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00:00: Can you give us a clap?
00:01: Can I do it this way?
00:02: Sure.
00:03: Thanks for being here.
00:04: Thanks for bringing this to life.
00:06: First episode should be.
00:08: Should be easy.
00:11: Hey, hi there.
00:13: Pretty cute.
00:15: Hi, I'm Allison Sturdy, and I'm 8 years old.
00:17: And I'm on the screen for...
00:33: Name something comparable to the pop culture phenomenon of child stardom.
00:38: That was the opening line of my op-ed exploring the toddler-to-train-reck pipeline,
00:44: a term that I assigned to the systemized spirals of countless young performers who enter
00:50: the industry with pluck and promise and end up unwittingly copying and pasting similar
00:56: horror stories and cries for help. Drug addiction, psychiatric hospitalizations, decimated
01:04: fortunes, sexual trauma, incarceration, suicide. These experiences have defined my peers
01:12: and my realities, and I've spent the past 10 years investigating why this tragedy persists in plain
01:18: sight with little to no intervention or prevention. Maybe I should introduce myself quickly.
01:23: I'm Allison. I started performing at three years old and working professionally in Hollywood at seven.
01:29: Today is my 30th birthday, making it 23 consecutive years working on more than 200 films, shows,
01:36: music videos, commercials, voiceovers, tours, and productions. I have witnessed,
01:41: contended with, and relatively speaking, survived the toddler-to-trainwreck pipeline,
01:47: albeit not without deep scars, chronic health issues, and lingering challenges.
01:52: When I think about someone hearing of this issue from the outside, I wonder what their reaction
01:58: and perspective might be. If it holds their attention longer than the momentary amusement of
02:04: another stupid celebrity headline, I imagine it may seem sufficient to blame the performer's
02:09: distress, outlandish behavior, the addiction and substance abuse on their own personality
02:16: and poor decisions, you know, grow up. Or perhaps the obvious perpetrators are the negligent
02:22: parents or exploitative Hollywood agents, right, poor kid. Maybe there's a vague inference of the supposed woes of fame.
02:33: Though that might cause an instant callus
02:35: towards the famous person, given they're probably lounging
02:38: and a mega mansion, walls adorned with platinum records,
02:42: high security out front, and superstar private chef inside.
02:46: Meanwhile, you're sitting in rush hour
02:48: in a 2003 Camry with broken air conditioning, right?
02:51: Fuck celebrities.
02:53: It might also be tempting to resolve the toddler
02:55: to train wreck pipeline by painting the media
02:58: entirely as a wicked social institution worth banishing.
03:01: It's the devil.
03:03: But perhaps a more convenient narrative?
03:05: These kids are rich, entitled pricks
03:08: who can buy their own miracle if they wanted.
03:10: So caring about this is a waste of empathy.
03:13: What is your theory on the toddler
03:16: to train wreck pipeline coming into this?
03:18: Why are you listening?
03:20: Are you here for gossip and a conspiracy?
03:23: For passive entertainment?
03:25: For social activism?
03:27: I'm afraid you have no idea what you're in for because the narratives aforementioned
03:32: are far too narrow and neat to be the full truth.
03:36: And frankly, they all leave out a critical component.
03:40: But no one's ever called you into the conversation like this.
03:45: See, when we peel back the red velvet curtain, the plot thickens tremendously.
03:51: You start to wonder who is responsible for this pipeline.
03:55: What are the stops along the way?
03:58: And the forces grooming the child for a downfall?
04:01: If we all collect experiences growing up from minor to major that weave themselves into
04:06: a tapestry of our present psyche and habitual behaviors, why does this subgroup of humans
04:12: seem to be the poster child for the DSM-5?
04:15: You might have never thought about it twice, but I've researched and contemplated the developmental disruptions, organizational procedures, legal structures, societal pressures, educational gaps, financial burdens, cultural responses, secret, predatory, and criminal abuse, and other key variables that orient a high-performing child's mind and body towards burnout, isolation, psychosis, chronic illness, hospitalization, workaholism, eating disorders, addiction, broken relationships,
04:48: narcissism, major depression and suicidality, because my life depended on it.
04:55: And it baffles me that we as a society just passively gawk at this and other glaring
05:00: problems when these are alarm bells signaling a lethal toxicity in the air we're all breathing.
05:06: A dysfunction within our culture and systems that hurts everyone.
05:10: Yes, you, not just the kid on display.
05:14: Now, now, now I hear a distant choir singing.
05:17: Not all child stars were disasters, just a few bad apples.
05:21: Look at, in certain name of someone, they don't know personally,
05:24: but pretend to know the status of their health and sense of identity and purpose.
