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Hollywood Inclusion

Newcomer Jeremy Hsing Sheds an Authentic Light on AAPI Intergenerational Mental Health Trauma in Iridescence

Iridescence film poster.Los Angeles, CA, January 13 – When filmmaker Jeremy Hsing set out to create his first short film in the wake of the pandemic, his goal was to create a film that amplified underrepresented voices and destigmatize mental health after a year of unprecedented hate toward the AAPI community. With a majority POC cast and crew combined with a tremendous labor of love, Hsing wrote, directed, and brought Iridescence to life.

Iridescence tells the story of a nuclear Chinese-American family. At the center is Christian, the teenaged son with anxiety who experiences his first panic attack after an argument with his father. As the events unfold, the audience learns that like Christian, his father also experiences anxiety, shedding light on the intergenerational mental health trauma often seen in first-generation AAPI families, yet rarely goes acknowledged. [continue reading…]

Ahead of Golden Globes, Shining a Spotlight on Disability-Inclusive Nominations

A golden globe statue next to a screen with the logo for Golden Globe Awards and text reading 2022 nominationsLos Angeles, Jan. 6 – While the Golden Globes will not air on television this year, it is important to note that several disability-inclusive films and television series have been nominated.

As the Hollywood Foreign Press Association continues to overhaul its bylaws, making changes addressing ethics and code of conduct, diversity, equity and inclusion, governance, and membership following criticism of the organization’s lack of diversity, this year’s program will showcase the organization’s philanthropy work. Grantees, including RespectAbility, have been invited to attend.

With one-in-four adults having a disability in the U.S. today, the lack of representation – just 3.5 percent of characters on TV and 2.3 percent on film  – means that millions of people are unable to see themselves in media today. This makes it so important that several of the nominations this year feature disabled individuals. This includes a focus on deaf and ASL representation with the nominations of “CODA” and “Only Murders in the Building.” [continue reading…]

Netflix’s “All the Light We Cannot See” Authentically Casts Newcomer Aria Mia Loberti

Aria Mia Loberti headshot

Aria Mia Lobreti as self in All the Light We Cannot See. Cr. Ryan Collerd/Netflix © 2021

Los Angeles, Dec. 9 – Following a a worldwide search for blind and low vision actresses, Aria Mia Loberti will make her acting debut in the bestselling Pulitzer Prize winning adaptation of “All the Light We Cannot See.”

Loberti will play Marie-Laure, a blind teenager, whose path collides with Werner, a German soldier, as they both try to survive the devastation of World War II in occupied France. While she has no formal acting training, she beat out thousands of submissions.

She also is an advocate for people with disabilities, especially those who, like she, are blind or low-vision. These efforts have taken her from her small Rhode Island hometown to global forums like the United Nations, UN Women, TEDx, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and beyond. [continue reading…]

Zeno Mountain Farm Wins Media Access Award for Groundbreaking Film “Best Summer Ever”

Rickey Alexander Wilson and Shannon DeVido singing in a scene from Best Summer Ever. Logo for the film.Los Angeles, Dec. 9 – Zeno Mountain Farm continues to welcome honors following the production of award-winning feature film Best Summer Ever, an inclusive musical featuring eight original songs and a fully-integrated cast and crew of people with and without disabilities. At the 2021 Media Access Awards last month, Zeno Mountain Farm won the SAG – AFTRA Disability Awareness Award, an annual award presented to an individual or organization for their work advancing the public awareness of the vast potential of disabled Americans.

The Media Access Awards honors people in the film and television industries who are advancing the accurate portrayals and employment of people with disabilities. This annual show, done in partnership with Easterseals Disability Services, honors entertainment industry professionals who have advanced authentic disability-related narratives and employment in fields of writing, producing, casting, performance, and directing. [continue reading…]

Spreading Awareness of CRPS Through CRPS Awareness Month

head shot of Lauren wearing an orange blazer, smiling and facing the camera color photo

Lauren Appelbaum

Los Angeles, Nov. 24 – In March 2018 I was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), now classified as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), which is a form of chronic pain that usually affects an arm or a leg. With just 200,000 people in the U.S. diagnosed with CRPS in the U.S., most people have not heard of CRPS, which is classified as a “rare disease” with no cure. Therefore, the month of November is CRPS Awareness month.

Since acquiring this disability, I have had the privilege of creating pipeline programming for nearly 100 other disabled individuals. During the 2021 RespectAbility Entertainment Lab for Disabled Entertainment Professionals, we were pleased to have award-winning independent film director and editor Jennifer Valdes as one of 30 Lab Fellows. Like me, Valdes is living with CRPS.

“I used to feel that living life with complex regional pain syndrome wasn’t a life worth living,” she said. “I devalued myself as a human. I felt ashamed of my disability. Disclosing it felt like I was revealing a big secret. I felt isolated and alone. Living with a disability is not the life I planned for, but It’s the only one that I have.” [continue reading…]

Celebrating Native American Heritage Month by Embracing Your Intersectional Identities

Los Angeles, Nov. 24 – November is Native American Heritage Month, or as it is commonly referred to, American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. It is important to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people, including those who also are members of the disability community.

Alaqua Cox smiling in a photo studio. Alaqua has a prosthetic leg.

Alaqua Cox

Actress Alaqua Cox exemplifies this intersection. Marvel Studios’ latest episodic series Hawkeye premiered November 24 on Disney+, featuring Cox as Maya Lopez, who is the second deaf character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In addition to being deaf and an amputee, Cox is Native American (Menominee and Mohican Nation).

