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Importance of Diversity on Television

Real-Life Lessons from Real World Creator Jonathan Murray

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Jonathan Murray with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Aug. 22 – Jonathan Murray is widely credited for being the father of reality television and creative hand behind some of the most successful reality shows ever made. He has nurtured the reality TV industry, and over time has created a space where underrepresented groups and individuals can be recognized and appreciated.

When Murray took the risk of putting a diverse group of real people on TV in his first show, The Real World, in 1992, he facilitated progress in the diversity agenda.

Jonathan Murray speaking to RespectAbility Fellows

Jonathan Murray speaking to RespectAbility Fellows

He captured something new and something real that no one was used to seeing because of his own life experiences. Murray grew up in an area that did not have much diversity.

“The first time I saw someone who looked different from me was on TV,” Murray said, illustrating the importance of showing diverse individuals on television.

Even after The Real World, he continued to push the envelope with different types of reality shows that showcase unique groups of people living their lives while the rest of America tunes in.

His recent creation, Emmy-winning Born This Way, is a favorite here at RespectAbility because it breaks a new barrier: disability inclusion and acceptance. Born This Way features diverse young adult individuals with Down syndrome and shows audiences how amazing and capable they are as individuals.

Born This Way cast and producers celebrating their Emmy win on stage at the Emmy Awards. Executive Producer Jonathan Murray holds the Emmy Award.

Born This Way cast and producers celebrating their Emmy win in 2016.

The show educates audiences about Down syndrome as well as about all people with disabilities. It teaches audiences about the truth behind disabilities. Individuals with a disability cannot be categorized, labeled or pre-destined in any way, Murray explained. This show educates audiences on the fact that people with disabilities are also people first and foremost.

Lastly, Born This Way enables audiences to see that with the right efforts made by one’s family, friends and by our society, people with disabilities can live full lives. They should and can be fully integrated into the workforce and have superb abilities to contribute.

“Hopefully we will get to the point where a character is there but his/her disability isn’t the focus,” Murray said.

Jonathan Murray speaking to RespectAbility Fellows

Jonathan Murray speaking to RespectAbility Fellows

All of us at RespectAbility are thankful for Jonathan Murray and Born This Way because the stories exemplify our message/goal as a nonprofit and prove that people with disabilities have an irreplaceable and necessary place in society.

Before Murray’s reality shows, the TV industry was exclusive and powerful in its ability to feature idealistic and stereotypical stories.

“For most of the last 50 years of TV, it has mostly been white, middle/upper-middle class people portrayed on TV,” he said.

RespectAbiility Fellow Brilynn Rakes and Jonathan Murray smiling for the camera

RespectAbiility Fellow Brilynn Rakes and Jonathan Murray

Now, thanks to the wave of reality TV that Murray has ushered in, underrepresented groups, including people with disabilities, have the opportunity to open people’s minds to what is and should be considered typical.

“To me the new civil rights movement is the disability movement. We need more people with disabilities and their allies to stand up and demand full inclusion into the workplace and society!”

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Meet the Author

Brilynn Rakes
Brilynn Rakes

Brilynn Rakes is a Communications Fellow. She is a recent graduate from Fordham University. As a visually-impaired dancer, she was the AT&T Spotlight Performer on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars where she performed alongside Emmy-nominated dancer and choreographer Derek Hough.

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