05:29: And another choir with the BGVs
05:31: is Allison really about to blame me for their problems?
05:36: No, this will not be a podcast where I soak in victimhood on behalf of all child stars.
05:42: Nor will I claim our path is the toughest.
05:45: Nor will I dismiss personal responsibility.
05:48: Nor will I negate the positives and privileges that accompany the spotlight.
05:53: I once got free tickets to Disneyland.
05:55: I rode Space Mountain twice in a row, without waiting in line.
05:59: Nonetheless, if we're committed to telling the full truth,
06:02: then we have to face the light and shadows.
06:05: And the reason I wanna expose the soft white underbelly
06:09: is in service of safeguarding future generations,
06:12: because there are hundreds of thousands of children
06:16: on the toddler to train wreck pipeline as we speak.
06:20: We need to intervene in immediately harmful events.
06:23: Like, why is a child drinking poisonous bleach on set?
06:27: Real story.
06:29: Why is the producer massaging the child's back while a whole crew stands by?
06:33: Real story.
06:34: But we also have to propose preventative measures throughout the entire ecosystem.
06:40: For example, the onset teachers slash welfare worker discrepancy, where studio teachers are assigned
06:46: to double as the child's welfare advocate on set.
06:49: Yet guess who's signing their paycheck?
06:51: The production company.
06:53: So if the teacher protests something on set,
06:56: they might get fired, making this a conflict of interest when protecting the child.
07:00: We also have to start calling it what it is.
07:03: This is child labor.
07:05: And we got to remove our own story-eyed glasses around fame so we can approach this matter accordingly.
07:11: Did you know child entertainers are exempt from federal labor laws, meaning they're dependent on state laws to protect them.
07:19: And 17 states don't have a single law for child entertainers.
07:23: Guess where some of your favorite shows are flocking to film?
07:27: PS, all this shit has been happening in the industry for over a century.
07:33: For more than 100 years, there are children like Shirley Temple, who work profusely and
07:38: then upon turning 18, discover there's only 44 grand in their bank account after they'd earned 3.4 million.
07:45: Judy Garland was ordered by MGM Studio execs to take drugs, to keep up with a demanding schedule,
07:51: and later forced onto a strict diet of chicken soup, black coffee, cigarettes, and diet pills to alter her appearance.
07:58: Cory Feldman experienced the diabolically common sexual abuse of young boys and children
08:03: being molested, passed around for sex, coerced into sexual acts by assistance agents executives.
08:10: Drew Barrymore was already in rehab at 12.
08:13: Miley, Demi, Selena, Kristi, Raven, Jeanette, Cole, so many from my generation are coming
08:20: forward and with all our stories, I find myself wondering why you continue marveling at
08:26: talented tikes as they flash across social media, saying things like, get them an agent,
08:31: they're destined to be a star, but then turn away and disdain when they falter.
08:37: What is the true psychological impact and cost of child stardom?
08:41: And really high performing children at large.
08:44: In how are we all participating in keeping the toddler to train wreck pipeline masterfully intact?
08:51: In Dear Hollywood, I'm going to take you to every stop of the way from toddler to train
08:56: wreck, showing you the industry like it's never been seen before, and sharing my most candid and raw personal accounts yet.
09:05: Whatever barriers have been obstructing your view of reality, I am bludgeoning them.
09:10: By the end, you will know what led the toddler to that sudden moment of undoing as a teenager.
09:15: Spoiler?
09:16: It wasn't sudden.
09:17: But we won't stop there.
09:19: No, no, no.
09:20: That would make us part of the problem, just another memoir on the shelves in each
09:24: true Hollywood story, a documentary in the zeitgeist.
09:28: No, after we deconstruct, then we act.
09:32: Well, okay, not like, not performing.
09:35: That was a poor word choice.
09:36: We take action because what's been missing over the last hundred years?
09:41: Clear unified action plans for intervention, long-term prevention strategies, accountability
09:46: inside and outside the industry and resources for families and children to understand the
09:51: risks, consequences, and difficult processes involved in pursuing the industry.
09:57: And I'm going to need your help.
09:59: We're going to ask, what can we do differently, not just in the industry, but perhaps in all
10:05: domains for young people that can help them heal, cope, and develop into well-rounded humans.
10:11: And for those of us who dealt with difficult and complex experiences growing up, which means
10:16: basically everyone, we're going to examine how all of this actually relates to our own well-being and life path.
10:23: I know, I told you, you had no idea what you were in for.
10:26: So if you prefer to be ignorant, stop listening now.
10:30: If you're ready to see Hollywood in ways you never thought and to know yourself and me in ways you didn't expect.
