All posts by yogi1964

Oscar’s 90th – Segment 2 – Let’s Dream

Like many of you, I love hearing my favorite actors, actresses, or directors talking about their work, their passion for their profession and or their history of where they came from and how they got where they are in the entertainment industry. In one case a movie and television music composer, Michael Giacchinio. In most cases I have no idea who the nominees are in this category but I did recognize his name because I had watched all the “behind the scenes” features on the season DVD’s for the television show, “Alias” for which he was the music composer for and was in one of those featurettes. But it was his acceptance speech for when he won the Oscar award for Best Music/Original Score for the movie “Up” that was particularly inspiring to me and I talked about in my blog entry for that 2010 Oscar Award show.  Or better yet, watch it on YouTube.

So if a couple of my favorite actors, let’s say like Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner were at this years’ Oscars and as presenters – not as award winning speeches – and talked about how they grew up dreaming of being on that stage and working in the industry and the craft that they were so passionate about. And then saying, “And like everyone in this room, and everyone watching at home, we are dreamers. We grew up dreaming of one day working in movies. Dreams are the foundation of Hollywood. And dreams are the foundation of America.”

Matthew and Jennifer - cr - 632x324

That would be having me voicing out loud toward the television, “Yeah!” Of course, I am a dreamer! I have the same passion for working at writing and directing movies as they do in acting in movies. The same as so many others out there. “We are dreamers.”

These words were spoken at this years’ Academy Awards by Oscar winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o, as she was presenting awards with stand-up comedian, actor and this year became an Academy Award nominee for Best Original Screenplay, Kumail Nanjiani. She is a Mexican born Kenyan. Her parents are Kenyan and lived in Mexico City when she was born. She lived in both countries before coming to America for college to study drama. He was born in Pakistan and moved here when he was 18 to attend college. He has since become an American citizen. I tell you of their nationality and being immigrants because the Academy Award show writers clearly wanted that to be known as they have prepared some of what they are going to say from the teleprompter before presenting the award for Best Achievement in Production Design. There are some video on the internet of this presentation but most have been taken down by the Academy. Even the videos they put up on their own site! So for you and future readers, here is the full transcript of their prepared text (plus some reactions) at the Oscars.

Lupita Nyongo and Kumail Nanjiani Oscars 2018 - Dreamers

LUPITA NYONG’O: Good evening. We are the two actors you keep hearing about but whose names you have trouble pronouncing. (light laughter)

KUMAIL NANJIANI: Actually, I have to come clean. Kumail Nanjiani is my stage name. My actual given Pakistani name is Chris Pine. (Laughter) So you can imagine how annoyed I was when the other — when the “white” Chris Pine showed up. The “real” Chris Pine.

LUPITA: We are also immigrants. I’m from Kenya.

KUMAIL: And I’m from — (some applause and yells) ‘Kenya is in the house.’ And I am from Pakistan and Iowa. (light laughter but enough to interrupt Kumail but he moves on) Two places that nobody in Hollywood can find on a map. (sporadic laughter)

LUPITA: And like everyone in this room, and everyone watching at home, we are dreamers. We grew up dreaming of one day working in movies. Dreams are the foundation of Hollywood. And dreams are the foundation of America.

KUMAIL: And so (interrupted by applause) — to all the dreamers out there, we stand with you. (more applause) Now, the nominees for achievement in production design.

I am not voicing out loud but I am still thinking, “Yeah”! After all I am a dreamer and I am happy they are standing with me. And for all of us “dreaming of one day working in movies.” That is what they said. “And like everyone in this room, and everyone watching at home, we are dreamers.” Yes. Yes. YES! We are! I love it. Not only everyone in that room – the Oscar nominees and their guests – but everyone at home watching this show – mostly movie lovers are all dreamers. They are recognizing that they are not the only ones out here, or in there that are dreamers and are worthy to be working on making our dreams come true. They did it. Surely we can too! Yeah again! Turn off the lights – we are good to go!

WAIT!

