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Hollywood Inclusion

Danny Gomez: Fighting for Authentic Casting in Hollywood

Gomez to Receive Christopher Reeve Acting Scholarship at Media Access Awards on November 19

Danny Gomez smiling headshot wearing a black shirt in front of a black backdropLos Angeles, California, Nov. 18 – Danny J. Gomez, an actor, model and advocate for authentic casting in Hollywood, will be awarded the Christopher Reeve Acting Scholarship at the 2020 Media Access Awards. In partnership with Easterseals Southern California, the Media Access Awards is an annual ceremony that honors media and entertainment trailblazers advancing disability awareness and inclusion. Previous recipients of the Christopher Reeve Scholarship include Lauren “Lolo” Spencer and RespectAbility’s Hollywood Inclusion Associate Tatiana Lee.

Gomez receiving this scholarship will be a full circle moment, as he credits the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge for helping to kick-start his acting career, starring in Check Mate in 2018 and in I/O in 2019. [continue reading…]

Limb Differences Are Not Something to Be Afraid Of

Anne Hathaway in The WitchesA new Warner Bros. film “The Witches” is coming under fire for its depiction of a villain who has “split hands,” perpetuating harmful stereotypes against people with limb differences. Unfortunately, this is a stereotype that has existed in films for decades and leads to people being afraid of those who look different from them.

“The decision to make this witch look scarier by having a limb difference – which was not an original part of the plot – has real life consequences,” said RespectAbility’s Vice President, Communications, Lauren Appelbaum, who regularly advocates for more authentic portrayals of disability on screen as well as hiring of people with disabilities behind the camera to ensure mistakes like these do not occur. “Unfortunately, this representation in ‘The Witches’ teaches kids that limb differences are hideous or something to be afraid of. What type of message does this send to children with limb differences?” [continue reading…]

Californians with Disabilities Release New PSA Calling for Equal Employment Opportunities

Los Angeles, California, Oct. 15 – As a new California law again leaves out people with disabilities, a new PSA featuring Californians with disabilities shows the value of inclusion.

On September 30, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a first-in-the-country mandate that will require boards of publicly traded companies headquartered in California to have at least one director of diverse background by 2021. The bill identifies race, ethnicity, and 11 other categories of diversity, but does not include disability.

“While we in the disability community applaud every facet of diversity, we believe that disability is a critical ‘underrepresented community’ missed by the law,” said Matan Koch, the California Director of the disability nonprofit RespectAbility. “Moreover, we are concerned that companies will potentially opt for tokenism instead of building truly inclusive organizations that value all aspects of intersectional identity equally. Successful diversity and inclusion work is not a ‘one and done’ hire or appointment. It requires a hard look at the sins of the past, while committing to the culture and systems change that create a better future for all of us. Indeed, communities, companies and nonprofit organizations are at their best when they welcome, respect and include people of all backgrounds. This includes people of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and identities as well as people with disabilities, who might also have any of these other identities as well.” [continue reading…]

Annenberg Study Shows Significant Increase of Leads/co-Leads with Disabilities in Top-Grossing Films

“Disability inclusion is win-win for studios – driving equity and profitability”

Los Angeles, California, Sept. 24 – A new study has found there has been a significant increase in the number of leads/co-leads with disabilities in the 100 top-grossing films of 2019. Indeed, a total of 19 films featured a lead or co-lead character with a disability, which is a significant increase from both 2018 (9 films) and 2015 (10 films), according to the study by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, which has examined the top 1,300 films between 2007 and 2019. Furthermore, more than 40% of these disabled leads were female-identified. Eleven of these leads were boys/men and eight were girls/women. However, just four were from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group and only one showcased a leading disabled character from the LGBTQ+ community, leaving a lot of room for additional improvement.