10:38: Keep listening.
10:43: Okay, I have to tell you this
10:45: because it illustrates the purpose of this podcast in real time.
10:50: So I actually wrote and recorded Dear Hollywood
10:55: over a year ago, and I interviewed really special guests for it.
10:59: But I can't release it.
11:01: I was collaborating with a production company who was truly wonderful at first,
11:05: but then they switched their legal team
11:08: and the new person decided on the recording
11:11: of the final episode that in order to move forward,
11:15: I needed to sign a contract stating,
11:17: I would not get paid a cent for my work upfront, though their team would, further on the back end,
11:24: their company would get to make around $100,000
11:27: from ad revenue before I would see a single cent.
11:30: This was the budget breakdown from the podcast.
11:34: The associate producer would be making 16 grand
11:37: and the production fee would be 16 grand cast.
11:41: That's me.
11:42: That's the budget.
11:44: Then they said that they would give me a grand per episode,
11:48: even though the associate producer would be making more than that, the associate producer.
11:56: Given this was the podcast based on my literal life story
11:59: of being taken advantage of as an artist, and then I spent a year writing every episode
12:04: myself, tapping my personal network for guests, recording it on my own computer and equipment
12:11: at home that I purchased and trained myself to use, and really, you know, I was only
12:15: relying on them to help distribute it to a larger audience.
12:20: I chose to walk away from the deal.
12:22: Unfortunately, I'm not permitted to share the footage or those interviews, but I do have
12:28: my dignity and all of the intellectual property in my mind, heart, and hard drive.
12:36: So today we're starting fresh.
12:39: And instead of repeating the same three plot points that you hear in most child actor documentaries
12:45: or memoirs, you know, either stage parents stealing money or pushing the kid to work, body
12:51: image issues and being hypersexualized, or the addiction, reckless behavior, and the moment of the breakdown.
12:57: I want to take you deeper inside the belly of the beast and spark new conversations.
13:03: So please interact in the comments as you listen and let's carry the conversation to new places.
13:11: Over a year ago, I hit record on a confidential Zoom meeting with former child actors.
13:18: You can guess who was there?
13:20: Disney, Nickelodeon, medical shows, Grime shows, soap operas, soda ads.
13:26: really get around. Our objective was to surface key themes and the most pressing issues to address
13:34: in order to systematically dismantle the toddler to train wreck pipeline. This was a place where
13:40: people could remain anonymous to the public but still exchange information freely and contribute
13:46: to what has become dear Hollywood and the resources that we're creating for young artists and and their families.
13:53: The group was deliberately diverse across generations, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, belief system, career milestone, and beyond.
14:04: Because I knew the majority of actors speaking out
14:08: in my day at getting the spotlight are white and assigned female at birth.
14:14: Hey, which by default excludes many dimensions of other young artists' experiences.
14:19: Now creating a safe and brave space
14:24: required a lot of forethought for this bunch.
14:27: And no, it's not because I was worried about giant egos.
14:31: First, how was I gonna build trust?
14:34: There's a strong disposition of distrust among performers
14:37: born from years of being taken advantage of
14:40: and of information we share being used against us in the media.
14:43: Beyond, the only time we typically gather
14:46: and share spaces is when we're competing for roles
14:49: casting offices, or when we're on set with a call sheet that arranges us into a hierarchy,
14:54: or we're at events where we need to be on for the cameras. That does not scream, come as you are, be authentic.
15:01: Second, where was everyone's mind on the matter these days? Each of us was at very different
15:07: stages of healing and reflection, as well as different positions of power or lack there
15:12: of in the industry. We had brand new baby actors, award-winning writer producers, and people
15:19: who quit years ago and moved to the forest. Therefore, I knew we'd have varying perspectives
15:25: of what happened to us, who was responsible, what changes were reasonable to demand. So
15:31: the questions needed to be very well curated and the conversation facilitated nimbly.
15:38: We all agreed that this was not a space to process trauma, but to pool information, to
15:42: look for patterns and brainstorm solutions so we could pay it forward for future generations.
15:48: So building trust and making room for diverse perspectives were things I could anticipate and prepare for as a facilitator.
15:57: But a third factor, I didn't foresee at all.
16:00: Can you guess what it is?
16:02: That might be a barrier for this group of child performers to have this conversation.
16:09: As people timidly came off mute, I observed that a few of us ever learned we had a voice
16:14: of our own and could assert our needs.
16:17: We somehow could be the star of someone else's script, the face of a brand, the mouthpiece
16:22: for a movement, but if we spoke about our private ones, our deeper emotional needs, our creative ideas, would we be heard?
