Hollywood’s Elephant In The Room, Auditioning, Studio, and Even At The Party!

Elephant in the room” (also “elephant in the sitting room“, “elephant in the living room“, “elephant in the parlor“, “elephant in the corner“, “elephant on the dinner table“, “elephant in the kitchen“, “elephant in the champagne room“, and “elephant on the coffee table“) is an English idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem no one wants to discuss.

It is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there might be concerning themselves with relatively small and even irrelevant matters, compared to the looming big one.

The term refers to a question, problem, solution, or controversial issue that is obvious, but which is ignored by a group of people, generally out of embarrassment or taboo. The idiom can imply a value judgment that the issue ought to be discussed openly, or it can simply be an acknowledgment that the issue is there and not going to go away by itself.

The term is often used to describe an issue that involves a social taboo, such as race, religion or even suicide. This idiomatic phrase is applicable when a subject is emotionally charged; and the people who might have spoken up decide that it is probably best avoided. (Elephant in the room – From Wikipedia.)

elephant-in-the-room

And what is the subject that Hollywood doesn’t want to talk about – yet is so obvious it is like an elephant in the room? Yeah, it is the portrayal and representation of those with a disAbility. Okay, maybe not that obvious unless you look at the situation or you are working on one of the very few productions that feature a character with a disAbility. Most in Hollywood believe that a paraplegic actor can only be hired for roles with characters specifically written as a paraplegic – yet those roles 99% of the time hire able bodied actors for those roles! WHAT? Yeah! It is not only discriminating to limit the roles those with a disAbility can even realistically audition for – but it is basically double discrimination when those roles nearly always go to able bodied actors! So in these situations or even when speaking about it – it is like the elephant in the room. Whether I talk about it as an issue, or a cause, or more importantly as a solution that I have worked out from A to Z and ready to go into production – and whether it is a whisper or a SHOUT – Hollywood does not want to talk about it. I have talked about the causes, the reasons, the results and the impact, the history, the current attitudes, the future if nothing happens and what the future could be and should be – but nothing – not even a scathing research study by UCLA and published by SAG in 2005 detailing the discrimination and offering several recommendations have made much of a difference in the Hollywood practices that perpetuate stereotypes and the acceptance for discrimination of those with a disAbility. Oh, sure you talk to anybody in the industry and the words out of their mouths are that of concern, disgust and possibly anger at how things are in Hollywood as it comes to portraying and representing those with a disAbility – and how it makes us feel, some are surprised to be educated about this issue as they never thought of it before and had no idea that is how those with a disAbility feel about it – and it makes complete sense – but ask to lend a hand in making a change – and not even a big help – in fact just help me in supporting a change and in my producing the feature film that will be the beginning of an historic “turning point” in American cinema and still – nothing when it comes to action – if I am lucky I get a few kind words of support!

STOP! IMPORTANT MESSAGE!

Now if you’re reading this and especially if you are one of the Hollywood makers or players – I mention the above because it is what it is – you know it, you have seen it and maybe even lived it – nobody talks about characters, stories, let alone writers, directors, and actors with a disAbility – and if the subject does come up – it is very uncomfortable situation – probably because there is the history and more importantly the continued practices that stereotype and discriminate those with a disAbility – it is disgraceful and embarrassing and to avoid guilt – avoid the topic! BUT I would much more prefer talking about correcting the problem rather than the problem itself! But evidently for me to present a solution I have to bring this up as a problem because most do not want to talk about a solution to a problem they are not aware of – or in many cases refuse to admit even exists! So I have to hold up a mirror to Hollywood’s face! And I have been working toward the solution for the past 15 years – more than prepared to lead the way and help all of Hollywood to enter the 21st century, rise above the stereotypes and discrimination, and treat those with a disAbility with the same respect as other minorities!

Are We A Minority?

