Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Debrah Levine of American Diversity Report…

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Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Debrah Levine of American Diversity Report Is Helping To Change Our World

Do not presume that you and your script can’t be visible given all of the competition in the industry: I was not prepared for how many people and organizations would find my documentary relevant. I had to make a plan for promotion and publicity to further its broad reach.

As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah Levine.

Deborah is an award-winning script writer and author of 15 books. She is a Forbes Diversity and Inclusion Trailblazer and Founder/Editor of the online American Diversity Report. As the daughter of a World War II US military intelligence officer assigned to interrogate Nazi POWs, she has a life-long passion for social justice and counteracting hate.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

My family lived in Bermuda where we were the only Jewish family living there for 4 generations. But my father wanted us to experience life in a large Jewish community and we moved to Long Island, New York when I was 7 years old. My mother learned Hebrew and became the education director of a synagogue and she drafted me to be a 2nd grade teacher. I started working for the Jewish community in earnest decades later to honor my mother when she was dying of cancer. I knew little of the Holocaust until I ran the Jewish Federation in Rockford, IL., and directed the making of a video for classrooms with my interviews of survivors and liberators.

I still had no idea of my father’s role in the Holocaust until I took the position of community relations director in Tulsa’s Jewish Federation after the Oklahoma City bombing. Dealing with neo-Nazis and being trained in security by the FBI brought my father’s memories and letters that he’d hidden away in his closet to the surface. I’ve written two memoirs that include his letters and my mother wartime love letters to him. But I felt the need to share his experiences and perspective more widely given the current increase in antisemitism. I learned how to write scripts, how to make a documentary and then submitted the results to numerous film festivals before it was taken up by a national TV platform.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Coming to the States in elementary school required a major rethink of language. I didn’t realize that some words were spelled differently in British English than American English. And I was teased mercilessly for my Britishisms on the playground until I learned that Americans liked to swear. When I said “Sh*t” the teasing eased. I later learned that it was a silly mistake when my 2-year old daughter used the word at the public library and caused quite a scene. I’ve now come to value my rather proper style of writing, and am able to write with more punch than folks who use those swear words.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

When I was working at Tulsa’s Jewish Federation shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing, the famous Holocaust historian, Sir Martin Gilbert, came to speak at our annual meeting. Sir Gilbert could be intimidating as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire with a knighthood for services to British history and international relations. The house was packed and I learned so much. I was asked to take Sir Gilbert to lunch and then drive him to the airport. At the restaurant, I learned how his grandparents had been born in the Pale of Settlement in Tsarist Russia (today’s Poland and Lithuania) — as had mine. He then autographed his book and gave it to me as a gift. At the airport, he insisted on buying food from every fast food kiosk and snarfing it down before he got on the plane. I tried to slow him down stating that airplane toilets were problematic. But he insisted so he could tell his friends about American food. Goes to show that even the most famous and celebrated are just human beings.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

I am a big fan of pioneers, especially women, who’s journeys included social justice before the term existed. They are my role models for courageous, innovative action.

Here are a few:

  • Harriet Beecher Stowe whose book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” brought attention to the horrors of slavery.
  • Susan B. Anthony who established the National Woman’s Suffrage Association, and early leader of the women’s suffrage movement.
  • Harriet Tubman who was born a slave and was the most famous member of the underground railroad.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin Roosevelt, was a prominent figure during WWII, a skilled writer, politician, and activist. She served as the Chairperson of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
  • Margaret Mead was a pioneering anthropologist who generated the concept that personality differences is more of a cultural conditioning than an inherited trait.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

I am bringing my documentary to State Holocaust Commissions across the country to maximize their ability to heighten awareness of the Holocaust. The documentary is now a Winner in 5 film festivals across the globe, bringing that awareness to an international audience. Locally, I have produced and directed a version of my script with local leaders in the Jewish community. The resulting video will be shown in April on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and schools across the State of Tennessee will have access to it. The process is bringing together a diverse group of leaders who had never met before with the purpose of making a difference together.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

I knew I had to do something when The Tree of Life synagogue shootings targeting Jews claimed the lives of 11 worshippers and was followed by deadly attacks at a synagogue in California, a kosher market in New Jersey, and a Hanukkah house party in New York. My memoirs with my father’s letters were popular and had won awards, but the realities of the Holocaust and the echoes of it today needed to reach more people. That’s when I learned to write scripts and create documentaries. Just because I’m in my seventies doesn’t mean that I will not persevere.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I’m honored to have a Hollywood actor and producer as my coach. Dylan Kussman was an actor in Dead Poet’s Society, who moved here to Chattanooga and teaches at the local university. I first met him when I speaking about my memoir and dad’s wartime letters at a local church. He then asked me to go on stage with him to introduce his new movie, Wrestling Jerusalem. Years later when I asked Dylan to find me someone to turn my memoir into a movie, he said that I was to write the script myself since Hollywood didn’t have enough women writers. After struggling for months, I hired Dylan as my coach and learned to script my story according to the industry requirements. It wasn’t easy but it was an amazing journey and he’s now a good friend who plays Dad in my documentary.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

  1. Share my documentary as a Holocaust education tool.
  2. Make Holocaust education part of school curriculum.
  3. Reject legislation that censors books about the Holocaust and make them available in school libraries.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Here are 5 things I wish I’d known. Click for the video

  1. Writing a script requires as much knowledge of the structure as the content: I had to invest in the FadeIn platform and learn how to use it before I could write anything of value.
  2. Do not presume that you and your script can’t be visible given all of the competition in the industry: I was not prepared for how many people and organizations would find my documentary relevant. I had to make a plan for promotion and publicity to further its broad reach.
  3. Audio versions of your script are more quickly performed and broadcast on radio than TV. This was advice that my cousin who directs a women’s theater gave me. She was so right and the script was performed within months at a local radio station.
  4. The audio version can be turned into a documentary provided you learn to use iMovie: When my step daughter and her husband came to visit, he sat down with me at the computer and started my lessons in iMovie even before the radio script was broadcast. Maybe he knew that I’d be needing it, but I did not anticipate the need. Always be grateful for family with IT expertise!
  5. Having a mentor or coach at various stages makes all the difference: When I tried to make the audio broadcast go national I was told by Jewish Life TV that they’d consider it if it had visuals to go with it. I will be forever grateful that I was mentored in the process and that the final results met their standards. The documentary will be aired on JLTV and go national and international. Thank you!

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I began my journey as an activist at age 15 when I physically protested and picketed banks that supported apartheid in South Africa. My passion for making a difference came deeply embedded in me for the rest of my life and I’ve been able to have an impact in multiple ways. This is what I wish for young people today. See something…do something. It will change and enrich your own life as well as the lives of others.

We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Ken Burns and Steven Spielberg because they have invested much time and effort into documentaries and movies about the Holocaust. Their use of historical documents and photos inspired me to do the same. I would love to talk with them and compare notes.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead

How can our readers follow you online?

My website is

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!

Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Debrah Levine of American Diversity Report… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.