2012 Upton Sinclair Award
Liberty Hill presents the annual Upton Sinclair Award to a person of unwavering idealism and vision, a person like Sinclair, whose lifelong crusade for equality and justice inspires us even today.
“For the rest of the time on this planet,” Barbara Jordan said later in her life, “I want to bring people together…We, as human beings, must be able to accept people who are different from ourselves.” Paris Barclay’s life and work personifies Jordan’s lofty goal.
As one of television’s most acclaimed and multi-talented creators, Barclay infuses everything he does with his desire to tear down the walls between us. Whether it’s vividly characterizing the disabled (in the Emmy-nominated “Wheels” episode of Glee), revealing the patriotism that drives the fictional White House (in The West Wing), or looking death unflinchingly in the eye (in Jimmy Smits’ final episode of NYPD Blue), he has used the medium to reach deeper into the hearts and minds of people around the world.
Born in Chicago Heights, Illinois, Paris earned a scholarship to attend The La Lumiere School in Indiana as its first African-American student (just one class behind future Chief Justice John Roberts). Accepted at Harvard, he honed his talents on the theater stage where he wrote 16 musicals before graduation (sometimes working alongside previous Upton Sinclair honoree John Manulis.)
After Harvard, Barclay turned to advertising -- and for the first time (in 1986) bent the media to his message by writing and directing Elizabeth Taylor’s first television commercial: a dramatic PSA for the recently established American Foundation for AIDS Research. A few years later, he formed a music video and commercial production company, with the specific goal of nurturing and developing more people of color behind the camera. Black & White Television, as it was called, quickly became a major force in the field, and his videos for Bob Dylan, Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson, and most especially his 8 videos for LL Cool J won acclaim. (The MTV Award-winning “Mama Said Knock You Out,” LL Cool J’s black and white boxing video, is still recognized as a classic in the field.)
And while the company “brought people together,” Barclay found a bigger canvas in directing, writing and producing film and television.
Over 120 episodes later, Paris has overseen crimes-solvers (NYPD Blue, CSI, The Shield, Law & Order, Monk, Numbers, The Mentalist, NCIS: Los Angeles, Cold Case), doctors (ER, City of Angels, House, In Treatment), lawyers (The Good Wife, Law & Order) and outsiders (Weeds, Lost, Sons of Anarchy, Glee, and Smash). City of Angels, in particular, co-created with Steven Bochco and Nicholas Wootton, was a daring attempt to create a prime-time drama with a largely Black cast. Although it only lasted two seasons, it introduced viewers to the talents of Hill Harper, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, along with stars Blair Underwood and Vivica Fox.
Barclay’s work has been recognized for its craft with two Emmy wins (from six nominations), one DGA Award (from ten nominations), four Peabody Awards, two Humanitas Prizes, two NAACP Image Awards, two recognitions from the TV Academy’s “Television With a Conscience,” and a Voice Award from the US Department of Health and Human Services. In 2010, he also received a Writers Guild nomination for co-writing Pedro with Dustin Lance Black, the story of HIV activist and Real World hero Pedro Zamora.
Paris is the face of his fellow directors as their First Vice President of the Directors Guild of America (tearing down walls again as the first African-American officer in the history of the Guild) and the chair of the DGA’s Political Action Committee. He has served on the board of the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, Project Angel Food, and currently serves on the Advisory Board for the Carsey-Wolf Center at UC Santa Barbara, and as a Trustee for the Humanitas Prize. He has been recognized for his charitable and community service work for organizations such as GLAAD (the Stephen F. Kolzak Award), Project Angel Food (the Founders Award), OUTFEST, and was honored with the Pioneer Award at the Pan African Film Festival. Along with all these organizations, he is a strong supporter of the Trevor Project, the Black Aids Institute, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, and of course, Liberty Hill.
Next up: he’ll bring to the screen the story of Barbara Jordan, with Viola Davis set to star as his hero.
“There are only a handful of organizations in America that can truly claim they bring people together, across boundaries, beyond differences,” says Barclay. “Liberty Hill is one of them.”