That seems to be either a fact or an excuse that I have determined, because most in Hollywood will not even speak about disAbility – but seems that most do not even consider having a disAbility as being a member of a minority. Convenient way to do skip the hassles of dealing with those with a disAbility – if you do not recognize or accept us a minority then there is no reason or obligation to treat us with the same respect as to providing equal rights and voices as they are required to do for a minority! So are we a minority? By definition we most definitely are a minority and when counted with 56+ million Americans, those with a disAbility (by ADA definition; a person with “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities”), we are the largest and fastest growing minority in America – have been for years and with the largest generation (the Baby Boomers) growing older and entering retirement – along with advancements in medical treatments and technology extending the life expectancy, it is expected to continue to be for many years to come. Compare the size of population of more than 56 million Americans with a disAbility to the approximately 40 million blacks/African-Americans, and approximately the same number of Hispanics/Mexican-Americans. Along with the Equal Employment Opportunity Act including those with a disAbility with other minority groups, such as those by race, age, or gender we are still most often looked at individually and not as a group. Because of this, ending the acceptable discrimination and social isolation has been very slow in coming. But since the historic signing of the ADA in 1990, and with supporting documents such as the first extensive market research ever done (and still the only) on those with a disAbility opened their summary by stating that we have banded together in significant numbers and spending power to be considered a significant and separate “consumer market” segment by Packaged Facts published in 1997, which conservatively estimated based on the numbers then that by 2001 the “disabled consumer market” will have an aggregate income over $1 trillion and that includes $220 billion in discretionary spending power – which those with a disAbility spent on quality of life products and services – the top two being travel and entertainment!  Wow! Most industries suddenly looked beyond merely complying with ADA accessibility laws and began to modify their products and/or services to attract this often over looked spending power group – underserved market segment of those with a disAbility! That was 13 years ago – and today in 2010, along with local, state and federal governments, most industries have recognized that those with a disAbility are a group, a minority, and a large force in both size and consumer spending! But one industry that has not only ignored these facts but have openly and blatantly dismissed these facts is the motion picture and television industry. Even after the 2 year research study by UCLA on the Performers with Disabilities was published by SAG in 2005 that detailed the incredible stereotypes, dismissals, and discrimination that Hollywood has on those with a disAbility – very little has changed within the industry!

State of Mind vs. State of Being and Fact

Those changes some would argue are seen in two significant roles – if we narrow it down to those characters who are paraplegics – one in television in the highly rated new show – “Glee” (which if you want my entire review and social commentary on read my blog post “Glee is Everything to Everyone”) and in movies – a role in the newest box office champ – “Avatar” where all the able bodied scenes of the paraplegic character are all computer generated and perfect for someone in Hollywood to finally become a leader in portraying and representing those with a disAbility by hiring a paraplegic actor – BUT NO – both of these “so-called” changes still hired able bodied actors! This is not about how great an actor can PORTRAY being a person with a disAbility. And it is not even about getting that PORTRAYAL correct by using the correct props even though you are faking having a disAbility – I do ask that if you are going to perpetuate the faking, the demeaning that anybody but those with a disAbility can represent those with a disAbility – that you fake it correctly (see the blog entries “The ‘Lost’ Wheelchair” and “The Lost and Found Wheelchair”)!

It is about respect, accepting us as equals in the human race and representing those with a disAbility. REPRESENT is a term that has a lot of meaning and goes beyond just the letters – it has implications to and from the head and the heart. Can you REPRESENT being from the hood if you were born and raised in the middle to upper-middle class suburbs? Can you REPRESENT being a black, African-American, or Hispanic person (or character) if you are white? Can you REPRESENT being a woman if you are a man? Sure for comedic effect and when the character is faking it and the audience is in on it such as in “Tootsie”, “White Chicks”, “Mrs. Doubtfire”, “Big Mama’s House”, and its sequel, or even when the character isn’t faking it but the audience is still in on it and it is still for comedic effect such as Tyler Perry as “Madea”, or Eddie Murphy in multiple roles including as Mama and Granny Klump in “The Nutty Professor” and “The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps”!

