“For years the industry has talked about diversity and inclusion and representation, and every single time we have been left out of the conversation…and that time is over.” – Steve Way
Los Angeles, July 8 – Steve Way is a substitute teacher by day and a stand-up comedian by night in the New York and New Jersey areas. He also stars in the webseries, Uplifting Dystrophy and is a cast member of the renewed Hulu series Ramy, a show that was co-created by Way’s real-life collaborator and friend, Ramy Youssef. Recently, Way spoke to RespectAbility’s 2021 Lab participants, and shared some insightful observations and advice that he has acquired during his journey in the entertainment industry.
Youssef and Way began their early entry to the entertainment industry together in a TV and broadcasting high school course, where the two were exposed to the resources needed to produce at an advanced level. As their projects elevated in quality and in audience, Youssef’s inclusion of Way in the script and eventual casting in Ramy was only natural. Against the instinct of Youssef’s co-creators, Way’s audition to play the role of himself in the series was undeniably euphoric.
Viewers often assume playing “the hero” or “the nice guy” must be the most fun and fulfilling; however, Way notes that, “it is nice to have the opportunity to get out of that trope of being the tool for inspiration,” about his role in Ramy. His character, of whom is a heightened version of his real self, is direct, unapologetic, and rough around the edges. Though it doesn’t have the glamour of a hero’s journey, viewers are now able to see that people with disabilities do not have to be objectified for society’s inspiration.
As he continues to grow in his career, Way understands the importance of intersectionality in inclusive productions, reflecting that, “while it was very hard for me to get where I am, it is even harder for more marginalized voices than me.” The disabled identity, compounded across diverse racial, gender, religious, and sexual orientation equities, can make access to entertainment opportunities that much more challenging.
Way stressed how easy authentic entertainment can be. He interestingly points out the juxtaposition of the socially acceptable celebrity on-set requests, versus the stigmatized accommodation requests of people with disabilities. “If they can do one, and not the other, then they’re just showing their ignorance. Because if they want the best product possible, then they’re going to give me everything that I need.” Representation in entertainment changes lives, and, because of this power of diversity, Way said, “I really encourage everyone to just go out and do whatever they want. Don’t put yourself in a box.”
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.