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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

Lauren Appelbaum is the Vice President, Communications, 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. From entertainment professionals to presidential campaigns, journalists to philanthropists, she conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible. Behind the scenes in the entertainment industry, Appelbaum engages decision makers and creatives to improve the quality and number of authentic, diverse and inclusive presentations of people with disabilities on TV and film so audiences can see people with disabilities as vital contributors in America and around the world. She and her team have consulted on projects with Amazon, Disney/ABC Television, NBCUniversal, Netflix, and The Walt Disney Studios, among others. Appelbaum also enriches the pool of disabled talent in Hollywood by nurturing and connecting them to those who can assist with their careers, both on the creative and business sides of the industry. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit, which was created to help entertainment professionals to be as inclusive of people with disabilities as possible, and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working behind the camera. To reach her, email LaurenA@RespectAbility.org.

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