Los Angeles, August 13 – When looking at who is working on a Hollywood set, there continues to be a lack of diversity, including the inclusion of disabled crew members. A group of seasoned industry professionals are aiming to change that. Jens Bishop from Remedy Health Media, Nicole Go from Staff Me Up, and Jonna McLaughlin and Stacey Kleiger of The Documentary Group recently spoke about the importance of hiring historically-excluded minorities like those with disabilities.
Speaking to the 30 participants of the RespectAbility Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities, Go said “diversity goes beyond gender and color.”
“People think of diversity as black and white and oftentimes what I’ve found is that disability gets left behind in the conversation,” Go added. “On my end, I try my best to bring representation to light. But I do hope that it is improving as we are all growing together in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.”
When applying for jobs in the film industry, visibility is of utmost importance. Panelists stressed the importance of utilizing platforms such as LinkedIn and Staff Me Up to connect potential talent with project managers who are looking for their unique skillset. Bishop suggested reaching out to new contacts through a “concise LinkedIn introduction.”
Each of the panelists said they are looking for candidates who show potential. Go added “team oriented and a good communicator” as assets while McLaughlin said, “commitment and mentee capable of growth.” Kleiger said that she uses a variety of staffing sites, including Brown Girls Doc Mafia and Women of Color Unite’s JTC List.
For a long time, Hollywood did not understand the value of including diverse backgrounds, but as the culture shifts, a door is opening for those of underrepresented backgrounds to tell their stories. “I’m very much a believer that your story is your gold, the experiences that you have in the story that you bring with you are really powerful and it can definitely be used to elevate you as a career professional,” explained Go.
When it comes to telling authentic stories, the lived experience becomes comparable to years of industry experience. “Hiring professionals from historically excluded backgrounds brings authenticity as well as an opportunity for mentorship because of a lack of experience,” added Bishop, whose organization’s goal is to elevate stories of chronic illness. “Industry experience cannot replace lived experience.”
Powerfully authentic stories are only successful when all the voices are heard. Kleiger, whose parents are deaf, stressed the importance of ensuring that the crew represents the story they are trying to tell. “It is important to hire people from historically excluded backgrounds that can add their own experience,” Go added.
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.