“I believe kids deserve to see inclusivity and accurate representation,” Cox said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “It will make kids with all types of cultures and disabilities feel like our dreams can break free from limitations.”

RespectAbility’s Senior Entertainment Media Associate Tatiana Lee, who is a disabled woman of color with Native American heritage who also is an actress, international model and activist, pursued a career in the entertainment industry because she did not see herself reflected on screen. At RespectAbility, Lee is the lead consultant on various TV and film projects and conducts training for studios and production companies including NBCUniversal, Netflix, and The Walt Disney Company, and assists with RespectAbility’s Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities.

“I went through many struggles of sense of self and identity because I didn’t see myself represented,” Lee said. “You feel like an outcast, a unicorn, but sometimes not always in a good way. I try to embrace the unicorn thing, but other times it feels isolating.” [continue reading…]

Actor, Director, Professional Athlete, and RespectAbility Lab Alumnus Kurt Yaeger Uses His Platform on Netflix Series “Another Life” to Advocate for Authentic Disability Representation On-Screen

Kurt Yaeger and Tongayi Chirisa speak with each other in a hallway

Kurt Yaeger and Tongayi Chirisa in a scene from Another Life on Netflix

November 11, Los Angeles, CA – American actor, director and professional athlete Kurt Yaeger, who also happens to be a below-the-knee amputee, understands the importance of authentic casting and hiring disabled people within film & TV so we can continue the path of diversity and inclusion on the big screen.

Yaeger is known for his recurring role as ‘Greg the Peg’ on the FX crime drama series, Sons of Anarchy, as well as numerous other roles in popular TV shows such as NCIS: New Orleans, The Good Doctor, L.A.’s Finest, The Village and more. Currently, Yaeger portrays Dillon Conner in the futuristic sci-fi series Another Life, which recently launched its second season on Netflix.

Yaeger’s character, Dillon Conner, is not defined by his disability. Yet he is a very realistic depiction of a disabled individual – “portrayed as sexually attractive, fully capable and not hindered by his disability in any way.” [continue reading…]

New Documentary Film This is Not About Me Demonstrates Clear Need For Better Support of Non-Speaking Students in Today’s Educational Systems

Subject of Film Jordyn Zimmerman, Also Serves on RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers and Training Bureau

Jordyn Zimmerman smilingNew York City, Oct. 26 – Communication is an essential part of daily life. It’s how we express our needs, wants, feelings, and so much more. Unfortunately, many school systems currently lack the resources, knowledge, and awareness of how to fully support disabled students in their education journey when the students’ methods of communication do not align with society’s traditional views of how to communicate. A new documentary film titled This is Not About Me hopes to change this by sharing the story of Jordyn Zimmerman, a nonverbal autistic woman whose own education journey is filled with years of misunderstanding and a lack of support from her teachers. However, once Zimmerman finally received communication tools from her educators, she excelled at education and has since gone on to receive her bachelor’s degree in education Policy, and hopes to continue being a catalyst for change in today’s education system.

This Is Not About Me starts off by following Zimmerman as she wanders around her campus at Ohio University. Throughout the documentary, we gain insight into the obstacles that she faced in order to get there. Those who don’t know her story might assume her journey was easy. But that’s far from the truth. [continue reading…]

AMC Theaters to Offer Weekly Open Caption Showtimes

Exciting news from AMC Theatres, who will now permanently offer some Open Caption showtimes each week. According to its CEO Adam Aron, the showtimes with open captions will be well marked on AMC Theatres’ website and mobile app. These open captions will not only ensure that individuals who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing, but also those for whom English is a second language, to fully enjoy films in the theater.

“This comes from many conversations behind the scenes, and phenomenal advocacy from the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community and disability organizations like RespectAbility,” said deaf film executive Delbert Whetter, who also serves on RespectAbility’s board. “This never would have happened without the public’s tireless and relentless support for open captions screenings. Hopefully this sets a new standard for future theatrical exhibitions that paves the way for a superior, more inclusive and accessible moviegoing experience for everyone.”

More information with details on how this will work will be forthcoming soon, but this is taking place in time for the release of Eternals, in which Lauren Ridloff plays Marvel’s first Deaf superhero.

RespectAbility’s Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities Wraps Up Its Final Week in Conversation on Advocacy

RespectAbility Summer Lab participants recently had the opportunity to speak to experts in the field with lifetimes of experience interfacing their art and advocacyLos Angeles, Sept. 23 – Disability is deeply underrepresented in many industries including entertainment and media, where numbers dwindle far below the 20% participation that would truly reflect the world as it is. Regardless, TV and film have a power to incite social change, drawing in underrepresented creatives as they work to craft a better world. For many, this leaves them with two jobs – to excel at their art and to fight for access for themselves and their communities.

RespectAbility Summer Lab participants recently had the opportunity to speak to experts in the field with lifetimes of experience interfacing their art and advocacy: Leah Meyerhoff, a screenwriter, director, and Founder of Film Fatales; Marci Phillips, VP of Casting at ABC Entertainment; Megan Townsend, Director of Entertainment Research and Analysis at GLAAD; Noriko Louison, Senior Manager of Research and Curriculum at 9Story Media Group; and Victor Pineda, filmmaker and President of World Enabled, and one of RespectAbility’s own Board Members. [continue reading…]

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