EXCLUSIVE: David Arquette – Taking on American Justice

The Arquette family are a band of actors, artists, provocateurs and activists. With the image that David Arquette has crafted for himself as the family’s resident goofball, his newest film, a documentary titled Survivor’s Guide to Prison, is a departure from the David Arquette persona people have come to know. His latest project champions a cause close to his heart and gives a window into another side of the actor as concerned citizen and defender of your personal freedom. Hitting theatres and on VOD February 23rd, David Arquette presents to you, the Survivor’s Guide to Prison.

This documentary film is an eye opening, unsettling and informative look inside America’s criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex, an industry that has continued to grow exponentially with no signs of slowing down. You’ll be introduced to the players – politicians, law enforcement officers, our judicial system and the prison-for-profit industry. You’ll gain a clearer picture of the inner workings of mass incarceration in the United States of America.

David Arquette and company, present to you the Survivor’s Guide to Prison.

Allison Kugel: What attracted you to becoming involved as a producer on the documentary, Survivor’s Guide to Prison?

David Arquette: I was first aware of the project because I’m friends with Matthew Cooke, who is an amazing Oscar nominated documentary filmmaker, who worked on the documentaries Deliver Us From Evil and How to Make Money Selling Drugs. With Survivor’s Guide to Prison, Matthew highlights the prison system, how corrupt it is, and how it’s prison for profit. It’s a model that is outdated; it doesn’t work anymore. The punishment model has been proven not to be successful and it’s time for change. Matthew put a really amazing documentary together. My wife, Christina Arquette, and I watched an early cut and we both came on board as producers. We worked with Matthew and got a bunch of great people involved. Susan Sarandon is a producer on it, Gina Belafonte, Jesse Williams; just some really great people who have done a lot of great work to help change the prison system.

Allison Kugel: So many people came on board for this film. Adrian Grenier is also a producer on the film. Danny Trejo, Ice T, Busta Rhymes, Danny Glover, Deepak Chopra, your sister Patricia Arquette, and on and on. When people watch Survivor’s Guide to Prison, they will feel how deeply impassioned everyone who appears on screen is about this cause. Were there discussions off camera about why they all wanted to participate?

David Arquette: Danny Trejo, specifically, was so generous. He’s had family members who were directly affected by it, recently getting out of prison after being in for a crime they didn’t commit. He had also been in prison way back, a long time ago, when it was a different era, but it’s close to him. Danny sees what it does to communities. One of the things that’s so horrible about this current [Criminal Justice] system is that it takes parents away. The United States locks up more women than any other country in the world. You see how horrible it is, and the dangers of dismantling the family structure. The War on Drugs, and all these different initiatives to incarcerate people, has proven to be destructive to our society. A lot of the people who are involved with this project believe there is a better way that we can rehabilitate people, and treat them like human beings rather than animals, and imprison them.

Allison Kugel: Do you think The War on Drugs has been, at least in part, a war on minorities and on poorer communities?

David Arquette: Absolutely. The laws that were enacted during the crack epidemic, specifically; the fact that if you had crack rather than cocaine, you would get a far worse sentence. There are tons of people locked up for small marijuana offenses. It’s a dated model. They’ve noticed that people who get into programs when they’re locked away, they thrive. Whether it’s an art program, or they get schooling. So that’s what we are looking at. We’re trying to change things. We are working with an organization called Cut50, which is Van Jones’ organization. He’s really dedicated to cutting the current prison population in half. We’ve developed a shirt with Omaze.com, and it’s called the Dignity Shirt. We’re selling this shirt to raise money for legislation reform. That is the only way things really change, is if you change them within our political system. We’re also working to get women some basic human rights that they deserve. In a lot of states, if you’re giving birth in prison, they will have you shackled.

Allison Kugel: While you’re in labor?

David Arquette: While you’re in labor, yeah. Many women in prison are sexually assaulted. They can still be strip searched by men or watched in showers by men. There are several things we are trying to accomplish through the process of government legislation. We are fighting for basic human rights, and for people to be treated with respect, which in turn will allow them to have more dignity.

Allison Kugel: What do you hope the public gains from watching this film?

David Arquette: It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, the title, Survivor’s Guide to Prison. We say that because we see people who have survived the prison system as survivors. Just calling people “prisoners” or “inmates” and giving them numbers, it’s such a way of de-humanizing them. So, the idea of this film is to bring some compassion back into the discussion.

Allison Kugel: What do you foresee the Arquette family legacy being in decades to come?

David Arquette: Ultimately, we’re performers; we’re entertainers. That’s what our past, and the history of our family is about. It’s been about entertaining people. It’s really what I’m passionate about. I like acting. I like making people laugh. I like the idea of somebody having a rough day at work and being able to zone out and watch something. On that note, this isn’t the film that does that (laughs).

Allison Kugel: (Laughs) No. It’s an engaging film, it really pulls you in and it’s a must-see. But it’s not an easy watch. Parts of it are actually heartbreaking to watch.

David Arquette: This film is about asking some important questions. And that is another side of entertainment, shining light on darkness.

Allison Kugel: Your grandfather was a comedian, your parents were actors, your siblings are actors. Is that something you’re hoping will continue with your own children?

David Arquette: My daughter Coco (Arquette’s thirteen year old daughter with Courteney Cox) loves singing and performing. She’s really good at it, and she’s got a great head on her shoulders about it. We’ve kept everything unprofessional, like afterschool plays and that sort of thing. We just want to allow her the time to grow up. Growing up in LA is already kind of slanted, and not completely grounded in reality. We want to allow her to have a childhood and not have to have the pressures of auditioning, rejection and all that stuff. It’s important.

Allison Kugel: What is your favorite form of artistic expression these days?

David Arquette: I love painting. I took a Bob Ross instructional course, so I can teach people how to paint in the Bob Ross, wet on wet technique.

Allison Kugel: Is there a heavier, more serious role in you? A side of you that people haven’t seen?

David Arquette: I’ve done a few films where I got to tap into that and it’s always great when you have that opportunity, so I would love that. But my favourite thing is making people laugh. I love the sound of laughter. I used to say to people who were passing away, crossing over, I’d say, “Go towards the laughter.”

Survivor’s Guide to Prison is in theatres, on VOD and on iTunes, February 23, 2018.

> Allison Kugel

Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.

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