That is not what they said? Or not what they meant? They are lying? Playing us? What did they mean? Well, anybody living in this country knows they are playing us and they don’t mean what they are saying. But for those that do not know let me say how they are taking us down this road to make a subtle but not so subtle political statement. With the changing of the case of one letter in the final sentence, a lowercase “d” to an uppercase “D” to say “…to all the Dreamers out there, we stand with you.” The “Dreamers” are the commonly referred nickname for the recipients of the 44th President, Barak Obama’s executive order in 2012, the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)” that suspends deportation for a 2-year period for about 800,000 children or were children when they were brought to the United States illegally. After the 2-year period they can reapply for another 2-year period and so on. Any illegal immigration issue is a political firestorm here in the United States. And I do not want to get into the details. And I do not want to take sides on this issue here. This is not the place and therefore I do want to say that the Academy Award show writers, producers and the using of these two legal immigrants in making this a political statement is wrong. That is not the place to take a side either. Despite that a quick internet search of “Lupita Nyong’o and Kumail Nanjiani” shows that all of the top results are articles giving praise for their supporting the “Dreamers” at the Academy Award show. But is that right? They presented with the words “we are dreamers.”

Google Search Lupita Nyongo and Kumail Nanjiani - 1

Google Search Lupita Nyongo and Kumail Nanjiani - 2

 

Changing the Definition of Everyone

How many of us are watching from home? How many of us are working on, have been working on, and will continue to be working on making our dreams come true? We are the dreamers that they spoke of in their presentation. Even as they were speaking it – I felt that they were going to make it a political statement and I would feel betrayed by the words, “And like everyone in this room, and everyone watching at home, we are dreamers.” There is nothing political in this statement. And there should not be anything political in this statement. Nor should it be in the final sentence, “And so to all the dreamers out there, we stand with you.” So how does it become a political statement as the Google results about this Oscar presentation prove that it is? They should have said what they meant by stating, “And so to all the DACA Dreamers out there, we stand with you.” But that would be out of context with what they just said about “everyone” being dreamers.

So how did it become “Dreamer” instead of dreamer? Being a dreamer and knowing so many dreamers that are “dreaming of one day working in the movies” and having those in Hollywood to say they will “stand with you” would mean a lot! It is one that I feel strong about. I have been working on fulfilling my dreams of being a filmmaker since the late 1980’s. A handful of years before I became a paraplegic. And one that has been the focus of this blog since I started it 12 years ago in 2006. Dreaming about a day when people with a disAbility, the largest minority in America, and the most under-represented and most excluded in American movies and television, will be given a little more respect and inclusion in Hollywood. —– So for them to change the context from dreamer to “Dreamer” they need to change the repeated word of “everyone” into just those that were brought into this country illegally. Thereby the inspiring words that Lupita and Kumail said do not apply to the actual “everyone,” like me or the millions of others watching. They apply just to the ones who during their childhood were brought into this country illegally.

They are lying about “everyone” or “dreamers” for this to be in their political context. Why do they have to make this political? And in the process they have once again dismissed my dreams of people with a disAbility, the over 56,700,000 American dreamers being authentically represented in movies. My dreams of being a successful paraplegic filmmaker hiring a paraplegic actor to portray my paraplegic character. And remember as I said at the beginning this is coming from Academy Award Presenters scripted words and not Oscar winners’ speeches. That would be more personal. This is about the show and the Presenters are talking to the audience. Especially these words as this blog entry is talking about. They need to keep what they are saying in context. Say what you mean. If you mean “Dreamers” say “DACA Dreamers” from the beginning. Don’t twist it all around so that my dreams and all of those who are “dreaming of one day working in the movies” are being hijacked for a political statement of “Dreamers.” So Academy, the presenters, the applauding audience members, Hollywood in general – why not just say what you mean? Why do you have to throw “everyone” else under the bus in order to make a political statement at what is supposed to be a fun and entertaining awards show?