16:31: Would anyone care?
16:32: For many of us, we'd receive the message that there wasn't room for our true selves,
16:37: not with our teams, not on set, not in society, sometimes not even in our own home.
16:43: So we arrived in spaces as chameleons, waiting for the environment and surrounding company to determine our costume and speech.
16:51: While here, there was permission to be yourself, and I don't think we'd ever been this honest and unarmored around each other.
17:01: One courageous person offered a simple but profound anecdote that shined a light on an elephant
17:07: in the room that somehow stayed in the shadows over the years.
17:12: He said, by his teens, it was a daily occurrence for strangers to approach him on the street.
17:17: hug him, touch him, tell him deep secrets, take photos, make random requests, like, talk
17:24: to my aunt on the phone so she knows I really met you.
17:27: He was long conditioned to accept their advances regardless of how he was feeling or what
17:33: he was doing that day, because everyone was entitled to access to him.
17:37: He'd be considered mean if he turned anyone away.
17:40: We all nodded very knowingly and I joked to myself, that's why I have no boundaries.
17:45: And then a light bulb went off.
17:47: there's more under that quip. And I said, you know, does anyone else struggle with boundaries
17:51: with knowing where they start and end? And I saw nods, sighs, snickers. The budding transparency
17:59: brought warmth and camaraderie into this Zoom conversation. And for the first time in my life,
18:06: I was getting to know my peers not by their credits and vocal ranges, but by their humanity,
18:11: dignity and well-being. I realized even amidst our differences, we shared certain quirks,
18:19: shades of humor, relationship challenges, scars. I started looking for these connecting themes that
18:26: spoke to the group of adults who were contending with being doormats and dancing monkeys with
18:32: lost and alienating childhoods, with surprising signs of neglect amidst so much attention and praise.
18:40: Suddenly, it became so visible.
18:42: The elephant in the room was bodily autonomy.
18:45: If you don't know, bodily autonomy is the right of an individual to have power in agency
18:50: over decisions related to their own body.
18:53: You might have heard it in conversations about reproductive rights, medical ethics, also abolishing slavery.
19:00: It has particular nuance with regards to children, given guardians and adults hold significant
19:06: authority and power over kids and are responsible for making most decisions until the child develops
19:12: their own sense of self and capacity to make choices and assert needs. So you may already have some
19:18: expertise or maybe some baggage with the topic of bodily autonomy. Just invite you to check in and
19:24: ask what am I carrying into this conversation from my own life, my own politics. Please set it
19:31: at the door for now and just come in and listen.
19:35: From here, I've identified three specific topics related
19:39: to bodily autonomy that affect child performers uniquely, meaning differently than or in addition to non-professional children's experiences.
19:48: I've observed the cultural and professional conditions, as well as existing industry protocols
19:54: that form the structure for this experience.
19:56: And by way of my own juicy personal stories,
20:00: You'll soon understand what it's like to identify with being a commodified robot.
20:05: I mean star, being a star.
20:08: The three aspects are body ownership.
20:11: And I'm gonna zoom in on the concepts of access versus boundaries.
20:15: Body image, looking at the effects of a child's body
20:18: being productized and the behaviors and pressures
20:22: imposed on children to play the part and lifestyle.
20:27: as in the impact of an industry lifestyle
20:30: on the child's nervous system and overall development.
20:33: Spoiler, some experiences are so disruptive,
20:37: they can even switch the expression of genes
20:40: and lead to severe disease in later life.
20:45: Okay, before we go any further,
20:47: we have to tap into whose experience we're discussing.
20:51: We're talking about the bodily autonomy of working,
20:55: sometimes famous minors, including one month old infants, two-year-old toddlers,
21:02: ten-year-old adolescents, thirteen-year-old teenagers. So we need to contextualize our conversation
21:10: in terms of child developmental phases, because each of the aforementioned kiddos has drastically
21:18: different cognitive capacities to make sense of what they're doing and to make sense of who they
21:23: are and what's happening to them. Using PHA's model as a basic, imperfect but sufficient
21:31: enough template, tiny humans aged 0 to 2 are in sensory motor face. That means they're
21:37: requiring knowledge of the world through senses, not logic or verbal or complex processing.
21:45: They're just understanding their body's own reflexes. They don't have full situational
21:51: awareness or any kind of standard for a healthy versus unhealthy environment.
21:57: Because this is their first rodeo.
22:00: And the Sprouse twins, Olsen twins, Drew Barrymore, Jeff Bridges, all started here.
22:05: Then you have littles aged two to seven, which is the time I started.
22:11: And we were pre-operational.
