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Hollywood Inclusion

Physical Disabilities Take the Rare Spotlight on Broadway

Individual photos of Ali Stroker on the red carpet, John McGinty in character on stage in HUNCHBACK, and Russell Harvard signing something in front of a curtainNew York City, April 19 – To quote the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton: “History is happening in New York!” This season, Broadway has expanded its diversity to not just race or sexual orientation, but also disability.

After making their Broadway debuts in the 2015 revival of Spring Awakening (alongside Academy Award winner Marlee Matilin – who is deaf), Ali Stroker (Glee) and Russell Harvard (Fargo, Switched at Birth) return to Broadway this spring in Oklahoma and King Lear. Joining Harvard is John McGinty (The First Purge, Wonderstruck), who made his Broadway debut in 2017 in Children of a Lesser God. [continue reading…]

“Little Chef Ivy” Continues to Break Barriers as MasterChef Franchise Gives Chefs with Disabilities Opportunities to Showcase Their Skills

Ivy wearing her MasterChef Junior Jacket, smiling in front of a plain purple wallLos Angeles, California, April 18 – Halfway through the seventh season of MasterChef Junior, some of the contestants are proving they are worthy contenders. One such young chef is 11-year-old Ivy, a Little Person who has achondroplasia, which causes an average sized torso with short limbs due to the lack of cartilage formation.

The season began with 24 children between the ages of eight and 13 who are competing for the title of Masterchef Junior and $100,000 in prize money. With just 12 contestants remaining, “Little Chef Ivy” continues to show the judges her exceptional cooking skills. Armed with her signature style – long braids topped with a fedora hat – Ivy is treated just like the other contestants, as she should be.

“You can do it!” Ivy has said. “If you put your mind to it, anything can happen, but also know your limits and that’s ok.” [continue reading…]

SXSW Highlights Different Disabilities on Screen

Austin, Texas, April 17 – This year’s 26th annual SXSW (South By Southwest) included films that contain stories and themes about disabilities in documentary and in fiction.

“Including characters with a visible disability in a film does not happen by accident and neither does a film festival like SXSW ensuring that films with disability themes are given this important platform to launch,” said Lauren Appelbaum, who leads RespectAbility’s Hollywood Inclusion efforts as the organization’s vice president, communications. “What we see on screen influences how we act in real life. Thus, when filmmakers make the decision to include individuals with visible disabilities in positive and accurate portrayals, they can help to remove the stigmas that currently exist about interacting with individuals with disabilities.” [continue reading…]

Tatiana Lee’s Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Entry Head Trip Challenges Virtual Reality Experiences

Los Angeles, California, April 15 – Tatiana Lee has been working on improving representation of disabilities in media for years through acting, modeling, blogging, and activism. Her latest project is a new short film called Head Trip, filmed and edited in one weekend as an entry for the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. The competition gives filmmakers — with and without disabilities — the opportunity to collaborate to tell unique stories that showcase disability in its many forms.

In Head Trip, Lee plays Zarah, who along with her friend Lex (Darrien London), bites off more than she can chew when playing a newly released virtual reality experience. Lee previously participated in the Disability Film Challenge in 2018 with a short film called Footloose, which won the award for Best Awareness Campaign.

This year was special for Lee because it was the first time she did her own project with her sister, Alice Felder, who directed the short film. “I’m glad I could do this with my family,” said Lee. [continue reading…]

Emily Kranking’s Directorial Debut Saylor and Selena Explores Relationship Between Friends, Including One with Autism

Rockville, Maryland, April 15 – Emily Kranking has had an interest in filmmaking since she was a child. The Easterseals Disability Film Challenge gave her the opportunity to make her directing and writing debut. Her film, Saylor and Selena, tells the story of Saylor (Aidan), a girl with autism, and Selena (Addison), her imaginary friend – an alien, who is seeing Earth the first time.

The weekend-long competition gives filmmakers — with and without disabilities — the opportunity to collaborate to tell unique stories that showcase disability in its many forms. Kranking, an actress with hemiplegia cerebral palsy known for The Homecoming: A Musical (Nancy), was excited for the opportunity to challenge herself.

“Easterseals Disability Film Challenge showed me that you don’t need to be a professional to make movies,” she said. “It has really inspired me to write more short scripts and stories about characters with disabilities.” [continue reading…]

More Than One-Third of LGBTQ+ Adults Have a Disability: Netflix’s Special Paves the Way for a More Inclusive Future

Los Angeles, California, April 12 – Today’s release of Netflix’s new series Special is earning widespread praise for its authentic depiction of gay disabled life. People who are LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities has been severely underrepresented in the media and the fact that the show’s creator, Ryan O’Connell, is a gay man with cerebral palsy is a reason to celebrate.

