Authentic representation of marginalized populations on screen is vitally important as what people view on screen influences how they act in real-life. This Hispanic Heritage Month and National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), we were proud to spotlight Hispanic and Latinx individuals with disabilities who are changing the landscape in the entertainment industry.
Moderator: Vincenzo Piscopo
- Shireen Alihaji
- Danny Gomez
- Gisselle Legere
- Roque Renteria
- Diana Romero
Vincenzo Piscopo works as Community and Stakeholder relations director for The Coca-Cola Company where he manages the relationships with disability, veterans and Hispanic organizations as well as United Way and Hands-On Atlanta. He has worked for The Coca-Cola Company for the last 22 years in different areas of the organization: Finance, IT, Marketing and Innovation. He has a bachelor degree in Economics, an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University, a Master in Creativity from Buffalo State College and is currently working in a Master in Rehabilitation Counseling. He is the president and founder member of the This-ABILITY BRG for The Coca-Cola Company and the president and founder of the “Wheels of Happiness Foundation” where he uses his expertise to help people with motor disabilities in disadvantaged areas of the world.
Shireen Alihaji is a poet/filmmaker from Los Angeles covering stories on labor rights, environmental justice, hate crimes, trafficking, sexual violence, capital punishment, health care equity, immigration and accessibility for people with disabilities. Her revolving identities (Latinx, Iranian, Muslim Disabled) inspire her to hold space for intersections and advocate for all. She believes that in a society that systematically demolishes concepts of home including; people, land and histories, it is radical to tell stories. Our histories have survived through memory. When we remember we correct our displacement. Film is a way we reclaim narratives and restore truth if we collectively choose to remember.
After supporting writing/directing initiatives for major film studios, she transitioned into community scale media organizing and co-founded an LA-based media cooperative that supports the restoration of voices through story sharing and education. She is in development with her film Blue Veil which has was placed on the inaugural Black List X Muslim List, inaugural Cannes Screenplay List and was published in The Blue Print for Muslim Inclusion (Pillars Fund, Riz Ahmed / Left Handed Films, USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative).
In her free time, she volunteers as a videographer for the Women’s Mosque of America and teaches filmmaking workshops for youth. Her work has been featured in Muslimgirl.com, LA Times, KCET and Frontline, the University of Michigan and she has presented at Columbia University through The Muslim Protagonist. You can learn more about her at www.shireenalihaji.com.
Danny J. Gomez is a professional actor/model based in Los Angeles, California. Since 2018, he has acted in award-winning films and multiple television shows, including NBC’s hit series “New Amsterdam.” His work on national advertisements for Target, Facebook, and Zappos have all been successes as well. In 2019, Danny was the “Person With Determination” male winner of ModelHunt’s international model search– a worldwide competition with more than 700+ total applicants.
However, these achievements have not come without adversity. In 2005, Danny lost his Louisiana home to Hurricane Katrina. And in 2016, he almost died in a mountain biking accident– an event that left him paralyzed from the waist down instead. But what has reset and shifted his life has also introduced him to his life’s passion and commitment to advocacy. After relearning basic life skills at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, he became an ambassador for the non-profit Triumph Foundation, connecting the local community to fun activities like wheelchair sports. And every year, he is an active participant in the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, raising awareness for better representation for disabled actors in Hollywood.
Gisselle Legere is a drama writer. Her earliest memories are of being woken up at the crack of dawn by the radio; her grandfather listening to Radio Mambi, the anti-communist propaganda that the U.S. broadcasts towards Havana. Her family fled from Cuba as political refugees and landed in Miami, where her childhood was shaped by the intense narratives of survivors of oppression and persecution. Although she lost most of her hearing to a childhood vaccine, the memory of that early wake-up call and her family’s history led to an interest in politics and human rights.
Growing up deaf in a hearing world gave Legere many opportunities to hone her observational skills, which helped her as she moved through various careers…as a ballerina, then as a judo competitor, and eventually, as a scientist. As a field epidemiologist, she spent a decade working in bio-defense and chasing disease outbreaks across the globe. This hands-on knowledge of medicine and research shapes the scientific speculation that set her stories apart.
After writing and producing a series of shorts, a web-series and feature, it finally dawned on her that bringing stories to life is where all her different interests come together, and she began to pursue writing professionally. She is an alumna of the Sundance Screenwriters Intensive lab as well as the Disney-ABC Writer’s program. Most recently, she was staffed on QUANTICO, where her episode “No Place is Home” was nominated for a Women’s Image Award.
Roque Gregorio Renteria was born in Los Angeles, California. Growing up he was glued to the television screen and quickly developed a love for storytelling. Since both his parents are originally from Mexico, he was able to enjoy stories in both English and Spanish, which helped him appreciate foreign films early on.
At the age of 14, he had a spinal cord injury, which left him partially paralyzed, but on the bright side he got a brand-new wheelchair. Seeing the world from a new perspective (his eyes are now at waist level) Renteria started to write jokes about his predicament. This led him to pursue a career in stand-up comedy. He has been featured on Comedy Central, Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle II, and Amazon Prime. And, if he can find a pit crew to accompany him, he travels and performs comedy both locally and internationally.
Renteria graduated from California State University, Long Beach where he majored in English. During that time, he was involved with student activism involving better accessibility and guest lectured on the subject of representation of disability in mass media. He later graduated from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television with an MFA in Screenwriting. He has used his training as a screenwriter to write for Comedy Central, SoulPancake, and co-wrote short films for the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. Renteria enjoys telling jokes and deconstructing institutions on stage. When he’s not performing across the country, you can find him pushing around the streets of Los Angeles. And when he is not pushing, he is locked in his room trying to write his next page. He believes that laughter is great medicine, but you should consult with your doctor to see if his comedy is right for you.
Award-winning producer/writer, Diana Romero, had worked in physical film production as Producer, UPM and Line Producer for more than 15 years until her mobility was challenged in 2018. Multiple Sclerosis had finally reared its ugly head by attacking her legs, which caused her to rely on a wheelchair. Realizing that sets are rarely wheelchair accessible, she had to reinvent herself and her role in the entertainment industry. One day she would love to consult with productions on how to create safe and accessible sets for crew and talent with and without disabilities. After much deliberation, she set out to accomplish two other dreams she always had in the film industry: to act and to write for television and ultimately become a showrunner.
Romero is represented by Gail Williamson at KMR’s Diversity Department and landed her first big co-star role in 2018 as Joanna on Octavia Spencer’s TRUTH BE TOLD series for Apple TV +. Diana also wrote a pilot, SOLD, based on her award-winning short NIÑA QUEBRADA (writer/producer), which got her into the Producers Guild Power of Diversity Workshop in 2019. Through the workshop, SOLD was picked up by an Academy Award winning producer and has landed on a very prominent actress’s desk. During the workshop, Diana met fellow participant Delbert Whetter who introduced her to the organization RespectAbility, where he is a board member. Through RespectAbility, Romero has participated in panels focusing on working in entertainment as a person with a disability). She is honored to have been accepted to the 2020 RespectAbility Summer Lab Program. Romero has an MFA in producing from the American Film Institute and a BA from Columbia College Chicago. She also has a degree in Social Work from Whittier College.