Casting artists with disabilities should be part of Hollywood’s ongoing efforts to become more inclusive, but often this is not the case, although the Americans with Disability Act of 1990 makes discrimination against the disabled as illegal as any other protected group.
“Disability is often overlooked in conversations about diversity and inclusion,” said Anita Hollander, national chair of the Performers with Disabilities Committee of SAG-AFTRA, who hosted the union’s panel on disability inclusion in Hollywood on Thursday. The discussion was part of the Guild’s Stop the Hate Summit.
“There are simply too few opportunities for artists with disabilities,” said Camryn Manheim, SAG-AFTRA’s national secretary and treasurer, in her opening speeches. “In fact, people with disabilities make up less than 3.5% of all screen characters. And when we see characters with disabilities, they are often played by non-disabled actors. It is a fact that the number of people with disabilities on screen and on set and behind the camera is very small and that needs to be addressed by our industry. “
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Even so, the panelists agreed that things are getting better, both with the cast of disabled actors and the way people with disabilities are portrayed on screen.
Jay Ruderman, whose Ruderman Family Foundation is one of the country’s foremost advocates for the disabled – and one of Hollywood’s harshest critics for many years – noted that the foundation’s white papers stated, “It was just a few years ago 5% of the characters with disabilities were portrayed authentically; then it rose to 22% a few years ago. We also conducted a marketing study that shows that 25% of the US population, the world’s population has a disability and that the industry can make billions of dollars from authentic display. And most of the people in that survey said they want to see an authentic representation. “
But Hollywood has been slow to take hold. “Over the past 30 years, half of the men who have won the Academy Award for Best Actor have won for playing a disability if they didn’t have a disability themselves,” said Ruderman. “There is an attitude that having a capable actor play a disability is great acting.”
Hollander, an amputee, quoted Christine Bruno, her counterpart on SAG-AFTRA New York’s Performers with Disabilities Committee, who said, “Disabled performers are often not allowed to act because disability is often viewed in the industry as a technical skill or a bag of tricks , and many other actors are recognized for their achievements. “Hollander added,” We are here to tell you that disability is not a technical skill, it is a lived experience. Where do we go from here? “
Danny Woodburn, national vice chairman of the SAG-AFTRA Performers with Disabilities Committee, recalled meeting actor Bryan Cranston to discuss Cranston’s portrayal of a quadriplegic in The Upside who caused a lot of flak in the disabled community.
“We sat with a coffee for about 45 minutes, nice and informal, two old friends met and I told him what the frustrations were. And he explained a number of things to me, like how long he had been offered this, and also the very real part of it, which is the marquee – Bryan is a marquee name, right? So his name will sell the film. And I said, ‘That’s a legitimate understanding. But if people with disabilities aren’t given a chance, they won’t make it to that place of the marquee that he fully understood. “
Woodburn suggested a solution and asked Cranston to do so: “If you have this opportunity and you’re in a movie and there’s a handicap proxy done by someone who is an A-lister when you take a job away ‘You have to give three back, so you have to include three people with disabilities in this film. “
“I think that’s an important part of that picture, talking to studios and saying the same things,” said Woodburn. “If you have to cast someone and it will go on – Sound of Metal is another example, if I’m not mistaken – we need to make sure we don’t just give these actors one chance – other deaf and other hard of hearing actors opportunity in the same movie – but we must also highlight them; Take them out to the press. “
CJ Jones, a Deaf actor who played a major role in Baby Driver in 2017 and frequently advises producers on how to portray Deaf characters, said, “Authenticity is becoming more of a reality, like Godzilla vs Kong. You have a deaf child actor in this film. And you know it’s that big crazy movie and the industry is picking up authentic roles compared to three years ago. These roles are still emerging and it really is still the bottom line with working with disabled people in the industry. We try to get to the point where we need to be. “
Jones, a member of the Ruderman Family Foundation’s International Advisory Board, said, “We held panel discussions about education in the industry to meet the needs of people with disabilities on the set. And this year we’re pushing harder because we need the authenticity to keep going. “
All panelists agreed that the diversity on screen – or the lack of it – has an impact on society as a whole. “I think diversity in the industry has an impact on the stigma, and we’ve seen big leaps and bounds with other groups. African American, Hispanic, LBGTQ, Asian community, ”said Ruderman. “So many different communities have made progress, and the disability community has made progress, but not enough. And I think what I would say is that the entertainment industry needs to understand that disability is part of diversity. Michelle Obama once said, “Most of us meet people who are not like us through entertainment.” ”
Ruderman, who said he saw improvements in the casting process, noted when his foundation began advocating for the rights of people with disabilities in entertainment, “we called politicians or celebrities, singers and business leaders who came together in one In the case of derogatory disability, we would issue a press release and speak against it. We gradually came to the conversation in the phony display of disability … and we were very harsh in our criticism. Since then, we’ve grown into major partnerships with the Academy Awards, Sundance Film Festival, Yale Drama School, and many others to address the issue of disability as part of diversity. “
The Ruderman Family Foundation also provides incentives for studios, networks, and content creators who follow their guidelines for auditioning actors with disabilities. Hollander noted that “several organizations, including ViacomCBS and NBCUniversal, have committed to following the Foundation’s guidelines on auditioning actors with disabilities in any new production.”
All panelists agreed that more needs to be done to include disabilities in the discussion on diversity, inclusion and representation.
Check out the panel here at 8:25:
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