“Shows like Special are, pardon the pun, special. But they shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be so unusual to see someone with a disability who is also gay on screen, because there are plenty of people with disabilities in the LGBTQ+ community,” said Eric Ascher, RespectAbility’s Communications Associate who is both openly gay and on the autism spectrum.

[continue reading…]

BroadwayCon Puts the Spotlight on People with Disabilities

Broadway fans across the world traveled to dust off their tap shoes, put on their favorite costumes and sing along with their favorite show tunes with their Broadway idols for the annul BroadwayCon in January.

The panels were diverse as different panelists talked about actors, choreographers and playwrights—all with different ethnicities and gender orientations. Fortunately, people with disabilities were put on center stage on two panels about the importance of website accessibility and casting actors with disabilities. [continue reading…]

Through Sound Design and Music, Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements Creates Sensory Experience For All

Film will be shown at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan’s ReelAbilities Film Festival in New York on April 2, 2019

Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements is a film starring individuals who are deaf, but do not call it a film just for people who are deaf. A breakout film appealing to a general audience, Moonlight Sonata explores in a sensory way how a deaf person experiences the world through sound design and music. Overall, the film, which premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, is a celebration of family.

A deeply personal portrait of three lives, Moonlight Sonata chronicles the discoveries that lie beyond loss: a deaf boy growing up, his deaf grandfather growing old, and Beethoven the year he was blindsided by deafness and wrote his iconic sonata.

Director and Producer Irene Taylor Brodsky entered into a development deal with HBO in 2007 and began creating assets. When Jonas, her young son who is deaf and an excellent pianist, wanted to learn the Moonlight Sonata, Brodsky realized she had her film’s narrative: “Beethoven’s loss and Jonas’ loss and what they gained from their deafness.”

“Their imperfection becomes their greatest asset,” Brodsky asserted. [continue reading…]

RespectAbility Statement on Lupita Nyong’o’s Heartfelt Apology

We appreciate Lupita Nyong’o’s heartfelt apology. We’re all on a learning journey to be sensitive to all marginalized communities whether it be race, gender, sexual orientation / gender identity, disability, religion or anything else. ‘Us’ – especially with Lupita Nyong’o as the lead and Jordan Peele as the writer/director – is opening up doors, and breaking glass ceilings for people of color and is a massive advancement for Hollywood as a whole. We hope Nyong’o will use this experience to continue lifting up all marginalized groups including the 1-in-5 people who live with disabilities. In general, the Hollywood practice of using disability primarily to villainize people or to show them as objects of pity needs to end.

During an appearance on The View Thursday, Lupita Nyong’o further explained the development of her character Red and apologized to anyone she offended: “I met with people as part of my exploration with the condition, and I learned how difficult it is to have the disorder. So I am very aware of the frustrations and misconceptions and the misdiagnosis… I thought in speaking about it and mentioning it, it might shed light on the condition.

“It’s a very marginal group of people who suffer from this. The thought that I would offend them was not my intention. In my mind, I wasn’t interested in vilifying or demonizing the condition. I crafted Red with love and care. As much as it was in a genre-specific world, I really wanted to ground her in something that felt real. For all that, I say sorry to anyone that I may have offended.”

RespectAbility deeply appreciates this apology.

Film “Us” Portrays People with Disabilities as Evil, Furthering Stigmas

UPDATE (March 28): During an appearance on The View Thursday, Nyong’o further explained the development of her character Red and apologized to anyone who she may have offended: “I met with people as part of my exploration with the condition, and I learned how difficult it is to have the disorder. So I am very aware of the frustrations and misconceptions and the misdiagnosis… I thought in speaking about it and mentioning it, it might shed light on the condition.

“It’s a very marginal group of people who suffer from this. The thought that I would offend them was not my intention. In my mind, I wasn’t interested in vilifying or demonizing the condition. I crafted Red with love and care. As much as it was in a genre-specific world, I really wanted to ground her in something that felt real. For all that, I say sorry to anyone that I may have offended.”

RespectAbility deeply appreciates this apology and understands that sensitivity to all people can take a learning journey.

Poster for the movie Us

March 27 – Playing two roles in Jordan Peele’s new horror film, Us, Lupita Nyong’o used a disability to create the “creepy voice” for Adelaide Wilson’s doppelgänger.

“I was inspired by the condition spasmodic dysphonia,” Nyong’o said in an interview with Variety. “It creates this spasming in your vocal chords that leads to an irregular flow of air.”

RespectAbility, a national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, recognizes it is important to spread the word about different disabilities and conditions. However, said its president, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, “connecting disabilities to characters who are evil further marginalizes people with disabilities who also have significant abilities and want to contribute to their communities just like anyone else.” [continue reading…]

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