhall School of Music and Drama London, Tisch School of the Arts New York of New York University and Yale University where he not only received acting training but was trained in filmmaking and directing as well.

Franklin lives in New York City where he established a theatre and two film production companies with a mission to produce socially conscious content that pushes the envelope and sparks a discussion among all races, ethnicities, and genders to help them develop harmony and peaceful relations among themselves

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in the hills of Pakistan near the capital. Most foreigners could never imagine the colorful scenes of my country. It is full of lush green forests and frequently snow-covered. Once in a while, we used to hear about villagers encountering leopards or tigers in the woods.

I was raised with strict moral values and beliefs. My family belonged to an Anglican Christian church that was established in the 1850s and is still the center of the neighborhood. Once we had the honor of meeting Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh who came to worship with us. A town with such a church is rare in that region and my family was often discriminated against for not following the more commonly practiced Islamic customs of the area.

At the age of 11, I had the privilege of playing the traditional organ at this church during the service I was confirmed. This was my first time performing as a musician, and I had an audience of around 200 people. However, the most challenging part of my performance was that I had to pump the air into the organ with my short adolescent legs and was often out of breath by the end of each hymn.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the U.S.? Can you tell a story?

Yes, absolutely. Fortunately, I had the luxury of obtaining a very high-quality education. However, living in Pakistan as a religious minority is quite challenging. Unlike the U.S., where someone can be discriminated against based on their skin color, accent or cultural background, in Pakistan superiority is based on one’s commitment to its dominant religion, Islam.

Since I did not affiliate with the local tradition of Islam, I faced a multitude of obstacles during my education, while pursuing my career, and also while simply trying to live out my day to day life. This pushed me to decide to move to a country with freedom. A country that provided all of its citizens with equal rights and opportunities. A country where I could use my talents, express my beliefs, and move forward with my dreams.

My first job in Pakistan was at an elementary school where I saw some of the extremes of religion-based discrimination. Many of my Muslim co-workers did not want to associate with me because of my religious faith. One of the events that made me commit to immigrating to a western country was that I was forbidden to bathe in the same showers as the rest of the faculty: I would contaminate the sanctity of their shower area because I did not practice the same Islamic practices as them.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

A non-denominational church in Iowa invited me to the U.S., and I stayed with a Christian family which was extremely fundamentalist in their religious and social beliefs. I was shocked to learn that they believed Christians of other churches (Catholic, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Episcopal) are condemned by God to hell. These fundamentalist church leaders and their followers viewed themselves as superior and entitled to oppress people of other religions and cultures.

I was also very surprised to learn that these fundamentalists, who believe they are the most liberated and blessed people in the entire world, are actually imprisoned by their ideologies and belief system. They are afraid to embrace or experience something they fear might challenge their long-held world-views. They believe that to save the world, Christians need to recruit and enlighten people of other cultures and backgrounds to become followers of their kind of Christianity.

One time the senior pastor of a church I belonged to asked me to stop showing interest in one of “their” girls because they wanted to keep their community racially pure. He also said that people of the Middle East lived like animals and were unable to understand how to be in relationships with human beings like his church members.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

I think the biggest help I got was from my parents. My father provided me with planning, help traveling to the U.S. Embassy for visa interviews, getting documentation, and tickets to travel to the U.S.

My mother’s prayers and moral support were invaluable as I transitioned to the U.S. and, of course, during my entire life. Her empathy and love supported me through everything.

I remember my visa interviews were in the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, the capital, in September and October. Our town gets very cold with snow on the streets. My father accompanied me to the U.S. Embassy. I was to get there by 8 am and getting there in a cold and frosty morning in a cab from our home was an adventure. The winding roads were icy and slippery.

I moved to Iowa over a decade ago, when ethnic food and people of color were not commonly seen. Switching to completely different food, music, language, and customs was a huge adjustment for me.

The culture shock sometimes made me depressed. Instead of understanding or supporting me, some people in my church insisted that I adopt their “American ways” to acclimate and survive. I’ve since learned that these “ways” often involve emotional numbness, not sharing your true feelings and playing it safe by not getting involved in someone else’s inner life. Romance, dating, sex, marriage doesn’t appear to be based on the heart or on passion among these people, but on money and social advantages. It seemed to me that the only way to find myself and to feel at home was through social media, movies, and music from back home.

In the U.S., several people helped me to adjust and get settled in, but one of them that I am greatly indebted to is Dr. Catherine Thompson. I met her and her husband at a church in Iowa. Catherine was very kind and understanding. She not only encouraged me to share my heritage, stories, and values but also supported me in many ways to communicate my experiences and thoughts through screenplays and films.

So how are things going today?

Everything is all good! Everything is splendiferous! Learning American vernacular and playing with old and formal English is quite entertaining for me. I am very blessed to have persevered through triumphs and tribulations to achieve a level of motivated Zen that I believe will lead me to the perfect balance of joy and success! In other words, I’m doing good and I’m pretty happy, but I never lose focus on the next horizon or goal to reach.

I am very grateful to have many close friends in the U.S. now. I am learning when to be open and when to be reserved in American cultural situations and how to recognize whom I can trust. I think to learn these things happen to people from many countries who come here.