Having a disAbility is not the same as being a woman or of a racial or ethnic minority – but it still has the same type of challenges and it is still very much a minority. Hollywood thinks it is all a state of mind and that anybody can portray and represent those with a disAbility. For those of us living with a disAbility it is a LOT MORE than just a state of mind – it is state of being. Being a paraplegic goes beyond just the physical challenges – although they in themselves are huge when you consider that I basically drag half of my body around all day – every day! And this doesn’t end when the production ends – or even at the end of the shooting day! This will never end – save a medical miracle! Which may be nice to dream about – but I live in the here and now! A wheelchair does aid in dragging my body around, but still wake up with me one morning and just watch me drag my body to the edge of the bed, transfer into my chair, on to the toilet, and either back into my chair or then on to the shower transfer bench, shower, transfer back into my chair, and then let’s get dressed! Now can I go make some coffee?! I am completely paralyzed from the middle of my back down – but fortunately I do have complete use of my upper body – and with it I live an independent life – alone – doing all of this and much more by myself. In addition to these obvious physical challenges, there are the muscle spasms, bladder and bowel management, physical pain at the point of injury and others associated directly with being a paraplegic.

Along with the added physical challenges of being a paraplegic, there are added economic challenges for medical supplies and equipment, and do not forget about accessible modifications to home and vehicle – none of which are free and whether there is a co-pay or not – it is expensive to survive with paralysis – with being a person with a disAbility. And on the subject of added economic challenges – let’s talk about employment. Getting and keeping a full time job as a paraplegic using a wheelchair – is incredibly difficult – the unemployment statistics for those with a disAbility will prove it. Even during good economic times – let alone during bad times like we have seen the past 2 years. Whether it is based on the person with a disAbility going to find work or the employers who have a vast choice of candidates, many employers are afraid how that person with a disAbility will fit in with the other employees, the moral of the co-workers – of the entire team, will there be any decrease in overall performance – what access modifications will need to be made – and the fear that they may not be able to get rid of the employee with a disAbility after hiring them – even for legitimate reasons for fear that they will be sued for discrimination.

What about social challenges? As a man in a wheelchair rolling into a social situation, a party – any party that you have ever been to – a work party, a high school reunion, hell, even at a club on a Friday night with your friends and/or co-workers, do you think I would stick out? Would I be considered a minority in at that party? Don’t get me started on dating! Chances of me wooing that fine female who is at the center of attention, hell me being a player with the wall flower has odds against me (which is why I will still shoot for that gorgeous woman all the guys are trying to get the attention of – because if the odds are the same – might as well make it worth it – Yo, Eva Mendes, over here babe – wink, wink! LOL) Seriously, all of the above challenges add to the mental and emotional challenges associated with being a person with a disAbility and living with it in our society – even now in the 21st century! And all of this is but an overview of what it is like living as a paraplegic – as a person with a disAbility.

It’s NOT a Choice!

Whether you are born with or acquire a disAbility later in life though injury or disease/illness, nobody chooses their disAbility! Just like you do not choose your race or gender and yet Hollywood chooses who it wants to PORTRAY and REPRESENT characters with a disAbility! I will say this again – I know not all of the 56+ million Americans with a disAbility can represent themselves but a lot of us can – still Hollywood puts us all together as unable and that is wrong. Do they choose what race can represent any given race? No, they RESPECT race and gender, but give no respect to disAbility.  I think I have demonstrated how this is much more than a state of mind – with factors that clearly show that in our society those with a disAbility are a minority when you consider all other industries recognize us as one, the law says we are, by definition we are a minority, and you consider our lifestyle compared to the majority:

  • Physical challenges
  • Economic disadvantages
  • Employment discrimination
  • Social stigmas
  • Mental & Emotional challenges

