A citizen of Our Valley ... of Hollywood ... of the world
For the 25th anniversary edition of the Muddy Tributary’s annual Our Valley section in 2005, we took a look at memorable people, places and things from the Rogue Valley’s past and asked, simply, “Where Are They Now?”
On the back page of that section, we chose a similar eclectic selection and asked a different question: “Where will they be in the years to come?”
One of those featured on that page was a former South Medford High School track star named Justin Baldoni — at that stage a fledgling actor whose latest credit was as a nefarious rogue (and eventual piece of chum) in the straight-to-video masterpiece “Spring Break Shark Attack.”
(In case the title leaves you at a loss, it was a movie about the calamities that befall a group of college-age scamps on spring break, who then get attacked by sharks.)
In the years since, Baldoni (who spoke to the 2016 graduating class at South Medford) hardly has had time to stop for, well, a bite of fish.
Most prominently, of course, Baldoni plays the star-crossed love interest Rafael in the fourth season of “Jane the Virgin” — the romantic comedy with a loyal following that can be seen locally at 9 p.m. Fridays over The CW (Ch. 11).
And of his many other projects in various stages of production, the one that has received the most media attention is a web series from his Wayfarer entertainment production company called “Man Enough.”
In the series — which can be found at wearemanenough.com — Baldoni sits down with a cross-section of other men for roundtable discussions on what it means in 2018 to be, and act, like a man. The subject matter is particularly relevant given the walls that have been broken down in Hollywood and nationally regarding sexual harassment of women.
In a TEDWomen Talk last November, Baldoni addressed the issue head-on with a challenge to the men in the audience in New Orleans:
“When you hear stories of sexual harassment, when you hear your boys talking about grabbing ass or getting her drunk,” Baldoni asked, “will you actually stand up and do something so that one day we don’t have to live in a world where a woman has to risk everything and come forward to say the words ‘me too’?”
The speech went viral and a month later, Baldoni’s “Man Enough” series launched — with athletes, entertainers and fellow actors sitting down to discuss such topics as “Why Don’t Men Talk?” “Let’s Get Vulnerable” and “The Ugliness of Body Image.”
In a December interview for Marie Claire magazine, Baldoni traced the seeds for the project to his younger days in Southern Oregon.
“When I was 10, we moved to (Medford. It was a town) full of tough guys in trucks and they made me feel weak and I was bullied because of it,” he said. “I felt like I had to adopt this tough, manly persona to fit in. I had to push away all the qualities and the attributes that the world perceived to be feminine. What I realized as I got older is that those things were some of my greatest strengths.”
Baldoni — whose Instagram page that features his off-screen life with wife Emily and children Maiya and Maxwell has more than a million followers — calls “Man Enough” a “disruptive social movement” that will challenge the traditional stereotype of being a man.
“'Man Enough’ invites all men to challenge the unwritten rules of traditional masculinity,” according to the show’s website, “that have caused us to disconnect from one another, created the foundation of men’s violence against women and prevented us from taking the long journey from our heads to our hearts.”
Baldoni also has taken his social consciousness to the streets of the Skid Row section of Los Angeles, where Wayfarer (a term from his practice of the Baha’i Faith that references the journey a follower travels to reunite with God) recently staged its fourth “Skid Row Carnival Of Love” — an event that includes physical and mental health services, assistance with job preparation, gift bags, clothing donations, domestic violence services and resources, and education assistance for the city’s homeless.
But while he’s busy doing his part to change the world, Baldoni hasn’t put his career on hold.
“Con Man,” a long-stalled movie project in which he stars as the infamous fraudster Barry Minkow, is still awaiting release. “My Last Days,” the award-winning documentary series featuring profiles of real people facing death, remains available online.
And shooting is expected to begin this spring on “Five Feet Apart,” Baldoni’s feature-film directorial debut that is set to star “Riverdale” actor Cole Sprouse in a story of a young couple who begin a relationship while each is being treated for an illness.
If you’re sensing a theme in his endeavors, it’s clearly by design. In interview after interview, Baldoni stresses the need for understanding, compassion and communication.
“The more I speak to human beings,” he told one interviewer, “the more I realize that listening is essential to being human.”
That's one way to survive swimming with sharks ... even in Hollywood.
— Mail Tribune copy editor Robert Galvin can be reached at email@example.com.