I have been extremely fortunate to have traveled much of the globe and I‘ve learned about various cultures by being immersed in them. My journeys have taught me how to incorporate authentic Eastern and Western customs, trends, and perspectives into my stories. These are often diametrically opposed ideologies, but they are still connected in many ways. They are the foundation for my films which I hope are and will be pioneers in depolarizing storytelling.

My companies, affiliates, and I are dedicated to breaking down social boundaries and helping recent immigrants as well as natives to transition and become connected. I want my films to not only entertain but to help people become aware of the world that is beyond their sight. This will help all of us to have healthier and happier lives and relationships. This, I believe, will help keep America the largest melting pot on planet Earth.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

In New York, I established two film companies and one theater company. The films I have produced depict “average” people making heroic contributions to their immediate families, communities, and human society. These stories show men and women in more realistic ways than commonly seen in fiction or action hero style movies.

My companies have provided jobs and work to hundreds of people in the New York metropolitan area. I am one of the many proud immigrants who are not job takers, but job creators. My film and theater productions are a testament to what America can offer to ambitious, law-abiding citizens, both native and immigrants.

You have first-hand experience with the U.S. immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?

Everyone who wishes to visit or live in the U.S. goes through an extensive review and clearance process regarding their economic, educational, and geographical backgrounds. This often results in a denial of their applications. First, I think this process should simply focus on the potential for illegal activities such as drug smuggling, human trafficking or terrorism.

Second, if a person tries to get an investor’s visa, and does not possess enough assets in their home country, they are denied a business visa. They must have more than half a million dollars to obtain an investor’s visa. However, money is not necessarily a measure of business skills or creativity.

Third, I would create a system to issue everyone a social security number who lives within the borders of the U.S. so that they can pay taxes for the betterment of our nation. The reason many people are unable to pay taxes is that we currently don’t have a system that legalizes everyone who lives and works in our country. Reforming the system would help our nation obtain millions in annual tax revenues from currently undocumented immigrants. In order to achieve this, I would open at least one immigration office in each state because there are very few U.S. immigration offices, compared to the population increase in the last few decades.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

I recommend the following 5 simple steps for the American Dream and for trying to succeed at life in general:

Assume that everyone has good intentions and that nothing is personal. More importantly, based on what I have learned from my experiences in NYC, you definitely need to be careful and critical of who you decide to trust completely. Most of the people I have encountered, who expressed a strong interest in “helping” me, were just looking out for their own interests and had absolutely no concern for my wellbeing or benefit.

Once a supposed friend of mine tried to trick me with promises of fame via his project and boasted that there would be posters of me in New York City’s Times Square. He decided not to remain friends with me when I didn’t agree to fund his TV pilot. People that offer you short cuts usually will cut you short.

Keep Moving, Always! — Goals, whether little, big, short term or long term should always be in place, with constant updating, while always moving forward. Stay focused on the tasks at hand, on obligations and responsibilities, but never forget about your dreams! I can’t remember how many projects I’ve produced which were never selected for any film festivals but I kept on working on new projects while always raising the bar.

Keep adapting and keep evolving! Flow like water, as Bruce Lee has said since water adapts by flowing, freezing, evaporating, or boiling. I would say, push yourself to go out of your comfort zone. Be friends with those who neither think like you nor behave the way you do. You’ll be amazed to see how those experiences contribute to your emotional and social intelligence and make you personable, charismatic, and versatile, like water.

Keep Learning! Never stop seeking new things, new experiences, and the latest news about and updates to your primary passions and interests. Ignore people who devalue your training and education, claiming that only they know to act or direct or produce. The world is always changing and becoming something that it never was before. Just look at the technology we have today. Those who live with hearts open to change, who advance logic, goodness, and humanity, are the people who are thriving in the world. Never give up. No matter how bad the failure or the negativity is, you must keep fighting. It’s okay to take a few moments or days to be sad, but you deserve happiness. You must always chase your dreams and surrender to nothing!

My production team and I had to cancel the shooting of a feature film right after the first day of production. However, after mourning our loss for a week or two, we went to work on a new project. We began pre-production with a fresh start full of zeal and zest.

We know that the U.S. needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the U.S.’s future?

As Americans, we are good listeners. The strength of a good story can be extremely powerful and can influence millions of people to see the value of a cause and to create change for the better in our nation and the world.

Despite its struggles, the U.S. is still the most generous country on Earth, providing attention and assistance to those in need all over the planet. Despite political turmoil and differences in practices, America is still united and still tries to help anyone that it can.

In general, we don’t believe in social classism. Most Americans welcome everyone and develop relationships with anyone over a cup of coffee or a drink. We have more cultural diversity in our land than any other country and we proudly embrace it, openly express it, and strongly encourage it.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

There are so many wonderful humans I would love to have a meal and a conversation with, but I would be honored to chat with Shahid Khan. His life is a classic “rags to riches” story in the U.S.

Mr. Khan was on the cover of Forbes Magazine in 2012 and was referred to as the “face of the American Dream.” He had a revolutionary idea for the car industry, offered it to American companies, was ignored, then offered his concept to Japan and made millions of dollars. Instead of leaving the U.S. to spend his fortune elsewhere, he stayed here and went on to purchase the NFL’s Jaguars. He has adapted, evolved, and simply just made the best of every situation, creating innumerable jobs and opportunities for investment in the U.S.

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