Clearly there are plenty of reasons that a disAbility affects a person’s life – usually every aspect of their life. I am not saying it is the same as living as a racial minority – but I am saying that it has issues and challenges that go just a deep and are just as significant to a person’s identity as other factors such as race, gender, age, creed, sexual orientation AND therefore should be treated with the same RESPECT when coming to PORTRAY and REPRESENTING in movies and television. To you it may not be a big deal who REPRESENTS those living in the hood, or a black character, or a character with a disAbility – but it is very important to those living in the hood, to those in the black, African-American community, to those in the disAbled community, and that latter includes me – and especially if you are REPRESENTING my life as a paraplegic and yet when you are not in character – you are jumping, running, walking, and NOT dragging half your body around all day, every day! And I find it offensive that any able bodied person, including great actors, with few exceptions such as I talked about with the “Lost” character, John Locke – depends on the context of the story, but for the overwhelming majority of characters and stories represented by able bodied who think they understand me and my life and therefore can portray and represent paraplegics – that is OFFENSIVE.

Isolated and Invisible

Despite being a member of the largest and fastest growing minority in America we are often very isolated – unlike other minorities – such as those based on race or ethnicity – we usually do not grow up in homes with other members from the same minority! We do not have a heritage or traditions that are handed down from our parents! We do not have readily known heroes from the disAbled community who fought for our civil rights that we know by name. There were many who are responsible for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to be signed into law – and many more since who are responsible for the updates and amendments but they were not given any media attention – they are not well known as Martin Luther King, Jr. And because of this lack of disAbility heritage, traditions, or well known heroes are we not worthy to be treated with the same respect as other minorities?

Hollywood is adding to this isolation by keeping us nearly invisible in movies and television – and if that wasn’t enough – on the very few occasions we are “included” in a movie or television program – they hire an actor who has no idea what we go through. Getting an actor from the majority to portray and represent a minority character – is offensive – the Hollywood exception is those with a disAbility – their thoughts seem to be, “who cares, except for those with a disAbility and most of them don’t say anything because history shows nobody listens even if they do” – “no big deal” – “they do not have to be given any of the same rights and privileges – not even the same as the sometimes limited rights, opportunities, representation given to other minorities”!

Using an able bodied actor in a role that is specifically written with a disAbility that is able to represent themselves – such as paraplegics – is like trying to camouflage the elephant in the room.

banksy-elephant-in-room1

This is the Hollywood environment I have lived in for the past 15 years – and the same one that I have put all my hopes and dreams into and hoping to be given the opportunity (or being able to “create an opportunity” as described in the previous blog entry “Cut Them Off At The Pass”) to provide a change for the future when it comes to portraying and representing paraplegics and everyone with a disAbility. This is what I mean when I say that my films will be a major contributor to what history will record as a significant “turning point” in American cinema for those with a disAbility.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility!

I think everyone agrees that with great power comes great responsibility. The images from movies and television have a great influence on the culture which in turn influences society’s opinions and decisions on all kinds of issues and on people, etc. This can be seen in a number of causes but none more obvious and closely related to those with a disAbility then the ones of race and gender. The portrayals and representation of blacks from the very first feature length talkie, “The Jazz Singer” with Al Jolson, through those with Sidney Poitier in the 1960’s. The portrayals of women dating back to when they were not allowed on stage, as depicted in the wonderful film “Shakespeare in Love”, through women’s voices, visions being represented in television like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and films by women like Nora Ephron and Nancy Myers through the opportunities expand beyond a specific women’s voices, causes, or issues as is seen with the Oscar going to Best Director of 2009 to Kathryn Bigelow – the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar and her film “The Hurt Locker” won the Oscar for Best Picture – of which I was personally very happy about – Read more at the blog past, “The Oscars”!

Yes, both of these minorities (are women a minority? Apply that definition to those with a disAbility!) were aided with civil rights movements – and we have had ours kind of hitting our pinnacle with the ADA of 1990 – but Hollywood still haven’t given us our due – our voices, visions, performances – our representation in movies and television!

