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Hollywood Inclusion

“Taco Tuesday” Shows the Importance of Using Superpowers for Good

Group photo of the cast and crew behind Taco Tuesday, with John Lawson lying on the floorLos Angeles, CA, April 22 – Each year, John Lawson looks forward to participating in the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, assembling a team of disabled actors and filmmakers working alongside allies to create a short film in less than a week.

Filmmakers are given a theme to focus on in their projects, and the theme of this year’s challenge was to create a superhero film. Taco Tuesday opens with dramatic music, showing a sibling pair played by Jamie Brewer and Jay Disney rushing to stop a deadly crime.

Amelia (Brewer) has the ability to see into the future. She chooses to use her superpower to fight crime. Brewer is a young woman with Down syndrome best known for her roles in the FX horror anthology television series American Horror Story. She also appeared in the first music video starring actors with Down syndrome, Delta Spirit’s What’s Done is Done. [continue reading…]

Invincible: New Short Film Explores Important Conversation Around Disability and Accessibility

Jennifer Valdes headshot

Jennifer Valdes

Los Angeles, CA, April 21 – The Easterseals Disability Film Challenge is an annual filmmaking competition that aims to uplift disability representation and portrayal in the media. Each year the filmmakers are given a theme to focus on in their projects, and this year’s theme is “superhero.”

RespectAbility 2021 Entertainment Lab Alumna Jennifer Valdes wrote and directed a short film titled, “Invincible” working alongside an inclusive cast and crew comprised  of both disabled and nondisabled people. The short film follows a character named Sam who is a wheelchair user, as she is faced with the daunting task of making it onto a wheelchair ramp as she grapples with her inner thoughts.

The film creatively uses the “superhero” concept of this year’s challenge to highlight Sam’s inner voices in a lighthearted and comical fashion through physical and verbal exchanges with sound effects. The internal battle between Sam’s thoughts are represented through satirical superhero tropes of “good” vs. “evil” as represented by Mr. Invisible, the evil supervillain and Mr. Invincible, who is the superhero. [continue reading…]

Short Film Andy and Kaliope Reminds Us That Foster Kids With Disabilities Deserve More Visibility

The cast and crew of Andy and Calliope filming on the setNew York, NY, April 21 – Andy & Kaliope is a heartwarming short film that touches on the barely explored, yet significant, topic of disabled foster children. Created by Writer/Producer/Actress Rachel Handler and Directors Catriona Rubenis-Stevens and Crystal Arnette, Andy & Kaliope brings awareness to the realities of foster children who are disabled by following the challenges of a disabled foster child between homes.

As the film states, 30-50% of children waiting to be adopted in the United States have a disability. High medical costs often deter potential adopters. Historically, children with disabilities often were forgotten because they were not considered adoptable. Andy & Kaliope is changing the narrative by conveying that these preconceptions are finally starting to change. That being said, children such as Andy still are faced with heavy stigmatization or a lack of consideration due to their disability. Bringing awareness to the issue can help break down the barriers that get in the way of adoption and the insecurities that weigh disabled children down. As Andy himself mentions, there’s a lot of work to do but we’re finally starting to get there. [continue reading…]

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

Written by Dennis Tran and Vanni Le

Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu in Everything Everywhere All at Once

Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu in Everything Everywhere All at Once

Los Angeles, April 14 – Everything Everywhere All At Once is an emotional, chaotic, and heartwarming film that takes the audience on a wild journey into an ever-changing multiverse. The film follows the overwhelmed Evelyn Wang, played by Michelle Yeoh, as she (unsuccessfully) tries to juggle everyday tasks, including running a laundromat with her passive yet upbeat husband Waymond (played by Ke Huy Quan in his dynamic return to acting since his child actor days), preparing for the arrival of her disapproving father, and struggling to connect with her “rebellious” queer and tattooed college dropout daughter. This anxiety-inducing opening act is topped off with Evelyn also trying to compile the right documentation for a trip to the IRS office.

It’s clear that Evelyn is dissatisfied with her mediocre life and the choices that led to it. Evelyn’s mind wanders off to escape from her reality, and her scatter-brained tendencies cause frustration from her family, yet create unintentionally comical scenes for the audience. She constantly insists that she is “paying attention” yet she completely zones out and starts daydreaming in the middle of a conversation with an IRS officer (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) about her questionable tax practices. [continue reading…]

Attending the Inaugural ReelAbilities Film & Television Accessibility Summit in NYC

RespectAbility Lab Alumni and team members at ReelAbilities Film Festival

L-R: Nasreen Alkhateeb, Isabella Vargas, Molly McConville, Kiah Amara, April Caputi, Alaa Zabara, Colin Buckingham

New York, NY, April 14 – ReelAbilities, the nation’s largest film festival focused on disability inclusion hosted its first ever Film and Television Accessibility Summit in NYC last week. I had the opportunity to attend the summit where a wide variety of panelists spoke on all matters related to accessibility, and how we all can contribute to creating an accessible, successful, and welcoming entertainment industry.

