Emilio Estevez made libraries film to show how we “criminalise the poor”

The Public is a passion project that tells the story of homeless people who refuse to leave library with librarian Estevez caught up in the ensuing row

Emilio Estevez shares The Big Issue’s love of libraries and it was the driving force behind his new film The Public.

Estevez is the writer and director of the passion project, in which he also stars as a librarian caught up in a row when homeless people refuse to leave the library they are using as shelter.

It’s a low-budget project that was inspired in part by his father Martin Sheen’s rebellious spirit and Estevez’s own childhood memories of burying his head in books at his local library.

“As a boy I was pretty shy and introverted, so I found refuge in the library. I found refuge in books,” he told The Big Issue. “It was just a local library but there was plenty for a boy to get lost in. I was so proud that I knew how to read the card catalogue and the Dewey Decimal System. Being in the library stoked my curiosity.”

That idea is central The Big Issue’s focus on the remarkable power of libraries in this week’s magazine.


Last year, 27,000 people worldwide earned an income selling street papers, making a total of £23.4 million.

But it also struck a chord with plenty of big names who were inspired to join Estevez on his labour of love because the film “spoke to them emotionally, spiritually”.

Christian Slater plays a sharp-suited district attorney with political ambitions, Alec Baldwin appears as a crisis negotiator, and Orange Is The New Black’s Taylor Schilling plays Estevez’s neighbour, while Michael K Williams – aka Omar from The Wire– is Jackson, unofficial leader of the homeless library patrons.

They have all bought into Estevez’s views on how we treat the most vulnerable in our society and who is welcome in our public spaces.

“I thought: what if these individuals here decided not to leave?” he said. “Would it be thought of as a threat? Because we have a tendency to criminalise not only poor people, but people experiencing homelessness and the mentally ill. We lock them up or we kill them. What does it look like if 100 people experiencing homelessness decided they weren’t gonna leave? I thought, there is a movie here. And it has only taken 12 years to get it made…”

Catch more from Estevez, and plenty more on libraries, in this week’s Big Issue magazine, available now from Big Issue vendors and The Big Issue Shop.

The Public is in cinemas from February 21