22:13: So we were forming language.
22:16: Our imagination and fantasies were perceived as reality.
22:20: So, when I was six years old, portraying a variety of scenes each day on set, shifting my emotions and mindset, enacting my character's traits and beliefs,
22:30: I was not concretely differentiating, acting from my own experience.
22:34: Even if I said I knew it was just pretend, I also didn't have a fully individuated sense of self yet.
22:42: My identity was still largely unformed,
22:46: an extension of my main caregivers identity
22:49: and what's modeled and reinforced around me.
22:52: At six, I was still egocentric,
22:56: meaning I couldn't quite take in other people's perspectives.
23:00: So if a kid was having a tough day on set
23:04: and the executives fired them for being an uncooperative selfish brat,
23:09: they were likely unaware that their brain
23:12: wasn't able to grasp all the different variables and experiences happening around them.
23:17: And maybe the kid just needed a moment to ground and express a need.
23:23: Not to mention, there's a whole bunch of reasons
23:25: that a set and adult workplaces may be challenging and unsuitable for children.
23:32: But this age range is when Jody Foster, Leo DiCaprio,
23:35: Raven, Natalie Portman, and so many others started performing.
23:41: Okay, so then the 7 to 11 year olds, PHA labels this concrete operational.
23:47: They are just beginning to use logic and have more ordered systematic thinking.
23:54: They are just beginning to gather definitive rules of how the world works.
23:59: For example, I became famous in this phase, which means one of the rules I learned was
24:06: Fame is a normal baseline for my life path, including all that comes with it.
24:11: Public adoration and criticism, lack of privacy, interviews with journalists.
24:17: Though I understood not everyone in the world becomes famous,
24:21: I lost the ability to relate to non-famous experiences after the age of eight.
24:27: Imagine on your eighth birthday, you could never walk outside again without being stopped,
24:32: asked for photos or followed unless you wore a disguise or brought security
24:37: with you. From eight onward at school, church, restaurants, parks, you're stared at
24:44: and spoken about and people know who you are but you have no idea who they are.
24:50: Okay, so then ages 12 and up Piaget names this the formal operational phase.
24:56: You're seeing an increase in logic and deductive reasoning.
25:01: Young people are starting to grasp abstract ideas.
25:05: Obviously, a lot of physical changes are also happening with puberty,
25:08: which is a whole different dimension that complicates this phase for young artists.
25:15: Depending on how quickly your body matures and in what ways
25:20: you're positioned for certain career pathways and character archetypes,
25:25: You have Scarlett Johansson and Mayam Beallik, Keenan Thompson and Corbin Blue.
25:31: Everyone is probably on separate tracks, even if they had similar hopes of playing the same parts.
25:38: If a kid starts acting at 14, they at least have more of a sense of self-forming,
25:44: however, they're still highly vulnerable and impressionable.
25:48: Remember high school, the mood swings and big feelings,
25:52: The simultaneous strive for individuality, but also social belonging, the crushes and
25:58: young romance being embarrassed by your guardians, the rapid physical changes, and widely varying
26:04: development among peers, one freshman's four-nine, the other six-one.
26:09: If you decide to pursue the entertainment industry full-time, even if you felt an urgent
26:14: passion for art and for performance and self-expression, you still wouldn't have a grasp
26:19: for the long-term impacts of shifting your lifestyle and environment and social network.
26:25: Obviously, every child is different and their life path may cause them to move through phases
26:32: faster or slower. For kids in the industry, you often witness rapid adultification when a child
26:39: adapts to performing adult duties, taking on adult responsibilities, earning adult money,
26:46: making adult decisions. Of course, you know, this also happens in different cultures and or as a
26:52: result of traumatic events and other circumstances. However, keep in mind, no matter how mature the
26:59: child appears on the outside, their brains and bodies are not yet developed. No matter how much a
27:06: child says they're fine and can handle pressures or unusual circumstances, it is taking a toll. It is
27:14: is leaving a lasting impression for better and worse.
27:18: Okay, so now that we've covered the bases, keep all of that in mind.
27:22: Let's dig into bodily autonomy
27:24: and talk about things like what it's like
27:27: when Disney owns your name and body and likeness and can control what you do
27:31: for the next five years of your life.
27:32: And can also make Barbie dolls out of you without you even knowing.
27:37: Real story.
27:38: See you there.
27:41: I'm doing the thing, I've become the monster.
27:44: Jennifer requests $200.
27:46: Jocelyn wants $2,000.
27:48: Chelsea once college tuition covered.
27:51: That's in my phone.
27:53: Is that not weird to you?
27:54: Please don't get any ideas.
27:57: Please.