“Disability systematically neglected” in D&I discussions – Deadline

Casting artists with disabilities should be part of Hollywood’s continuing efforts to be more inclusive, but this is often not the case, even though the Americans with Disability Act of 1990 makes discrimination against people with disabilities just as illegal as it does. any other protected group.

“Disability is consistently overlooked in the conversation about diversity and inclusion,” said Anita Hollander, national chairperson of the SAG-AFTRA Disabled Artists Committee, which hosted the union’s disability inclusion panel on Thursday at Hollywood. The discussion was part of the guild’s Stop the Hate summit.

“There are simply too few opportunities for artists with disabilities,” said Camryn Manheim, SAG-AFTRA National Secretary-Treasurer, in her opening speech. “In fact, people with disabilities make up less than 3.5% of all characters on screen. And when we see characters with disabilities, they’re often played by actors without disabilities. It is a fact that the number of disabled people on screen and working on set and behind the camera is simply extremely low, and this needs to be taken into account by our industry.

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Even so, panelists agreed that things were improving, both in the casting of artists with disabilities and with on-screen portrayals of people with disabilities.

Jay Ruderman, whose Ruderman Family Foundation is one of the nation’s leading advocates for people with disabilities – and for many years one of Hollywood’s toughest critics – noted that the white papers the foundation published have revealed that “A few years ago, only 5% of people with disabilities were portrayed authentically; then it jumped to 22% a few years ago. We also did a marketing study showing that 25% of the population of the United States, the world’s population is disabled, and the industry can make billions of dollars through authentic portrayal. And most of those interviewed in this survey said they wanted to see an authentic portrayal. “

But Hollywood has been slow to gain recognition. “In the past 30 years, half of the men who have won the Oscar for Best Actor have won it for playing a handicap when they themselves did not have a handicap,” said Ruderman. “There is a mindset that playing handicap by an able-bodied actor is great acting.”

Hollander, who is an amputee, quoted Christine Bruno, her counterpart on the Disabled Artists Committee of New York’s local SAG-AFTRA, who said that “artists with disabilities are often not allowed to perform ourselves because disability is often viewed in industry as a technical problem. skill or a bag of tricks, and many other actors are rewarded for their performance. Hollander added: “We are here to tell you that disability is not a technical skill: it is a lived experience. So where do we go from here? “

Danny Woodburn, national vice chair of the SAG-AFTRA Performers with Disabilities committee, recalled a session he had with actor Bryan Cranston to discuss Cranston’s portrayal of a quadriplegic in The bright side, which has created a lot of criticism in the disability community.

“We sat for about 45 minutes over coffee, nice and relaxed, two old buddies meeting, and I told him what the frustrations were. And he explained a number of things to me, like how long it had been offered to him, and also the very real part of it, which is the marquee – Bryan is a marquee name, isn’t it. ? So his name will sell the film. And I said, ‘That’s a legitimate understanding. But if people with disabilities don’t have opportunities, they won’t make it to this marquee place, “which he fully understood.”

Woodburn came up with a solution, moving forward, asking Cranston to do this: “When you have this opportunity and you’re in a movie and the portrayal of people with disabilities will be done by someone who is an A -list, if you take one job away, you have to give back three, so you have to put three disabled people in this movie. “

“I think that’s an important part of that picture and talking to the studios and saying the same stuff,” Woodburn said. “If you have to throw someone and it will continue to happen – Sound of metal is another example, if I’m not mistaken – we have to make sure that we don’t just give an opportunity to these actors – other deaf and hard of hearing performers in this same movie – but we have to highlight them as well; send them to the press. “

CJ Jones, a deaf actor who played a major role in 2017 Baby driver and who often advises producers on portraying deaf characters, said that “authenticity is happening more and more now, as Godzilla vs. Kong. They have a deaf child actor in this movie. And you know, it’s this crazy big movie and the industry is picking up some authentic roles from three years ago. These roles are still in the works and they are still below the line of working with people with disabilities in the industry. We are trying to live up to what we are meant to be. “

Jones, who is a member of the Ruderman Family Foundation’s International Advisory Board, said: “We have had industry education roundtables to meet the needs of people with disabilities on set. And this year we’re pushing more and more because we need the authenticity to keep performing. “

All of the panelists agreed that on-screen diversity – or the lack of it – has an impact on society as a whole. “I think diversity in the industry has an impact on stigma and we’ve seen big leaps and bounds in terms of other groups; African Americans, Hispanics, LBGTQ, Asian community, ”Ruderman said. “So many different communities have progressed, and the disability community has progressed, but not enough. And I think what I would say is that the entertainment industry needs to understand that disability is part of diversity. Michelle Obama once said that “most of us get to know people who are unlike us through entertainment.” “

Ruderman, who said he saw an improvement in the casting process, noted that when his foundation began to get involved in advocating for the rights of people with disabilities in entertainment, “we were calling politicians or celebrities , singers, business leaders, who were referring to disability in a derogatory way, we would issue a press release and denounce it. We have gradually moved into entertainment in the inauthentic portrayal of disability… and we have been very harsh in our criticism. Since then, we have evolved into major partnerships with the Oscars, Sundance Film Festival, Yale Drama School and many more to elevate the issue of disability within the framework of diversity.

The Ruderman Family Foundation also offers incentives to studios, networks and content creators who follow its guidelines on hearing actors with disabilities. Hollander noted that “Several organizations, including ViacomCBS and NBCUniversal, are committed to following the foundation’s guidelines for hearing actors with disabilities in each new production.”

All panelists agreed that more needs to be done to mainstream disability into the debate on diversity, inclusion and representation.

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