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Hollywood Inclusion

Faith Strongheart Brings Compassion and Reflection in Her New Documentary “Faith Brings the Wild”

Faith Strongheart looking through a notebook with another woman in a behind-the-scenes still from her documentarySalt Lake City, March 23 – Faith Strongheart—writer, filmmaker, and 2020 RespectAbility Lab alumna—won the most recent NYWIFT Loreen Arbus Disability Awareness Grant for her deeply personal documentary Faith Brings the Wild. This grant supports a film that amplifies the voices of people with physical or developmental disabilities in the post-production phase. While Strongheart is still actively editing this film with her team, she shared the most recent cut of the film and talked with me about her experience creating it.

Strongheart focuses the camera on herself and her family to create a documentary that examines the dichotomy of growing up as a child during the hippie movement. A time often described as full of love, freedom, and drugs, but for the children, including Strongheart and her siblings, it was also a time full of parental neglect. Strongheart grew up on a farm without running water surrounded by many siblings, her mom, stepfather, and extended family. Through a series of intimate interviews with her family, it becomes clear that while the adults intended to create a magical space for their children to grow up in, they were not adept at parenting. [continue reading…]

2023 Academy Awards: Representation of ADHD and Down Syndrome Win Big

Los Angeles, March 16 – During Sunday’s Academy Awards, many firsts were celebrated in terms of diversity and inclusion, including disability representation. Best Picture Everything Everywhere All at Once showcases representation of ADHD, while writer/director Daniel Kwan, who also took home an award for directing, has ADHD himself. Best Live Action Short An Irish Goodbye features James Martin, an actor with Down syndrome. Also of note, RespectAbility Lab Alumna Courtney Wold served as the visual effects production manager for Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, which won Best Animated Feature.

Everything Everywhere All At Once Takes Viewers on a Journey Inside the Multiverses of a Neurodivergent Mind

Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu in Everything Everywhere All at OnceAs widely expected, Everything Everywhere All at Once took home numerous Oscars during this week’s ceremony. A neurodivergent audience member watching Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) may pick up on the fact that she has undiagnosed ADHD. Daniel Kwan, one-half of the writer/director team “Daniels,” confirmed this in various interviews. Kwan set out to write a lead character with undiagnosed ADHD, which he felt would add to the external and internal chaos in the film. Through his research of ADHD traits, Kwan felt a sense of familiarity and ended up getting diagnosed with ADHD himself. Turns out, Kwan was subconsciously pulling from his own lived disability experience. [continue reading…]

Firebuds: “All That Jazzy” Features Intersectionality in Disability Representation

a scene from "All That Jazzy" where Piper and Jazzy talk with Ayanna and Gliderbella.Los Angeles, March 15 – With one-in-five people having a disability in the U.S., the lack of representation – less than one percent in children’s television – means that millions of children are unable to see themselves in media today. Furthermore, when representation exists, a great deal of disability representation on screen is of white males. Disney Junior’s Firebuds, however, explores the diversity missing from disability representation.

Set in a fantastical world where talking vehicles live, work, and play with the humans who drive them, “All That Jazzy” follows the eponymous character (Lauren “Lolo” Spencer), a young Black girl with spina bifida, whose “vroom-mate” is wheelchair car Piper (Sammi Haney). After watching a dance performance starring Ayanna (Tatiana Lee) and Gliderbella (Ali Stroker), Jazzy is inspired to become a lead dancer, too.

Firebuds is such an amazing series to be part of. In order to build inclusivity and normalize the diversity in our world, we have to start by teaching our children,” Spencer said. “Playing a character like ‘Jazzy’ and having characters like ‘Castor’ [a vroom-mate with a cleft hood] who reflect the differences of real people and show the importance of embracing others regardless of those differences, is truly an honor. I’m grateful that I can help spread such an important message.” [continue reading…]

Creed III Shows Authentic Black Deaf Representation on Screen

a still from CREED III with Mila Davis-Kent cheering for Michael B. Jordan after a fight as he kisses Tessa Thompson.Los Angeles, March 9 – On the evening of February 27, Creed lll had its world premiere at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, CA. Without getting into too many details on the movie (because nobody likes spoilers!), if you haven’t seen the movie, what are you waiting for?

