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Robin Wright seated on a porch in a scene from Land

Robin Wright appears in Land by Robin Wright, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Daniel Power Copyright Focus Features LLC 2020.

Los Angeles, CA, Feb. 16 – At the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to watch the premiere of Robin Wright’s directorial debut, Land. I have low vision, so, luckily for me, Land was one of just two films at Sundance this year with an option to watch with audio description. More than 1 million people in the U.S. are blind and more than 12 million have low vision. Audio description is a secondary audio track that helps low-vision and blind consumers by describing the action of characters with voiceover in between lines of dialogue. [continue reading…]

Koby Kumi-Diaka as Jahsen in the short film Road to ZionLos Angeles, Feb. 13 – Airing on-demand this coming week during the 2021 Slamdance Festival is Road to Zion, a 15-minute short directed and co-written by 2020 RespectAbility Lab alumnus Andrew Reid.

A young Jamaican man named Jahsen (played by Koby Kumi-Diaka) is deracinated from his native Kingston at an early age and supplanted in Los Angeles where he works at a restaurant as an undocumented janitor. Aspiring for more, Jahsen and his family are constantly ambushed by hardship, limiting their social mobility and perpetuating their respective forms of exploitation. [continue reading…]

Kianna Dorsey smiling headshot on the set of The Culture at UMTVBeing a Black woman living with nut allergies in America has granted me a unique perspective on the world. From an early age I was taught to be vocal and advocate for myself. With a nut allergy as severe as mine, my parents wanted to make sure I knew when to “speak up” and ask for the ingredients or to see a label. The stakes were too high for me to be shy or afraid. If I didn’t “speak up” it could potentially cost me my life.

Although my self-advocacy all started with the intention of keeping me safe, it quickly developed as a part of who I am. I was prepared to voice my opinion and concerns because I knew that my voice matters. At the hair salon when the stylist was braiding my hair too tight, I spoke up. When a friend made an ignorant comment about the Deaf community, I spoke up. When the dance teacher didn’t provide a link to tights in my skin tone, I spoke up. [continue reading…]

Poster for Committed, a short film showing at Slamdance festivalLos Angeles, Feb. 12 – Committed is a charming short film that is showing at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival about a man planning a proposal to his girlfriend. He consults their best friends to help him plan the perfect proposal. The two friends view this as the couple leaving them and they decide to sabotage the proposal by giving him bad advice.

Committed was created during the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. “We had only one weekend to write, film and edit,” said co-director, co-writer and co-star Rachel Handler, who also is an alumna of the 2020 RespectAbility Summer Lab. “The genre was ‘Buddy Comedy’ and there were a few themes we could choose from, we chose something like ‘an unlikely duo.’ My favorite part of creating a film is collaborating with my friends and colleagues, so I wrote the script with my co-producer Melanie Waldman and our friend Kara Moulter.” [continue reading…]

“I am visible. I have worth. I can succeed.”

–Ketrina Hazell

Ketrina Hazell seated in her wheelchair, smiling

Ketrina Hazell
Photo courtesy of Rick Guidotti, Positive Exposure 109

My name is Ketrina Hazell. I am 26 years old and the daughter of immigrant parents. I am made of what I consider my three magic powers: I am a woman; I am Black; and I am uniquely made. I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at nine months old and use a wheelchair for mobility. My parents had no idea what cerebral palsy was at that time. My parents were born in the Caribbean, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In the West Indies disabilities are not visible and they are viewed with a sense of shame. It is also not accessible for people with disabilities, so let’s be real! [continue reading…]

Laka Negassa smiling in front of the RespectAbility bannerAs a Black, immigrant woman with a disability (more on this below), I hold a personal and special interest in Black History Month, which originated in 1915 — half a century after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. It was founded by historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson when he established an organization now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. In 1986 Congress passed Public Law 99-244 designating February as “National Black (Afro-American) History Month.” As highlighted by History’s webpage, the purpose of the Black History Month is to celebrate the achievements of African Americans while also recognizing their central role in U.S. history. [continue reading…]

Poster for How Much Am I Worth featuring photos of the four women with disabilities profiled in the short filmLos Angeles, Feb. 11 – Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, UnitedHealth has taken in $9.2 billion in profit, forcing filmmaker Rachel Handler to ask herself the question, “how much am I worth?” The answer, $1,165.62.

Starting Friday, Feb. 12, Handler’s short film, aptly titled “How Much Am I Worth?” directed by Handler and Catriona Rubenis-Stevens, is screening at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival. “How Much Am I Worth?” follows the story of four women with disabilities and their experience with the American healthcare system that is failing them. [continue reading…]

Rhode Island, Feb. 10 – Attending the famous Sundance Film Festival, and on top of that, as a panelist on a livestreamed event with the festival, was an amazing experience! I was part of RespectAbility’s virtual panel “Mentorships Matter,” which discussed a new mentorship program by Women of Color Unite (WOCU) called #StartWith8Hollywood. The program matches women of color with mentors in the entertainment industry, enabling them to break down the systemic barriers and enter the industry. The panel featured disabled women of color who have been or are currently part of the mentorship program, an industry mentor, and the founders of WOCU. The conversation centered on why mentorships are key for individuals with multiple-underrepresented backgrounds to network and succeed. [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, Feb. 10 – During this year’s 2021 Sundance Film Festival, many panels were hosted that detailed the ongoing changes surrounding disability and the industry. Of the many panels hosted, “The Nuts & Bolts of Producing Deaf Content & Working with Deaf Performers” directly emphasized the successes and work of deaf and hard of hearing individuals. [continue reading…]

Rhode Island, Feb. 9 – Picture walking on a film set… before COVID. There are tons of people walking around: Production Assistants on headsets, the director under the tent with assistant directors and camera operators, and actors eating crafty. As you continue walking, you will not only have to dodge all of these people but dodge the just as animated technical elements of cameras, tape, wires, and lights that are often moved and carried. It’s hard. You have to be on your toes, looking before you move. But what if you use a wheelchair, if you have low vision, if you’re Deaf, if you’re easily overwhelmed by all this activity, or if you have any type of disability at all? Being on a film set and making films now can seem nearly impossible. The filmmaking world doesn’t always think about anyone who might need accommodations or anyone with disabilities being on set, let alone making a film. Let’s change that. [continue reading…]

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