Susan Sarandon is an Oscar-winning actor renowned for her commitment to social justice. Born in Queens, New York in 1946, she is of British and Italian descent. Sarandon studied drama in the late 1960s, a crucial time in US social history. Since then the seventy-six-year-old has consistently aligned her career with her progressive values.
Cult & Iconic
Sarandon’s first role as a disaffected teen in the movie Joe (1970) was followed by playing Janet Weiss in the cult movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). Her first Oscar nomination was for romantic-gangster movie Atlantic City (1981), and she was nominated again for playing Louise in the iconic feminist film Thelma & Louise (1991). Her Oscar win for Dead Man Walking (1995), directed by her then-husband Tim Robbins, reflected their concern with abolishing the death penalty and ending mass incarceration in the US.
Sarandon and Robbins leveraged their fame to political ends: they marched against the 2003 invasion of Iraq and campaigned for Democratic nominees, from John Kerry to Barack Obama to Bernie Sanders. However, Sarandon’s refusal to back Democrat Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election met with rage on social media. She later defended her decision, saying, "I did think she [Clinton] was very, very dangerous. We would still be fracking, we would be at war [if she were president]”.
Help for Hollywood
While her most acclaimed movies are from the 1990s, Sarandon has continued to break taboos as an ‘older’ woman in her line of work. Nevertheless, Sarandon often criticises Hollywood, condemning its profit-oriented focus and its persistence in leaning on female, racial and LGBT+ stereotypes.
Sarandon believes that the most provocative movies and series are now the products of studios owned by streaming platforms. In 2017, she was praised for her portrayal of actor Bette Davis in the first season of FX’s anthology series Feud. But she also supports writers who have been profoundly affected by changes in the industry. According to the Writers Guild of America, “an ever-growing demand for scripted content has transformed an industry that once supported stable writing careers into a gig economy of precarious, low-paying freelance work."
People over Profit
To find out more about the issues that concern Susan Sarandon, Speak Up attended a press conference in Barcelona that honoured her acting career. As a high profile figure she is, she says, in an enviable position that it is her public duty to use well. She began by saying how grateful she was for European support at times when opinion in the US had turned against her.
Susan Sarandon (American accent): It’s always nice to be recognised in another country. Sometimes I haven’t been so welcome in the United States. I worry about a lack of empathy, kindness, the tendency to put profit over people in terms of… everything: the government, the environment, justice of every kind. I think the systems that we have in place now are so corrupt that they are disintegrating and when that vacuum happens it paves the way for fascism.
Crisis in Hollywood
Sarandon’s most recent role is as a ruthless businesswoman in the superhero film Blue Beetle. She told Speak Up that while she loved taking part, it is a shame that Hollywood is now really only interested in making blockbusters.
Susan Sarandon: It’s impossible now to make a lot of movies in the United States. There’s a crisis in Hollywood where you can make small independent films and you [can] make big blockbuster films but the ones that were in the middle, … ten million dollars, twenty million dollars… they’re not happening. And then if you make a small film then the question is, where do you distribute that film? And I think that a lot of the streaming services are able to make much more edgy stories because they’re not trying to appeal to a broad demographic, they can find a very specific demographic so a lot of the more interesting things, more political things are happening in these TV series now.
Crisis in May
Sarandon’s arrest for disorderly conduct at a minimum wage protest in New York in May came days after she showed support for the Writers Guild of America strike in California, which condemned the precarious conditions faced by today’s screen writers. Sarandon believes that in any profession respect for others must be prioritised over profit. Her activism is aimed at starting a conversation, she says.
Susan Sarandon: It starts with respect for other human beings. My favourite thing is always to have conversations. I’m interested in what people have to say. Talking about myself ultimately for hours on end is pretty soul-sucking! It’s much more interesting to find out what people are interested in and to make contact.
Off the Grid
Sarandon is a mother of three and has three grandchildren. She talks more about how fortunate she is and of her plans to spend more time with them.
Susan Sarandon: I’ve been building a house that is completely off the grid, so it has solar [energy] and my own water. I love gardening. I play with my grandkids. I spend as much time as I can with them. I’ve always kept scrap books for my family: I’m always making these collections of family photos, and I steal my children’s photos that are online and I print them, so I have those photos too.