Los Angeles, July 1 – As the first week of the 2021 RespectAbility Lab for Entertainment Professionals came to an end, Delbert Whetter shared his experience navigating the entertainment industry as a deaf executive.
During his address to the Lab participants, Whetter emphasized the importance of unapologetically showing up as disabled creative. “I realized that my deafness and my perspective have value. And all of your lived experiences as a disabled person have such importance and you need to bring that to the table.” Whetter urged the participants to see their individual disabilities as potential in helping them become successful in this industry.
Whetter shared how choosing to keep his disability separate from his work not only hurt his career but also the disability community. “I didn’t want my colleagues to see me as a deaf person. I wanted them to see me as a film executive.” Whetter deeply understands the importance of disability representation in entertainment and knows that the only way to create change is by making ourselves visible.
Whetter’s biggest piece of advice for his audience was:
“They [entertainment executives] need to see us or we won’t exist. We won’t exist in their decision-making process, we won’t exist in their creative choices and we will never come up.” But just by showing up, we are changing the culture.
Whetter came from a multi-generational deaf family but attended mainstream school for most of his education. Whetter received a law degree from George Washington University Law School and an MBA from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business. Whetter plays a large role at RespectAbility as a board member while also holding the positions of the Head of Business Affairs and the Chief Operating Officer for Exodus Film Group.
Since joining the entertainment industry, Whetter has worked on various projects like MGM’s Igor (2008), Magnolia Picture’s Hero of Color City (2014), and Cinedigm’s Bunyan and Babe (2017). Whetter’s most recent projects are Pierre the Pigeon-Hawk and Flash Before the Bang where he will be taking on the role of producer.
RespectAbility’s third annual Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities brings authentic and diverse portrayals of people with disabilities to the screen by creating a pipeline of diverse professionals with disabilities behind the camera. Participants include people with physical, cognitive, sensory, mental health and other disabilities ranging in age from people in their 20’s through their 50’s. Lab alumni from 2019 and 2020 currently work for a variety of studio partners including Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures and The Walt Disney Company, as well as in writers’ rooms for Netflix’s Mech Cadet, CW’s 4400 and Showtime’s Dexter, among others. Others have had films featured at festivals such as SXSW and participated in additional career track programs including with Film Independent and Sundance Institute.