“Disability inclusion is a win-win for studios – driving equity and profitability,” said Lauren Appelbaum, who leads RespectAbility’s Hollywood Inclusion efforts as the organization’s Vice President of Communications and author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit. “As 1-in-5 people have a disability and audiences crave authentic content, disability inclusion can be a part of box office success and profitability. However, while this increase in lead characters with disabilities should be celebrated, the overall percentage of disabled characters is dismal. In fact, the difference between the percentage of speaking characters with disabilities and reality in the U.S. population is the largest difference in the inclusion crisis in film, at 24.9% (27.2% of U.S. population versus 2.3% of speaking characters).”

There has been no meaningful change in the percentage of speaking characters with disabilities in these top-grossing films in the past five years. Just 2.3% of the 4,451 characters analyzed in the 100 top-grossing films of 2019 have a disability. When the Annenberg study began tracking disability five years ago, it found 2.4% of speaking characters had disabilities in 2015, staying fairly consistent at 2.7% in 2016 and 2.5% in 2017. In 2018, this percentage dropped to 1.6% and the 2019 number of 2.3%, while a growth from the previous year, is still lower than 2015-2017.

“Including characters with disabilities does not happen by accident,” Appelbaum added. “What we see on screen influences how we act in real life, but that is dependent on filmmakers choosing to include individuals with disabilities in diverse and accurate portrayals. Thus, when just 2.3 percent of the 100 top-grossing films include speaking characters with disabilities, the disability community is pretty much erased on screen. When filmmakers choose to include characters with disabilities, they can help to remove the stigmas that currently exist about interacting with individuals with disabilities.” [continue reading…]

Disney Channel’s Big City Greens Showcases Authentic ASL Representation

Los Angeles, California, Sept. 18 – A new episode of Disney Channel’s Emmy Award-nominated series Big City Greens is breaking barriers when it comes to ensuring authentic deaf representation. In the “Quiet Please” episode, the Green family visits the city library hoping to find a book that will spark Cricket’s interest in reading, but they quickly run afoul of a strict, eerie librarian. Determined to keep the library a quiet place, she threatens to throw them out if they make any sound. Cricket’s sister Tilly notices two deaf library patrons communicating via ASL, giving her the idea that her family can communicate in the same way. While Tilly is the only family member to know ASL, they use that as inspiration to communicate through charades-like hand gestures. [continue reading…]

Netflix’s All Together Now Features Authentic Multi-Dimensional Disabled Characters

Los Angeles, California, Sept. 17 – A new film recently premiered on Netflix that is very intentional about meaningful representation and authentic casting. All Together Now features Anthony Jacques, who is on the Autism spectrum and Gerald Isaac Waters, who uses a wheelchair. Both Jacques and Waters’ characters are multi-dimensional and not defined by their disabilities.

“As an actor with a disability, we get a lot of roles where the role itself is involved with the disability,” said Waters, who plays Chad, and uses a wheelchair on screen and in real life for mobility. “To have one come by where he just so happened to be in the chair, I thought that was really great. It’s really important to see we can do any role and it doesn’t have to be completely circled around our disability.”

Waters’ character Chad is part of the lead character Amber Appleton (Auli’i Cravalho)’s group of friends. Cravalho herself has publicly talked about seeing mental health professionals. The film also portrays the topics of mental health, alcoholism and experiencing homelessness, as Amber and her mother find themselves living in a school bus. Nearly 4.2 million youths and young adults experience homelessness each year but it is not often portrayed in family and teen content. [continue reading…]

The Academy’s New Initiative Elevates Disability Inclusion

Initiative Highlights Importance of Behind the Camera and Development of Talent Pipeline

RespectAbility congratulates The Academy for their diversity and inclusion initiative. This has the potential to bring about some real change in the entertainment industry. We are especially pleased to see people with disabilities included, as too often disability is not included in diversity conversations.