Next up – ”Oscar’s 90th – Segment 3 – Coco for Coco(a) Puffs”

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My Yearly Oscar Inclusion Exclusion Speech! Or “The 90th Oscars – Segment 1 – The Kimmel Intro”

Wow! Very cool that this is the 90th Oscar show. And very interesting that this year the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science was not given time to speak during the Oscars. That is usually the one speech I focus on and delve into when the topic of diversity is uttered from the Academy’s President Cheryl Boone Isaacs during the glam and glitz of the Oscar’s show. It is easy to explain if you were aware that last year she was released and John Bailey became the President. He did not make a speech on how wonderfully diverse the film industry is or make any speech at this year’s Oscar’s. And maybe because Mr. Bailey spent his career as a cinematographer and therefore he’s more comfortable being behind the camera?! Nonetheless, there was plenty for me to discuss as these self-appointed guardians of diversity and champions of giving voice to all – especially the marginalized in society and therefore given proof their humanitarian side is a huge part of who they are. And it appears that they were making up for the past couple of years where they had been criticized even from within with protests like, “Oscars So White” when no people of color were nominated for an Oscar in the top categories. But this year they did not need the Academy’s President to make a speech of the industry’s diversity because between the presenters and Oscar winners, they made sure they stated how diverse they are or how they want to be more diverse, more inclusive and that allows me to once again point out that which they so often ignore – the point of view from a person with a disAbility! And if you are new to this blog or my website, corresponding Facebook page, or other writings, this is very significant if you look at the demographics of our nation. People with a disAbility make up 19% (according to 2010 US Census) of the American population. That is far more that any single racial (Blacks or African-Americans – 13.3%, Hispanic or Latino – 17.8% [2010 US Census estimates for 2016]) or sexual identity (LGBT – 4.1% [according to Gallop poll for 2016]) minority.

Due to the fact that they spread the, “this industry is the forerunner in diversity and inclusion” throughout the show instead of one speech – I will have to spread out this blog posts into segments. This being the first – at the beginning of the show with a repeat host, Jimmy Kimmel.

The 90th Oscars hosted by Kimmel

After a Black and White old school newsreel style opening to somehow honor the 90th Oscar’s show Jimmy Kimmel steps out on the stage for his opening monologue. I will begin there. After typical Kimmel style jokes about what happened with last year’s mix up on who won the Best Picture Oscar award and how Oscar is now 90 years old, Kimmel then jokes and stumbles around the Harvey Weinstein scandal and his years of sexual harassment without saying sexual harassment at first. He mentions how the Academy expelled Harvey Weinstein and the only other person that the Academy expelled was an actor who shared screeners (copies of movies that are nominated for an award that year and given to Academy members to consider voting for. These are movies that are generally not available for home viewing (dvd, blu-ray) to the general public.) But then he gets to what needs to be said. Somewhat.

“But what happened with Harvey, and what’s happening all over, was long overdue. We can’t let bad behavior slide anymore. The world is watching us. We need to set an example and the truth is if we are successful here, if we can work together to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, if we can do that, women will only have to deal with harassment all the time at every other place they go.

Really? “…every other place they go”? Suggesting, actually meaning that women are being sexually harassed everywhere else? That all men are just like Harvey Weinstein? That there are no decent men out there? Not funny. Full disclosure. I find Jimmy Kimmel only an occasionally, mildly funny comedian. And I have not included any of his political jabs at the President and Vice President here at the Oscars. I do not feel like it is the place. Although I guess he is playing to the audience. At least the audience there in the Dolby Theatre the Hollywood elite that is there either to present an award or in hopes to be winner of an Academy award.

89th Annual Academy Awards - Backstage

But it does not play well with half the television viewers – or the potential viewers – as the viewership – the ratings have been drastically declining over the past couple years and it seems the only common thread is political jokes. That’s my thoughts.

Back to the show!

