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Press Releases

Growing Up’s Emily Flores Shows Importance of Gaining Power by Telling Our Own Stories

Emily Flores and Director Ashley Eakin smile together at the premiere for Growing UpLos Angeles, Sept 22 – Growing Up episode four follows Emily Flores, a woman born with muscular dystrophy, navigating adolescence and young adulthood with a disability. The episode, which is a part of a Disney+ series that highlights stories about notable young people from underrepresented backgrounds, tells the story of how a young Flores founded Cripple Media, an online publication for disabled writers to tell their own stories.

The episode starts by showing a group of young people sitting in a circle – group therapy-style – with Flores discussing her story, saying she “let people have assumptions about [her]” regarding her disability. These assumptions, according to Flores, include that disability is a tragedy and disabled people are a monolith. Bombarded by these assumptions, Flores often felt alienated and powerless while growing up. [continue reading…]

Entertainment Lab Panels Teach the Art of Pitching

Los Angeles, Sept 21 – The process of making a creative project requires many steps from writing and editing drafts, to finding the right creative partner and securing funding. To help guide them in this layered and arduous process, RespectAbility’s Entertainment Lab provides disabled creatives with mentorship, industry insight, and networking opportunities in all facets of the entertainment industry. Recently, Lab Fellows learned the ropes of the vital yet intimidating step: pitching.

In the session, “The Art of Pitching,” Fanshen Cox stressed the importance of sharing one’s own journey in a pitch. As a storyteller, Cox advised participants to think about experiences that they want to share and tell a story. “When you’re going into a pitch, you want to do everything to make sure you feel confident.” [continue reading…]

Reflecting for Hispanic Heritage Month 2022

Joy St. Juste smiling headshot

Joy St. Juste

“The reason I have such an intimate knowledge of Mexican history and culture is because of my having ADHD.”

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month, and for my fellow Mexicanos, “Feliz Día de la Independencia y Viva México.” Contrary to what you might have been led to believe, when it comes to Mexican holidays, Cinco de Mayo doesn’t even come close to bringing the level of exuberance and jubilation that Día de la Independencia or 16 de Septiembre does for the Mexican public.

For me, this holiday is usually a time of reflection on my identity as a Mexican-American, and how my relationship with my ancestors has led me to where I am today. Since this is my first year in my position at RespectAbility, I’m taking the opportunity to think about what it means to hold the layered identities of being Mexican-American and disabled. In fact, I recently came to the realization that the reason I have such an intimate knowledge of Mexican history and culture is because of my having ADHD. [continue reading…]

Disabled TV Writers Share Lessons with RespectAbility Lab Fellows

25 diverse people with disabilities on a RespectAbility Lab zoom meetingLos Angeles, Sept. 2 – RespectAbility’s Virtual Entertainment Lab continued this past week featuring a panel of television writers — Marc Muszynski (Abby’s, Dexter: New Blood), Xavier Stiles (Black Belts, Hemlock Grove), Diana Romero (4400, Good Trouble), Keisha Zollar (Busy Tonight, Agent King), and Katherine Beattie (NCIS: New Orleans, Californication). Panelists shared lessons learned from working in the writers’ room and on set, their career paths to writing for television, and their experiences as disabled creatives working in the entertainment industry.

Not all paths to writing for television are linear, but some writers find the best path is through education. “I tried to take the traditional route,” shared Stiles, who studied film at Arizona State University. While studying, a professor recommended him to a showrunner for Netflix’s Hemlock Grove. Since then, Stiles has worked on array of shows ranging from ABC’s Stumptown to Disney Launchpad’s Black Belts. When asked about what material writers should have in their portfolio, Stiles explained that having a variety of script types and genres is important, but “the strong POV (point of view) is still what everyone is looking for at the end of the day.” [continue reading…]

Disabled Film Writers Share Advice with RespectAbility Entertainment Lab

24 diverse people with disabilities on a RespectAbility Lab Zoom session smiling

Disabled Film Writers (Top Row, L-R: Shea Mirzai, Amy Fox, Megan Metzger, Michael J. Dougherty, and Hyunjin Jo) speak to 2022 Virtual Cohort of the RespectAbility Entertainment Lab

