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“So You Wanna Be an Actor” Short Film Challenges Disability Tropes in Entertainment 

Los Angeles, April 1 – The theme of this year’s Easterseals Disability Film Challenge was “mockumentary,” and RespectAbility 2020 Summer Lab alumna Rachel Handler and Catriona Rubenis-Stevens’s comedic satire balanced with an inspired message truly champions their short film, So You Wanna Be an Actor, as a vehicle to promote authentic disability inclusion in entertainment. As director, writer, producer and lead actress of the film, Handler’s creative direction helped her filmmaking team highlight how limiting the casting process in Hollywood can often be for people with disabilities, all in under five minutes.

During one of the film’s opening scenes, the camera angle is focused only on a prosthetic leg of an aspiring young actress, to which this rising star responds, “Hey, my eyes are up here.” Not only is this a hilarious juxtaposition of dialogue because of the phrase’s more adult connotations, it also is a satirical metaphor that shows how cinematic objectification is truly intersectional and isn’t exclusive to sexualization.

After finding out the “mockumentary” theme of the challenge, Handler knew that she wanted to make a spoof of what being an actor with disabilities looks, sounds, and feels like in 2021.

“I’m drawn to quirky comedies, but we rarely see people with disabilities in anything but dramas,” Handler told RespectAbility. “I hope my film will show how ridiculous these stereotypes are and how much more the disability community has to offer in the entertainment industry.”

So You Wanna Be an Actor is full of moments like this where amidst the audience’s laughter and smiles are important moments of deconstructed stereotypes and assumptions of the industry. The film also illustrates the common and unfortunate learning curve of new talent with disabilities entering the entertainment industry, as they find a limited number of opportunities for their acting career. However, this plot thickens, most importantly, toward a larger (un)learning curve of a seasoned actor with disabilities who discovers her worth on screen, along with a need for equal representation.

Handler’s 2020 documentary film, How Much Am I Worth? which recently screened at 2021 Slamdance Film Festival, highlighted the struggles people with disabilities have with health insurance due to a system that profits off of those with disabilities. This film won the social awareness campaign in the 2020 film challenge.

Through April 5, audiences are asked to like, share or comment on the 2021 films entered in the competition to spread awareness. Finalists will be announced on April 29, and a virtual awards ceremony will be held on May 6.

Meet the Author

Kelley Cape

Kelley Cape has spent her professional and academic career galvanizing inclusive cultures everywhere she goes. She previously joined USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative as a research assistant.

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