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Hollywood Inclusion

Genre-Bending Documentary Drama Film Shadow, Created by and Starring People with Intellectual Disabilities, Makes World Premiere at SXSW 2022

A still from Shadow with one of the main characters looking at the camera in a meeting roomAustin, Texas, March 17 – “When artificial intelligence overtakes human intelligence, how will people be treated?”

This is the question at the heart of the groundbreaking film Shadow, which made its world premiere at SXSW Film Festival earlier this week. Produced by Back to Back Theatre, a genre-bending drama with documentary elements, the film was created by individuals with intellectual disabilities and centers people with disabilities. Shadow unravels questions surrounding the disability community, ability, and the emergence of artificial intelligence. It tackles these innovative themes with fervor and a beautiful sense of artistic direction.

Three activists with intellectual disabilities, Simon, Scott, and Sarah, are leading a town meeting about the future impacts of artificial intelligence on the disabled community. However, things quickly go awry when there is tension between the three leaders and those they are speaking to. We come to understand that there is more than meets the eye in regard to the question of what artificial intelligence can do for people with intellectual disabilities. AI might be the consequence of a society that holds little value and humanity for those that don’t meet ableist, and sometimes absurd, standards. [continue reading…]

Hartley Bernier, Voice of Ari in New Series “Team Zenko Go!” is Breaking Barriers for Representation of Kids with Chronic Illness Everywhere

Los Angeles, March 15 – With less than one percent of children’s content featuring a disabled character, the new animated preschool series “Team Zenko Go!” is breaking barriers. The show follows a group of stealthy do-gooder kids who harness the art of distraction to perform anonymous acts of kindness for the residents of their town, Harmony Harbor.

One of the show’s main characters is a boy named Ari who recently has moved to town with his mother, and also happens to be a wheelchair user. Ari is voiced by Hartley Bernier, an actor who has lived with Intestinal Failure due to Total Hirschsprung’s Disease since birth, and also occasionally uses a wheelchair due to chronic pain.

“I think it’s really important for kids to see themselves represented on screen,” Bernier said. “There aren’t a lot of characters who have disabilities or medical complexities represented in mainstream kids programming.” [continue reading…]

Writing Myself Into Existence: by Leo B. Allanach

(Trigger warning: sexual assault, bullying, homophobia, ableism)

Leo Allanach headshot smilingLos Angeles, March 14 – When you’re disabled, when you’re trans, when you’re a child growing up in a rural community of abuse, your body does not belong to yourself. The most important thing you can do, as impossibly difficult as it is, is to reclaim yourself.

I always thought part of my problem was taking up space. No matter how much I try, I feel like I’m on center stage, forcing everyone to look at me by virtue of existing. But it’s a negative space. I’m not seen as a full person when I use my cane – people come up and ask intrusive, rude, even hurtful questions. I’m not seen as something binary, and therefore “real,” but some strange queer Other, due to my transness and gender presentation. I’ve never had space to breathe, never had physical space to take up fully as myself. Nowhere was safe for me to exist. So, for a long time, I didn’t. [continue reading…]

Writer-Director, Ashley Eakin Captures the Joy, Anxiety, and Heart of the Disabled College Experience in New Short Film, Roommates

Los Angeles, CA, March 10 – The concept of a traditional college experience has long been a popular theme explored by films and TV shows. Frat parties, keg stands, annoying roommates – chances are everyone can recall at least one movie or episode of their favorite show that focused on the character(s) antics during their time at college. However, for myself and many others in the Disability community, it’s rare that we ever get to see our unique and intersectional college experiences represented authentically on-screen. Luckily, writer-director Ashley Eakin‘s new short film, Roommates, which made its festival debut earlier this year at Slamdance and will soon screen at SXSW in Austin, TX on March 12, does exactly that.

Produced by Paul Feig’s digital production company Powderkeg, Roommates is a light-hearted but powerful film that follows two new college students, Izzy and Sophia, played by Kelsey Johnson (who also co-wrote the film with Eakin) and Kiera Allen respectively, who are placed together as dorm roommates because they’re both disabled. After a somewhat rocky start, they end up finding common ground while sharing a bottle of vodka and getting personal with each other while pre-gaming before a big dorm party. What starts out as a fun night of taking shots quickly turns into a full night of adventures, officially christening Izzy and Sophia’s year together as college roommates. [continue reading…]

94th Annual Academy Award Disabled Nominees Break New Ground for Inclusion

Los Angeles, March 10 – Excitement continues to grow for the 94th annual Academy Awards as several disabled performers and disability-inclusive films have already broken new ground by being nominated.

CODA Makes History for Deaf Representation

A still from CODA with actors in the movie standing and applauding

A still from CODA. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Arguably the biggest news is that CODA has been nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Troy Kotsur), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Sian Heder). In addition, Troy Kotsur has made history as the first male Deaf actor to be nominated for an Academy Award. The film sheds an intimate light on Deaf culture and being a CODA (child of deaf adult) using authentic deaf actors and incorporating deaf professionals in behind-the-camera roles throughout the development and production of the film.