Los Angeles, CA, Sept 1 – Feature writing is an important topic covered in the RespectAbility Entertainment Lab. As such, a panel of film writers joined the Lab this month to discuss tips for making it in the industry as disabled writers. The panel was moderated by Shea Mirzai, Co-Chair of the WGA’s Disabled Writers Committee, a four-time honoree of Franklin Leonard’s annual Blacklist and an alumnus of the 2020 RespectAbility Entertainment Lab as a Mid-Career/Mentor, as well as a Person who Stutters. Mirzai discussed the impact of his intersecting identities, including being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community as well as a first generation Iranian-American. The panelists included Megan Metzger, who is most known for writing Netflix’s The Princess Switch movie series; Michael J. Dougherty, an alumnus of the 2019 RespectAbility Entertainment Lab, screenwriter and founder of the Los Angeles ReelAbilities Film Festival who describes his work as dark; Amy Fox, who started out as a playwright, but transitioned to film, focusing on overlooked women who carved a space for themselves in careers dominated by men; and Hyunjin Jo, a writer, producer, and director who is known for writing adaptations.

The panelists stressed the importance reading has on one’s ability to be an effective writer. Mirzai shared his experience serving as Head of the Story Department at a now-defunct mini-major studio where he read thousands of scripts, many of which were not up to snuff.

“A huge benefit of that,” he says, “was I was able to figure out all the stuff that I shouldn’t be writing.” [continue reading…]

Writer/Director Ashley Eakin Mentors Next Generation of RespectAbility Lab Writers and Directors

Ashley Eakin smiling headshotLos Angeles, CA, Aug. 30 – With 20 Lab Fellows interested in writing and directing, the Virtual Cohort of the RespectAbility Entertainment Lab eagerly welcomed Writer/Director Ashley Eakin for a discussion on working in the entertainment industry. Eakin is a writer and director known for Netflix’s Forgive Us Our Trespasses (2022), Single (2020), and the Apple TV+ show Best Foot Forward (2022). Eakin also participated in RespectAbility’s 2019 and 2020 Entertainment Lab, and served as a Faculty Advisor for the 2021 Lab.

Eakin discussed working with Jon M. Chu on Crazy Rich Asians (2017) as an assistant, stating it was “a really amazing experience because I got to know from beginning to end how a film was made on a bigger scale with a studio.” She described the differences between directing feature and short films verses episodic directing, explaining how with the former, the director takes the lead over every element, whereas for the latter, the director primarily serves the showrunner and the writers. She discussed navigating contracts and the importance of having an entertainment lawyer to ensure that you are paid for your work in a timely manner. [continue reading…]

At Last: A Welcome Narrative About Growing Up, Identity, and Self-Acceptance

Zack Gottsagen adjusts Katie Burton's tie in a scene from At LastWhen one thinks of the stereotypical high school experience, a few things might come to mind: football games, classes, graduation, cliques, or even first loves. In her short film, AT LAST, director Lorena Gordon explores identity at the most quintessential high school experience of all: prom.

Starring Katie Burton, Zack Gottsagen, and George Lopez, AT LAST tells the story of Lauren, a teenager who reveals her truth during her high school prom. AT LAST speaks to intersectionality of identity, as the film’s protagonist fears rejection and upsetting her Latinx parents if she were to come out. The film does not explicitly discuss Latinx culture or family, but Lauren openly discusses how she feels that coming out challenging to her parents. The pressure she feels as their only child to make them proud and be perfect is a relatable truth that audiences of all identities can connect with. [continue reading…]

Elsa: Short Film Fights Stigmas Around People Who Are DeafBlind

Elsa Sjunneson holding a weapon used in Fencing.

Elsa Sjunneson

Elsa is a powerful short film that challenges assumptions regarding individuals who are DeafBlind. The documentary-style film was directed by Cameron S. Mitchell, a RespectAbility Entertainment Lab fellow. The short film is premiering as part of PBS’s American Masters series, a collection of short films originally started in 1986 that celebrates American arts and cultures. Elsa is a part of a series on Helen Keller that aims to spotlight modern DeafBlind role models.