It is important, however, to ensure that the narrative is good. It’s not enough to just be included – we have to be included in an authentic way. And by having one its categories focus on behind the camera roles, this initiative has an opportunity to prevent this – by truly hiring people with disabilities behind the camera in an inclusive way. This presents a huge opportunity to tell diverse, complex stories of the disability experience, and avoid falling into the trap of inspiration porn, which assumes that anyone with a disability must have it so much worse, and uses people with disabilities to make nondisabled people feel good about themselves or to make them do something, like exercise.
[continue reading…]

“Madagascar: A Little Wild” Takes Deaf Representation to the Next Level

Authentic Portrayal of Deaf Chimpanzee Sibling Throughout Entire Series

Los Angeles, California, Sept. 8 – The lovable foursome Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo return to our screens once again in Madagascar: A Little Wild, this time as kids residing in their rescue habitat at the Central Park Zoo. Two additional characters in this series, Dave and Pickles, however, deserve attention. Chimpanzee siblings Dave and Pickles are breaking barriers and are part of a movement changing the landscape of disability representation in children’s television and streaming content. [continue reading…]

DreamWorks’ “Spirit Riding Free: Riding Academy” to Feature Character Who Uses a Wheelchair

animated female character seated in a wheelchair next to a horseLos Angeles, California, Sept. 3 – With one-in-five people having a disability in the U.S. today, the lack of representation – just 3.1 percent on screen and even less in children’s television (less than one percent) – means that millions of people are unable to see themselves in media today. DreamWorks Animation and voice actress Cassidy Huff, who has Conradi-Hunermann syndrome, is helping to change this statistic.

“The reality is, the disability community is facing extreme underrepresentation in this industry and it’s time to change that,” Huff said in an interview with RespectAbility. “In order for disability to be normalized in society, we have to start by introducing it to the youngest ones in this generation and letting them ask questions!”

Spirit Riding Free: Riding Academy’s Season 2 premiere introduces a new character who uses a wheelchair and voiced by Huff, a part-time wheelchair user. While Huff has a variety of disabilities, she does not want to be defined by them.

“I’d like to just be an actress without a label,” she said. “I want to be able to work in an industry where disability isn’t the only thing people see about me or the characters I portray.”

animated female characters racing on their horses - including one who has a strap keeping her inThis animated series features Lucky and her horse Spirit while she embarks on adventures with her friends while living and learning at the prestigious Palomino Bluffs Riding Academy. In the Season 2 premiere, Lucky gets a run for her money when she meets a new addition to the academy: Eleanor, a horseback rider who uses a wheelchair. I had the pleasure of talking with Huff, the actress behind the voice of Eleanor, about playing this role.

[continue reading…]

“Love on the Spectrum:” What the Show Got Right & Where it Can Improve

cast of Love on the Spectrum dressed up in gowns and suits, posing for the picture

Cast of Love on the Spectrum

Rhode Island, Sept. 3 – I recently was asked to watch Love on the Spectrum on Netflix, and share my honest opinion of the series. I was nervous because I am on the spectrum. The show was described to me as a “reality show.” I worried it might sensationalize, inadvertently or even deliberately, poke fun at autistic behavioral quirks to get laughs from a neurotypical, (not autistic), audience. I was glad that wasn’t the case.

People on the autism spectrum struggle with non-verbal communication and social cues, which can make even finding friends hard. So, the added level of romantic love and dating can be extremely complex, challenging, and stressful. While there are many laughs in the show, the laughs are with, not at, the autistic young adults trying to find love.

The Australian show creators prefer the term “documentary,” and I agree. This show is far from the fights and cattiness of other dating or unscripted shows such as The Bachelor, Dance Moms, or Survivor. As multiple reviews in The Guardian, Boston Herald, and CNN mentioned, Love on the Spectrum is filled with empathy and love – both romantic, familial, friendly, and even supporting love from the director, Cian O’Cleary, and the crew.

During the five episodes, the show follows seven young autistic singles, most of whom are just beginning to navigate the dating landscape, in addition to meeting two already established relationships. Viewers are given a short intro to the match’s likes and dislikes before the date. The “daters,” as they are called, are set up on curated blind dates, in addition to sometimes attending dating events for disabled people. The show interviews the participants, asking them questions such as, “what’s your ideal relationship?” or “how do you think that date went?” [continue reading…]

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