CODA first broke records when Apple acquired the distribution rights for a whopping $25 million out of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Since then, CODA has won numerous awards including two Screen Actors Guild Awards, an NAACP Image Award, three Hollywood Critics Association Film Awards, and a Film Independent Spirit Award. “If there were any lingering doubts as to whether authenticity sells, they were put to rest with the stunning success of this film,” said Delbert Whetter, a RespectAbility board member who is a Deaf film executive. Several individuals from “CODA” joined Whetter and RespectAbility for a conversation presented fully in ASL with interpreters held on Sundance’s digital Main Street platform during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. [continue reading…]

Just Like You: Anxiety and Depression Is a Refreshing Film Breaking Mental Health Stigmas and Empowering Anxious Teens

Trigger Warning: This article and the film discussed within contains mentions of suicidality. If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

New York City, March 8 – Just Like You Films released a new documentary today that tackles one of the most pervasive nonvisible illnesses in today’s youth. Just Like You: Anxiety and Depression conveys the reality of living with anxiety and major depression by exploring the lives of several people of different ages and backgrounds who struggle every day with these mental health disabilities. Just like anyone else, those with anxiety and depression can live fulfilling and meaningful lives. The film provides a blueprint for how to learn more about this serious, but often overlooked, medical condition; how to seek the necessary tools and care; and how to have open conversations with your loved ones.

The film is a necessary step toward breaking the stigma of mental illness, a stigma that can stop people from saving future lives from anxiety, depression, and suicide. Director Jen Greenstreet shared, “The World Health Organization stated that over 500 million people live with these conditions, and the CDC reports that these conditions are one of the leading causes of death by suicide. So, we decided to make this movie because we believe that watching this film will help end the stigma around these conditions, empower people, and help them live happier and healthier lives.” [continue reading…]

New PSA Spotlights Black Disabled Creatives

Los Angeles, Feb. 28 – In honor of Black History Month, RespectAbility, a diverse, disability-led nonprofit that works to create systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities, produced a new PSA campaign featuring Black disabled creatives. All month, this PSA has been in rotation on WarnerMedia’s platforms including HBO Max AVOD and others.

The PSA’s message is the importance of building a more inclusive future for the more than 5.5 million Black Americans living with disabilities.

“To me, being Black and disabled means bringing all of my lived experience to the table,” actress and model Tatiana Lee says in the PSA. Lee, who uses a wheelchair, also served as a producer of this PSA.

Actor and comedian Harold Foxx, who is deaf, adds, “We can help others through recognizing their work and then helping them to unite with allies.” [continue reading…]

Disabled Musician, Actor, and Writer, James Ian is Highlighting the Beauty in Disability Through Art & Activism

James Ian smiling headshotLos Angeles, Feb. 25 – A prolific musician, actor, and writer, James Ian feels boundless when it comes to disability representation in the arts. Ian considers himself a “truth-seeker” in all his work, looking for authenticity when it comes to expressing himself and his reality.

Ian has been honing his craft since he was a child, when his parents saw the immense joy that music brought into his life: “They enrolled me in piano lessons at the age of five, and from there I have just gone on to cultivate that.”

At the same time, Ian also was working on his acting career. His mother got him his first agent at the age of eight. His performance skills naturally bled into his writing potential.

“Once I started really doing music, I started to write my own songs, short stories, and other things that really got me on that path” Ian said. I’m working on a script right now. I’ve been involved in this since childhood and these things have just grown with love over time.” [continue reading…]

Interview with Teren’e Chambers, Aspiring Director and Production Studio Owner

Teren'e Chambers smiling headshot

Teren’e Chambers

Los Angeles, CA, February 21 – Teren’e Chambers is a Black Disabled content creator with autism who has a passion for visual storytelling. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Chambers graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2020 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Film, Cinema, and Video Studies. Chambers aspires to one day become a director, focusing on pre-production, and own a production studio that will open the door to anyone interested, and be inclusive to everyone regardless of background or status. She plans to turn this passion of hers into a career to uplift others with disabilities and people of color. Everyone’s stories matter!

“Being a filmmaker to me means that I have a vision, a different view of the world, and a creative side,” Chambers said. “I enjoy what I do! I took my hobby to a professional level.” [continue reading…]

Harold Foxx is Breaking Barriers and Challenging Hollywood Norms in the Funniest Ways Possible

Harold Foxx headshot smiling

Harold Foxx

Los Angeles, CA, February 17 – Originally from Memphis, Tennessee and now training in Los Angeles at the esteemed comedy theater The Groundlings, Harold Foxx is certain that comedy has been in his blood since day one. Foxx remembers hosting stand-up routines on the school bus every day to a loyal base of fans.

“All of my classmates laughed so hard on the bus to the point where the driver moved all of us to the back because we were too loud…The driver laughed too, yet we also needed her to keep her eyes on the road.”

When his mother would go to work, Foxx would stay at his grandma’s house where he would be absorbed by legendary comedians on “Sanford and Son,” “The Jeffersons,” and “The Three Stooges.”

“Growing up watching those shows, I realized laughing is everything that will light up everybody’s day,” Foxx said, citing his early inspirations to be the likes of Richard Pryor, Sherman Hemsley, and Jamie Foxx. He constantly is learning from the best and continually is adding craft and tools from his Groundlings training into his stand-up routines. These comedic inspirations led to the genius behind Foxx’s web show, “The Harold Foxx Show,” which originally started out as short form skits on Vine where Foxx gained about 50,000 followers. [continue reading…]

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