Elsa follows Elsa Sjunneson, a DeafBlind professor and speculative fiction writer who fences and likes wearing vintage dresses. It explores how the reality of being DeafBlind differs from the stereotypes and misconceptions. The film masterfully depicts a successful disabled woman without relying on ableist tropes like the “SuperCrip” or inspiration porn by letting Sjunneson tell her story in her own words.

One of Sjunneson’s opening lines, “I think a lot of people hear the word DeafBlind and they assume that I’m going to be quiet,” sets the stage for a film meant to challenge ableism. The very nature of the film, which is heavily narrated by Sjunneson, contradicts this stereotype. She will not be quiet just because people expect it from her. Sjunneson does not dance around the point, she tackles it head on with an air of confidence that only someone sure of themselves can conjure. This allows the audience to trust her; she is sure of herself, so we should be too. [continue reading…]

RespectAbility’s 2022 Virtual Entertainment Lab Kicks Off

RespectAbility Lab Fellows and alumni together on Zoom for the opening session of the 2022 virtual lab.

Lab alumni Shireen Alihaji (2019), Elisabeth Good (2020), Cashmere Jasmine (2021), Ru Kazi (2019), and Peter Lee (2022) shared their industry experiences and offered advice during the opening session of the 2022 virtual cohort of the RespectAbility Entertainment Lab.

Los Angeles, Aug. 19 – RespectAbility’s Entertainment Lab kicked off its latest 2022 virtual cohort earlier this week, welcoming eighteen individuals and one writing duo, from the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Australia. The Lab’s first session included a panel of recent Lab alumni who shared their industry experiences, offered advice to the participants, and discussed their most recent projects and endeavors.

Peter Lee smiling headshot

Peter Lee

Peter Lee, a television writer who just completed the in-person version of the Lab earlier this summer. Lee described how RespectAbility’s guest speakers and industry panels helped him find unique consulting opportunities. “The execs that we met with really understood how valuable our perspectives and experiences are,” said Lee. Lee also shared his hope that the newest cohort make every effort to get to know each other and connect with professionals to build a lasting network. “I felt an immediate connection to everyone. They really understood what it meant to be disabled, and I didn’t realize how meaningful that would be to me.”

Shireen Alihaji abstract headshot

Shireen Alihaji

Shireen Alihaji is a filmmaker and alumna of the 2019 Lab. She spoke about how the Lab provided her with the opportunity to share her disability in an empowering way. Her film, Blue Veil, which Alihaji included on her Entertainment Lab application in 2019, is based on a personal narrative and was featured on both The Black List and the Cannes Screenplay List. “I felt like I was in a safe space, and I also learned how to talk about my project,” she shared. “The friendships I gained from this space were amazing and life-changing, some of which turned into collaborations,” Alihaji continued. In addition to her other accolades, Alihaji was selected for the Sundance Institute’s Latine Collab Scholarship this past year. [continue reading…]

RespectAbility Announces Virtual Cohort of 2022 Entertainment Lab

Text: "RespectAbility Entertainment Lab 2022 virtual cohort. #RespectAbilityLab" Headshots of 18 solo Lab Fellows and one writing duo who make up the cohort.Los Angeles, Aug. 15 – To continue to ensure accessibility for disabled entertainment professionals, the RespectAbility Entertainment Lab will host a virtual cohort this year, building on the success of a virtual format begun during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eighteen individuals and one writing duo, from the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Australia, will participate in semiweekly meetings, presentations, and discussions throughout August and September with industry professionals and executives from partner studios, nonprofits, and production companies. In addition, they will have opportunities to workshop their materials for feedback from other cohort members.

RespectAbility, a diverse, disability-led nonprofit that works to create systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities, piloted the Lab in 2019 in Los Angeles. The Lab went virtual in 2020 and 2021 before holding an in-person cohort in Los Angeles in June and July of this year. The virtual format in prior years proved so invaluable to participants and the entertainment industry that RespectAbility decided to continue its successful virtual Lab program. [continue reading…]

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