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Zion in uniform on the mat in the gym

Young Wrestler Born Without Legs Finds Sense of Family in the Sport

Los Angeles, California, Jan. 8 – Netflix’s “Zion” has won the International Documentary Association’s award for best short of 2018.

Directed by Floyd Russ, “Zion” debuted at Sundance in 2018. Its subject, Zion Clark, was born with caudal regression syndrome, leaving him without legs. He was put up for adoption as an infant and grew up in the foster care system. The documentary short shows how he found a way to fit in by wrestling, something he began as a young child, competing against peers without disabilities.

“Wrestling has changed my life to the point where when I come to an obstacle in my life,” Clark previously told ESPN in 2016, “I instantly figure out a way to get past it and move on.”

The 11-minute short includes interviews with both Clark and his coach Gilbert Donahue. Russ’ approach to telling Clark’s story is important. Many filmmakers do not include many, if any, soundbites from the person with the disability and instead interview other people in his life. Furthermore, many films about an individual with a disability verge on “inspiration porn,” which occurs when people with disabilities are called inspiration or brave for doing something as simple as playing a sport. Falling into this trap leads to stigmatizing disabilities.

Russ, instead, lets Clark tell his own story and does not let the short become a film that exists just to inspire people.

“‘Zion’ by Floyd Russ is a beautiful and touching work that does what documentaries can do better than any other form — give audiences intimate access into the experience of others, in a way that makes us better for it,” said Simon Kilmurry, executive director of IDA.

“Zion” received the award during the 34thAnnual IDA Documentary Awards at the Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles. Floyd Russ served as Director and Producer. Carter Collins served as a Producer.

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so all people with disabilities can fully participate in every aspect of community. As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. She regularly conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible for entertainment executives throughout the industry. Appelbaum partners with studios, production companies and writers’ rooms to create equitable and accessible opportunities to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the overall story-telling process. These initiatives increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities. She has consulted on more than 100 TV episodes and films with A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, NBCUniversal, Netflix, ViacomCBS, and The Walt Disney Company, among others. She represents RespectAbility on the CAA Full Story Initiative Advisory Council, Disney+ Content Advisory Council, MTV Entertainment Group Culture Code and Sundance Institute’s Allied Organization Initiative. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working in development, production and post-production. She is a recipient of the 2020 Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award for this Lab. To reach her, email [email protected]

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