The summit virtually covered every area of the industry, from pre-production to post-production and marketing. Each panel was produced with a sharp eye for accessibility, serving as the perfect model on how all events should provide accessible spaces. The panels were hybrid, giving some people the ease of tuning in virtually. There were several ASL interpreters throughout, closed captioning, and other accommodations were easily added in as requested by the audience. It was a great example of how different people with different disabilities and needs can co-exist in this kind of space. For me, this was a refreshing thing to see and experience in action. It gave me plenty of ease and comfort as a participant, and I believe it also gave each panelist a comfortable space to really dive into talking about disability and accessibility. [continue reading…]

Being Michelle: Highlighting the Complex Lifestyle of Multiple Disabilities, Mental Health, and an Unjust System Through One Woman’s Journey

Los Angeles, CA, April 7 – “Being Michelle” is a powerful and emotional documentary film that follows the life of a Deaf woman with autism who has survived numerous instances of abuse and injustice at the hands of the U.S. incarceration system. The film had its world premiere at Big Sky Documentary Film Festival this week, and will soon screen at the Florida Film Festival as well. At its core, “Being Michelle” is a story about hope and resilience in the face of adversity due to one’s family upbringings, circumstances, and the ableist injustices of the U.S. incarceration system. No matter what you are going through, you are not alone, and this documentary is a reminder of that through the story of Michelle’s journey as she continues to be that ray of sunshine for others despite what she has gone through. Her story matters and is an example for others to be able to learn and take up space.

Throughout the film, audiences learn that Michelle experienced an abusive family dynamic growing up; a pattern and experience that unfortunately followed her into the incarceration system, where police officers were quick to condemn her due to a lack of understanding of her disabilities, and without really trying to understand her or why she was acting or behaving a certain way. The documentary really brings to light how society is quick to judge and make assumptions about someone without getting to know them, as in the case of Michelle, who was misunderstood and could not articulate what she wanted to say and express her emotions due to a lack of means to communication between the Hearing officers and prison employees and herself as a Deaf woman. [continue reading…]

Second Annual ‘Mental Health Action Day’ to Drive Culture of Mental Health from Awareness to Action Takes Place on May 19

Setting the theme of ‘Connection,’ RespectAbility and more than 1400 companies and organizations will drive calls to action to address the surge of loneliness and isolation felt by millions as a result of the pandemic

Learn more at www.MentalHealthActionDay.org 

Mental Health Action Day logo. Text: Get ready for Mental Health Action Day on Thursday, May 19Los Angeles, April 1 – RespectAbility announces today its participation in the second-annual Mental Health Action Day held on Thursday, May 19 with more than 1,400 other leading companies, brands, nonprofits and cultural leaders globally.

As the global conversation around mental health continues – including the White House’s new unity agenda strategy to address mental health in the United States – finding effective resources and knowing how to get help remains a challenge. Convened by MTV Entertainment Group, Mental Health Action Day was created with an open-source model that has effectively united and galvanized brands, organizational leaders, and cultural leaders to seamlessly integrate the message and spirit into their existing branding and voice. [continue reading…]

Documentary Film Review: “My Girl Story” by Tameka Citchen-Spruce

Los Angeles, CA, March 31 – As a Black girl, you are often made to feel small, and the moment you feel emotions you are seen as too emotional, confrontational, and other not so pleasant adjectives that are far too often used to describe Black women. There is this stereotype that we must be strong, and we can handle whatever life throws at us. Now, in some ways that may be true, but it’s a part of our heritage that was perpetuated on us since the beginning of slavery. I can tell you firsthand Black women are tired of the idea that we must be strong all the time. Sometimes we want to be vulnerable, experience joy, and feel like we can ask for help and support. But it’s sometimes even hard for us to ask for that support.

Headshot of one of the subjects of the documentary film "My Girl Story"I had all these thoughts while watching “My Girl Story,” the insightful documentary produced by filmmaker and 2021 RespectAbility Entertainment Lab Alumna Tameka Citchen-Spruce. It tells the story of two young Black women who struggled with bullying and subsequent fighting in school. As Executive Producer on the film, Citchen-Spruce explains, “Growing up I never saw media representation that resembles my story. So it’s an honor to produce a story of the next generation of Black disabled girls.” [continue reading…]

Indie-Rock Band Delta Spirit Debuts Music Video Featuring Actors with Down syndrome for New Single “What’s Done is Done” at SXSW 2022

Los Angeles, CA, March 30 – An authentic story with a universal theme can connect with anyone on a global scale. Any true creative strives to tell such a story in their career, and the band Delta Spirit successfully achieved this in their latest music video for their single “What’s Done is Done.” Directed by Michael Parks Randa and starring Zack Gottsagen (The Peanut Butter Falcon) and Jamie Brewer (American Horror Story), the music video recently premiered at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival and was released online on March 21st for World Down Syndrome Day. This is the first music video starring two individuals with Down syndrome.

The music video chronicles a love story of two individuals with Down syndrome. What makes the video high impact is its subtext: love is universal. Rarely is romance accurately explored within the disability community, especially in commercial filmmaking. This music video shows that people with Down syndrome explore romance and have romantic issues the same as everyone else. The stigma that romance does not apply for people with disabilities is so wrong. Not only is Zack and Jamie’s chemistry onscreen enigmatic but it had me as an audience viewer envious that love so beautiful exists. [continue reading…]

CODA Makes History at the 94th Academy Awards, Proving Authentic Casting Wins

Los Angeles, March 28 – “This is dedicated to the Deaf community, the CODA community, the disabled community. This is our moment,” Troy Kotsur said when making history after winning the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for CODA.

Indeed, it was Kotsur’s – and the deaf and disability community’s – moment during the 94th Academy Awards, as CODA won all three awards it was nominated for, including Best Picture.

CODA first made news when it sold for a record-breaking $25 million during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival to Apple TV+. Kotsur then broke several records throughout this year’s awards season, and on Sunday evening, he became the first deaf male actor to win an Oscar. He is the second deaf person to win an Oscar after Marlee Matlin (CODA costar) won best actress in 1987 for Children of a Lesser God. [continue reading…]

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