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Hollywood, you have a great influence on our culture and society’s opinions and in fact it reaches all over the world and therefore should be providing for the under represented, for the repressed voices, visions, representations – especially for those you are repressing! Quit worrying about being implicated in being responsible for those repressive voices, visions, performances – and just do it – make it happen. At the very least you should cease and desist all misrepresentations of those with a disAbility – when it comes to portrayals of those who have a disAbility that can represent themselves, such as paraplegics! Your current and past history of not including those with a disAbility in movies and television say that it is okay for our culture and society in general to not include those with a disAbility. And that the lives of those with a disAbility are not significant enough to voice their own opinions and represent themselves and therefore able bodied must represent them – even if it is not accurate, genuine, or authentic – able bodied can do better even when it comes to telling their story, their opinions on life – their life! This is what you are doing and it is of greater harm than not including us in movies and television. Great power brings great responsibility. What are you going to do?

I have the answer and it is so simple – if done correctly – including the 3 movie elements as defined in my business plans and incorporate the marketing strategies that are also outlined in detail in the business plans for my company Abilities United Productions and the production business plan for the feature film project of “London Time”. And I will with or without your help make this happen and history will record it as a significant “turning point” in American cinema for those with a disAbility.  

Where are you on the issue and where will you be on that historic day?

So can it be done? Can we usher the elephant completely out of the room and at least finally be able to talk about when it is appropriate and when it is not okay to authentically portray and represent those with a disAbility? Does the American spirit and dream that you can be what ever you want to be – that you can do what ever you want to do regardless of who you are – live in Hollywood? We will continue to hope so and work toward making it happen – even if it against Hollywood’s will! I mean really now – it is 2010 and since this is still acceptable practices to continue to stereotype and misrepresent those with a disAbility – to not accept us as people worthy of our own voice and representation, then be prepared Hollywood – if you don’t want to talk about my authentically represented films – the permanent solution to the problem – then I will force you to talk about the problem itself, the elephant in the room, auditioning room, the studio, and everywhere else because it has been around for far too long! It is way past time to give us the same respect you give other minorities, even though there are still changes that need to be made in their portrayals and representations – when compared to the portrayals and representations of those with a disAbility – racial and gender minorities are nearly a light-year further on the progressive timeline!

NOW can you see how having a disAbility is a significant factor in the identity of those LIVING with a disAbility? As significant to our identity, if not more significant because it affects every aspect of our lives, as our gender, race, and age! So why is this significant identity factor not given the same weight, respect, or acceptance as gender, race, or age in Hollywood?

Do our feelings matter? Here I cannot believe I am talking about “feelings”! It is a even deeper then an emotion. What about our personal identity, does it deserve to be respected or at the very least accepted as being significant to us, to our identity? Does our being offended that our minority status can be demeaned to the point where it is okay for anyone to represent and portray us as acceptable? And that since we are most often ignored and never portrayed – despite being 20% of the American population – we should be grateful for any portrayal? Or are we that low on the human race scale that what we feel is of no significance?

I am talking about it – ignore it if you want – but remember it is your conscious – sleep well. There are a lot of issues and causes out there and many Hollywood makers and players find those that they want to help, but this is one that is often dismissed, or unaware of it being a big deal, but it is so big, so obvious, and so easy to fix – I have done most of the work – all of the preparation – I just need a Hollywood maker or player to join with me to help take it to the next level. Join me and be a part of history’s significant “turning point” in American cinema for those with a disAbility which will have a deep impact on our culture and society! Does that sound like something you would like to be remembered for? How about being known as a significant participant to changing the Hollywood images, stereotypes, discrimination against those with a disAbility and providing us with our own voice and our own heroes? It is going to happen – where will you be on that great day! Will you be numbered as one of the Hollywood players and makers that helped make it happened OR just there at the Hollywood premier of “London Time” to get your picture taken?

Better decide now – because once I have those I need to help make this historic day become a reality, the production of “London Time” will happen and it will not take long to get this historic “turning point” in American cinema in the cinema and then the only place for you will be to support it with your presence on the red carpet for its premier day! Or on the production of the second film project! Will you be there from the beginning or with the others who have jumped on the band wagon? It is up to you! Contact me!

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