Creed III is one of the best films that I have seen in a while in the theater, and I am not the only one to feel this way – Creed III made box office history last weekend as the highest grossing sports film opening weekend in history. The fight scenes were incredible and, combined with its special effects (there is an especially powerful moment during the final climactic fight that is reminiscent of scenes from Anime films), made for a mind-blowing moviegoing experience. The film was very well written by co-writers Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin, and produced by Ryan Coogler (director of Black Panther & Wakanda Forever). Moreover, Creed III happens to be Michael B Jordan’s directing debut. All the credit goes to him, his team, and the amazing cast that include Jonathan Majors, Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Florian Munteanu, and Phylicia Rashad. Most importantly, he elevated Black Deaf representation to another level with the amazingly talented Mila Davis-Kent, who plays Amara Creed, the daughter of Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan).

What hit me hard watching Creed III was the opening scene with Amara. When she first appears early in the film, the first thing you see is beautiful Black Deaf representation on a gigantic screen. How often do you get to see that on the big screen in the theater? It is such a huge deal in the Deaf community, especially within the Black Deaf community, to finally have someone on the screen that they can relate to and have a role model that youth can look up to. It was amazing how Michael B Jordan depicted ASL (American Sign Language) authentically and seamlessly on the screen demonstrating, in various ways, unique cultural nuances of the Black Deaf community in South Los Angeles. [continue reading…]

Aleeya: A Love Story within a Larger Conversation about Trans Women in India

A scene from Aleeya with Aleeya running down a street with a man running after herSalt Lake City, Feb 23 – Aleeya, written and directed by RespectAbility Lab Alum Nina Mahesh (she/her), follows a trans woman in small-town India as she tries to buy a sewing machine for her boyfriend. This short film is both a simple love story and an intricate depiction of how trans women are treated in India. Over and over again, Aleeya, played impeccably by Nithu Rs, is either objectified or completely ignored by the people around her. Even the man she is trying to buy the sewing machine from won’t look up from his newspaper to engage.

In a conversation with Mahesh around the film, she remembered back to her yearly trips to India as a child where she would be ushered away from trans women coming up looking for change. Mahesh didn’t understand why these women were treated so poorly both in this one area as well as globally. As she got older and learned more about the community of these women, she wanted to see more positive representation. More specifically, as a narrative filmmaker, Mahesh said, “I didn’t see a lot of other things than documentaries [about these women]” and decided to make a narrative piece about them. [continue reading…]

“Supreme Models” Review: A Celebration of Trailblazing Black Models

Supreme Models is an amazing series that pays tribute to the trailblazing Black models who changed the fashion industry forever. Through heartfelt interviews that reintroduce iconic models like Donyale Luna and Pat Cleveland, viewers get a glimpse into what it took for them to break through the oppressive culture of racism and colorism in the 1960s.

Based on the book by Marsellas Reynolds, Supreme Models is a YouTube Originals docuseries from Vogue and The Machine that spills the tea on the fashion industry, from the Battle of Versailles to the unspoken “Blackout” that attempted to erase black models from the runway. Through a unique combination of archival footage and contemporary interviews, Supreme Models takes viewers on a journey through history as we explore how African American women revolutionized these industries.

RespectAbility Lab Alumna Nasreen Alkhateeb was the Director of Photography for the series, and she shared what it was like on set in real-time with these iconic women in history. “It felt so empowering to learn about my black history in a way that I had not before, and for it to be told by the people who actually experienced it.” Hearing the models talk firsthand about the embedded racism in the industry, Alkhateeb says the series sets up the foundation on which history was built and sheds light on how white supremacy worked in the fashion and entertainment industry. “You can’t build a future without knowing your history.” [continue reading…]

Fun and Suspenseful “Quick Trip” Shows Filmmaker Erika Ellis’s Potential

Quick Trip poster featuring a knife and a yellow mask on the back seat in a carErika Ellis is the multifaceted creative behind the short film Quick Trip. It is clear that Ellis has fun with her craft as she uses a unique sense of humor in her work. Ellis’s characters feel colorful and grounded in reality. These are people you would run into in day-to-day life, which is part of the appeal of her work.

