Brooklyn Nine-Nine and White Chicks star Terry Crews came to the University of Florida for a speaking engagement held by the ACCENT Speakers Bureau on Tuesday evening.
Free tickets were made available to students for pick-up at Reitz Union Monday afternoon and sold out in under three hours. Crowds of students were lined up outside the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts at 6 p.m., even though doors didn’t open until 7 p.m. for priority seating.
In response to an immediate standing ovation, as Crews stepped on the stage, he greeted the crowd of students with flexing pectorals and arms waving high.
UF journalism department chair Ted Spiker joined on stage to interview Crews, but could barely get a word in. The comedic actor left little room for Spiker to speak as a moderator, often joking, “I’m interviewing myself.”
Throughout the event, roars of laughter from the 1,200 person-turnout echoed off the Phillips Center’s walls. The words energetic and captivating are understatements to Crews’ on-stage charisma. He wasted no time, plowing through a melting pot of topics, that would otherwise come across as random, had it been any other speaker.
His career transformations and success
Crews reminded the audience that it took multiple failed auditions and his unconventional methods to get to where he is now. The actor attributes his role in White Chicks to changing his life, but revealed the project wasn’t his first choice. Crews had an offer from Damon Wayans to be a series regular on his show My Wife and Kids. Crews remembers going into the audition thinking about how much he had needed the job. Crews said, “When you need the job, everything changes because there’s pressure.”
Crews choked under all the pressure and left the audition feeling devastated. His agent consoled him with news of another audition the same day, across town. “I have to audition for another Wayans today? There’s like 1,700 Wayans,” he joked. He went to the audition with an ‘I don’t care anymore’ mentality. Now that the pressure was gone, Crews was “flowing.”
“Flow is when you work, work, work, work and don’t get it. And you work, work, work, work, and you don’t know how to do it. And you work, work, work, work and all of a sudden, you get it. You flow,” explained Crews.
Crews aced the audition, and got the role for a new movie called White Chicks, accepting the part with no idea of how much of a success it would become. Once filming began, he realized it was a lot bigger than what he originally thought it was going to be.
The ‘flow’ took him to a next level. Crews recalls “doing that song in the car in one take.”
The audience lit up every time the actor referenced ‘A Thousand Miles,’ the iconic song Crews’ character in White Chicks sang in the now famous scene, and later performed live on Lip Sync Battle. “I had been waiting to perform this live,” said Crews.
The artist, turned football star, turned actor, turned activist, boasts a long and impressive resume, including five years in the NFL, an art degree from Western Michigan University, a published book, a contemporary furniture line and 79 acting roles to date.
When Crews began doing Old Spice commercials eight years ago, no celebrities of his caliber were doing commercials. Friends warned him, “Don’t do it Terry, don’t do it. If you get into the commercial world, you’ll be stuck doing it.”
“I did so many things that everybody said, ‘don’t do,’ that they just stopped talking to me,” Crews laughed. Crews will be the first to say that his iconic Old Spice commercials created an entire market for high-profile celebrities to be featured in commercials. However, breaking down barriers is nothing new for Crews.
Terry stands with women
He is one of the few men in Hollywood to come forward in the recent #MeToo movement as a victim of sexual assault. Crews spoke up in October 2017 as a victim through a series of over 16 tweets he sent out from the set of the Golden Globe award-winning show, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Crews sat on set, scrolling through his phone on twitter, when the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke out.
“Just like millions of women have had to, I had to let it go because I wanted a career, I wanted to continue,” said Crews. “I remember shaking and reading some of these guys honing in on these women, calling them ‘bitches,’ and ‘they’re sluts and they’re just opportunists looking for a pay day.’ I couldn’t work, I just couldn’t work, because I knew it had happened to me.”
Since going public with the incident, Crews has filed a lawsuit against his former talent representation, William Morris Endeavor, where his assaulter, Adam Venit works as a head executive of the agency’s motion picture group. Crews has since switched to United Talent Agency for representation.
Many people have advised Crews to drop the case, but Crews said Venit must face consequences for his actions. “This case is not revenge,” Crews told students. “I’ve already forgiven him. When I said I would not be shamed, I meant it. This is about accountability. I’m not letting you go. I didn’t make you do what you did; I did not ask for that. No woman that has ever been abused or harassed has ever asked for it. Ever.”
Crews says he now understands what women go through and wants to destroy the cult surrounding toxic masculinity. “Everyone needs to be held accountable, every time. That’s the only way it’s going to change.”
Crews blames rape-culture on toxic masculinity and the bystander effect. “I was part of this culture. I’m guilty. I didn’t do anything like that, but I’m guilty because I didn’t stop it.”
Despite accompanying other ‘Silence Breakers’ on the cover of Time Magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year,’ Crews has been overlooked and even criticized in the media for his bravery to speak up. There is a strong stigma around men being assaulted or abused, directly linked to strong stereotypical gender norms, expecting men to ‘man-up’ and ‘toughen-up,’ because in these norms, men can’t possibly be assaulted, because they’re men. Through it all, Crews has been able to stand up, take back his narrative, and hold his truth, becoming an inspiration to young men, women and survivors everywhere.
He’s taking control of his own narrative
Despite discussing a heavy subject matter, Crews managed to keep the engagement overall lighthearted, leaving students with messages of hope, aspiration and pride.
If there’s anything to take away from Crews’ powerful testimony, it’s that you have to be your own advocate. Growing up in Flint Michigan, Crews was constantly discouraged from pursuing different avenues. People would tell him, ‘Hey man, you just don’t have it,’ or ‘maybe this isn’t for you’ or ‘you weren’t meant to do this.’ These are lies that we buy into more often than not. As young men and women about to go off into the real world, there are a lot of people out there who will actually benefit from us being in the dark, not knowing. Sometimes the discouragement is not ill-intentioned, and they think they know what’s best for you, or they’re trying to save your feelings, but this doesn’t mean you can give into the judgement. In 1986, after being discouraged from pursuing his dream to go to the University of Michigan, Crews decided that he would never again let anyone talk him out of anything. Individuality is what put Crews’ career on the map, and he had to fight his way to get there.
Above all, don’t compromise your authenticity. Your authenticity is your brand. Anyone can pretend to be someone else, it takes courage to be you.
Crews said it best: “There will never be another you. There will never be another Dwayne Johnson. You can’t try to copy Dwayne, Dwayne is Dwayne. I support and love him, but I want to be Terry Crews. Let Dwayne Johnson run Dwayne Johnson. You got to pay top-dollar for Terry Crews, and that applies to every person in this room. You have the patent on you.”
Crews ended the engagement, the same way his career took off: singing along to ‘A Thousand Miles,’ but this time, with hundreds of fans to accompany him.