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Critics’ Choice Awards Highlight Increased Diversity with One Glaring Exception

Los Angeles, Jan. 16 – At the Critics’ Choice Awards Sunday night, Taye Diggs praised how this year has been great for inclusivity for “all under-represented people,” specifically calling out successes when it comes to gender, sexual orientation and race. While this is extremely important, it is upsetting that once again the largest minority in the U.S. – people with disabilities – was not mentioned as well. This also was the case at the Golden Globes. With several more awards show coming up this season, there is a chance for this to change.

“It has been another great year for movies and for TV shows,” Diggs said. “Not only was it an amazing year for creativity but a great year for inclusivity. All under-represented people of all genders and orientations played prominent roles in front of and behind the big camera in many of this year’s biggest films, television and streaming series.”

When disability is excluded from diversity conversations, and not visible in film and television shows, Hollywood is disenfranchising the one-in-five Americans who have a disability. There is reason to celebrate, however, as several winners have visible and invisible disabilities. Yet little attention is paid attention to this fact – unlike when organizations tout the increase of winners who are women, people of color or LGBTQ. For example, Henry Winkler (Barry), who won Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, has dyslexia. Millicent Simmonds (A Quiet Place), who was nominated for Best Young Actor Actress, is deaf. Several individuals with mental illness took home awards, including Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade) and Lady Gaga (A Star is Born).

A Spotlight on Mental Health and Addiction

Elsie Fisher on the Critics' Choice Awards Red Carpet

Elsie Fisher

Elsie Fisher helped normalize anxiety during her acceptance speech for Best Young Actor/Actress for Eighth Grade. “As someone with anxiety, it’s very fun to be on this stage right now.”

Anxiety is made up of a number of disorders that cause fear as well as severe worrying to the point where it begins to take over a person’s life, according to the National Association of Mental Illness. It is classified as the most common health disorder in the U.S. Eighteen percent of adults in the U.S. have an anxiety disorder. Eight percent of children experience anxiety disorders as well.

Too often, people with invisible disabilities such as depression and anxiety, do not publicly disclose this. By making a joke about her anxiety, Fisher shows that anxiety is something prevalent among many Americans. She also is an example that actors, and others, with anxiety can be extremely successful.

Glenn Close and Lady Gaga holding their Critics' Choice Awards, smiling in front of a banner with logos for the awards, AT&T and the CW.

Glenn Close and Lady Gaga (Photo by Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock)

The Best Actress category ended in a tie, going to two mental health advocates, Lady Gaga (A Star is Born) and Glenn Close (The Wife).

Close was a founder and is the chairperson of BringChange2Mind, a U.S.-based campaign to eradicate the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness, supporting her sister Jessie who has bipolar disorder. Gaga often has talked about her experiences with anxiety and mental health.

“I want to thank life for all of the experiences I had to draw from for this role,” Gaga said during her acceptance speech. “I would like to dedicate this award tonight to all people who have suffered from alcoholism or addiction or who have watched their loved ones suffer. I wanted nothing more to show the truth and the power of this very heartbreaking dynamic. This is the true star of the film. The true star is not me. It is bravery and perseverance.”

A Star is BornShallow also won Best Song. “This song is a conversation between men and women asking each other questions about life and a desire for more depth in the shallowness of a modern era,” Gaga said while accepting the award. “I’m so happy it resonated with you.”

The film – and song – touch upon issues of addiction, depression and anxiety.

In another tie, Amy Adams (Sharp Objects) won Best Actress in a Limited Series or Movie Made for Television. Adams, while she does not have addiction herself, plays an alcoholic reporter recently discharged from a psychiatric hospital. Additionally, Bojack Horseman, which won for Best Animated Series, is a darkly humorous look into addiction and depression.

Several other Critics Choice nominees also centered on mental health and addiction. Best Actress nominee Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) has a history of mental illness, including depression, anxiety and OCD. Her character has similar disabilities. Best Actor nominees Hank Azaria (Brockmire) and Milo Ventimiglia (This Is Us), as well as Best Actress nominee Allison Janney (Mom), play characters that battle alcoholism. 

A Quiet Place, Featuring Deaf Actress, Wins Best Sci-Fi or Horror Movie

Millicent Simmonds on the Red Carpet at the Critic's Choice Awards

Millicent Simmonds

A Quiet Place won the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Sci-Fi or Horror Movie. In November, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, writers and producers of A Quiet Place, were honored alongside actor-director John Krasinski at the Media Access Awards, a ceremony honoring media and entertainment trailblazers advancing disability awareness and inclusion.

Krasinski is a visionary filmmaker in so many ways, such as ensuring a deaf actress, Millicent Simmonds, was cast to play a deaf character featured in the film. The filmmakers felt that casting Simmonds helped the film become the success it is.

However, the Critics’ Choice Awards missed out on an opportunity to showcase inclusion when the A Quiet Place team took the stage to accept the award. There was no visible American Sign Language interpreter on or off stage.

It’s Not All About the Disability

Featuring characters and actors with disabilities does not mean the character or show needs to revolve around their disability. The Good Place, which was nominated for Best Comedy, features major characters of color without making their ethnicity the major focus of their characters: the rich, spoiled Pakistani-English Tahani, the air-headed Filipino-American Jason and the comically indecisive Senegalese Chidi. The same concept is important when thinking about including characters with disabilities.

RespectAbility calls on Hollywood to include people with disabilities in television shows and movies in this way. Depictions of disability should be seen for the abilities and contributions they can make. For example, in scenes where people are working as doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc., the actor could just happen to have a disability – without the focus being on the disability. In this way, more successful role models of people with disabilities will be available.

Importance of Inclusion

Culture plays a critical role in American society. It contributes to the values and ideals that define us, and what we desire to share with our families, friends, coworkers and children.

“Representation is power and our movie, like so many of those nominated today, reminds us that audiences are hungry to see that power redistributed,” Crazy Rich Asians’ producer Nina Jacobson said while accepting the award for Best Comedy.

There is a reason to be optimistic. The pace of diversity both in front of and behind the camera has been increasing, allowing new voices to be heard. More people with disabilities need to be visible in front of – and behind – the camera. An increase in positive, diverse and accurate portrayals of people with disabilities in television and film can significantly help to end stigmas that undermine their opportunities to receive the education, training and employment opportunities needed to succeed, just like anyone else. Award-winning actors, producers and directors can use their immense talents to advance opportunities for the 22 million working-age Americans with disabilities, only one-in-three of whom has a job today.

Critics have the opportunity to be leaders when it comes to highlighting diversity or lack thereof. They are in the position to celebrate it, and find fault for its absence. When talking about diversity successes, disability cannot be left out in the cold. Just as importantly, we must draw attention to the actors with disabilities and shows with disability themes that are taking home awards.

Additional research provided by Eric Ascher and Justin Heimberg.

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum
Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the communications director of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities, and managing editor of The RespectAbility Report, a publication at the intersection of disability and politics. Previously she was a digital researcher with the NBC News political unit. As an individual with an acquired invisible disability - Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy - she writes about the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. Appelbaum currently oversees RespectAbility’s outreach to Hollywood to promote positive, accurate, diverse and inclusive media portrayals on TV and in film. To reach her, email LaurenA@RespectAbility.org.

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