In Quick Trip, Ellis takes on different roles as a writer and director of a three-minute thriller that ends in a sharp plot twist. A woman finds herself in danger after returning home from a quick trip to the pharmacy. We follow the main character’s drive to her home, and the slow pace is great at building suspense and curiosity. It’s also interesting to see such a scary threat in a mundane location, like a parking lot. It reminds us that this situation can happen to anyone.

Quick Trip was the product of a veteran-produced films contest at Amazon Prime. An independent producer, Ellis is passionate about advocating for artistic opportunities for other veterans. This initiative not only gives veterans a chance to make work but also gives us all the opportunity to see a new perspective within the filmmaking industry.

Ellis boasts a life full of different experiences. A veteran, after a long military career in aviation, Ellis worked in finance and in NYC’s bustling fashion scene. She is currently working in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles and writes features as well as TV pilots. After graduating from RespectAbility’s Entertainment Lab, Ellis has shown a commitment to authentic representation in her work and one can catch a glimpse of her commitment to original stories within this film.

Watch Quick Trip at Amazon Prime.

Magic Pavement: “The Crossroad” Short Film Review

Poster for The Crossroad, a film by Nikki Bailey, with a black woman holding her hands together like she's praying.Hard pavement blocks and dark satin silhouettes of city streets: Writer-Director Nikki Bailey’s Short, The Crossroad, starts somewhere in reality and ends exactly when any remnants of it cease to exist. For Bailey’s magical realism short, the story surrounds a mother who makes a bargain with a Satanic figure, “The Tall Man,” to ensure the survival of her unborn child. Bailey’s protagonist must promise her own soul to “The Tall Man” or face the eminent death of her baby.

The film feels like you’re being spooned by death. Bailey seems to ask the audience to cozy up to the inevitable and sit with her characters’ despair throughout much of the story. The pinnacle of that despair is when Bailey’s protagonist dies – after her daughter, the one saved by the original bargain, denies a second deal with “The Tall Man.” The cost of the deal, for the daughter, seemed too great of a burden. After all, the soul of her mother was ascertained from that kind of deal, why would the daughter engage with it again?

Though there are limits to what Bailey can show in a fourteen-minute film, the possibilities of this imaginative story leave the audience wanting more. The most ordinary of streets, for Bailey, can be the genesis for something unsettling and completely magical.

Watch The Crossroad on YouTube.

Oreo: Four Women’s Stories Exploring Black Identity and Nonconformity

Oreo explores identity and nonconformity through four different black women’s experiences. The short film centers around the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” It looks at black identity through religion, class, race, and culture, and does so while bending genres with moments of dark comedy and surrealism. Cashmere Jasmine, disabled writer, director and RespectAbility Lab 2021 alum, strings together these four stories to create a complex and compelling conversation around identity and feeling rejected.

It opens with Jennifer (Ria Ridley) realizing she got her Black Card revoked and has to call the Black Bank of America to confirm her identity through a series of questions about the culture. She eventually loses her card when the “bank tellers” hear her country music in the background. This hilarious satire lays the groundwork for the rest of the short film and does so brilliantly. [continue reading…]

Cooptation: Using Horror to Comment on Colorism

Cooptation film poster with a bloody knife next to beauty products and flowers in a vase. Tagline: "Beauty is deadly."RespectAbility 2021 Lab Alumna and Unstoppable Film Festival Founder Juliet Romeo’s short film Cooptation follows a young African American woman determined to fit into society’s beauty standards by using a new beauty product with deadly consequences. 

Cooptation’s opening credits are filled with melancholic shots of night life as we hear the hauntingly beautiful song “I’ll Understand” by Roza.

The music then changes to a more upbeat coffee shop tune as we see an African American beauty brand ambassador named Dove putting red lipstick on in front of a mirror. She is in the middle of a FaceTime call with her best friend Opal, when she talks about a new skin serum called “Snow White” that she’s been trying out. “Snow White” is branded as a solution to fading away all your dark spots.

Opal voices her reservation towards Dove using the product, saying that it doesn’t “sound Black-owned or operated,” but her concerns are quickly brushed off. Opal champions Dove’s appearance, saying that her natural beauty and intelligence is radiant enough, and doesn’t need any beauty product to blemish it. [continue reading…]

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