And the part I want to focus on is Kimmel’s statement, “We can’t let bad behavior slide anymore. The world is watching us. We need to set an example”. I have been saying that for the last two decades! The world is watching what Hollywood is producing and they do need to set an example. They need to stop excluding the nearly 20% of Americans – the largest minority in America – those with a disAbility. If they actually included characters with a disAbility – that is portrayed by actors with a disAbility, it would mean a lot to Americans and show the world that Hollywood is not excluding nor marginalizing the most under-represented minority! What’s wrong with that? By your own words, “the world is watching” and you “need to set an example.” By excluding of those with a disAbility – you are setting an example.

Mr. Kimmel then went on to talk about the supporters of the movements of “Me Too”, “Time’s Up” and “Never Again.” He states that, “Things are changing for the better.” And that, “it is [a] positive change.” This is very true and I am very happy for the positive change when it comes to those women and even girls who have to deal with sexual harassment or in some cases even worse. And we should not forget the men and boys that are also put in those situations. In Hollywood, I can point to male actors like Terry Crews how has revealed he has been a victim of sexual harassment and Corey Feldmen who as a child star was a victim of pedophilia. And the revelation last year of actor Kevin Spacey is gay and that there are at least 15 men and teen boys who have come forward alleging sexual harassment against him.  And if these movements against sexual harassment can be a positive change for the better, having pulled the curtain open in Hollywood on this issue, I hope one day the same can be said for the forgotten minority in Hollywood. You know who I am talking about. And let me be very clear – I am not putting these two in the same category. I’m just saying maybe there is, or at the very least should be hope for the forgotten minority in Hollywood. Believe me when I say I know that from some actors and directors that it is in the upper tiers of Hollywood who want to keep the curtain closed on the issue of the exclusion of people with a disAbility in movies and television.

Blockbuster Diversity

To continue on with the show, Kimmel’s monologue then transitions to,

“This is a night for positivity and our plan is to shine a light on a group of outstanding and inspiring films, each and every one of which got crushed by “Black Panther” this weekend. Which, that’s — that’s okay. The success of “Black Panther” is one of many positive stories this year. Especially for African-Americans and Bob Iger. “Black Panther” and “Wonder Woman” are — were massive hits, which is almost miraculous because I remember a time when the major studios didn’t believe a woman or a minority could open a superhero movie. And the reason I remember that time was because it was March of last year.

And I can remember when the major studios didn’t believe that a person with a disAbility can self-represent in any movie. Oh, wait, they still don’t believe we can represent ourselves in the creative roles as screenwriters, film directors, or actors. And if it could happen so quickly – then again I say there is hope for us in the forgotten minority.

Shattered Ceilings

And this is where it gets really good. Here Mr. Kimmel goes on to say:

“This year we have a lot to celebrate. Ceilings have been shattered. Ceilings in screenwriting. We have our first ever female nominee for cinematography, Rachel Morrison, which is historic. So many of tonight’s nominees are making history, and, in fact, if you are a nominee tonight who is not making history – shame on you.

RachelMorrison

Greta Gerwig is the first woman to be nominated for director in eight years. And that is important. Only 11% of movies are directed by women. And that is nuts. We still have a very long way to go in that department, and a very long way to go in equal pay.

greta-gerwig-filming-lady-bird-620

There is so much I want to pick apart in these few sentences! First, the ceilings! It is fantastic that women are getting the recognition for outstanding work in the creative roles of screenwriting, film directing and cinematography! And later we will speak of the creative role of acting! Second, I like that Mr. Kimmel used a percentage! “Only 11% of movies are directed by women.” I’ve already mentioned that nearly 20% of Americans have a disAbility. That is 1 in 5 and there is at least one person with a disAbility in 25% of American households. But where are we in movies and television? “The Ruderman White Paper on Employment of Actors with Disabilities in Television”, cited the research from GLADD that included performers with a disAbility is titled, “Where Are We On TV” showed that on television, characters during the 2015-2016 season found that only 0.9% of those scripted television characters have a disAbility. And that only 5% of those 0.9% characters are portrayed by performers with a disAbility. And for films, I have to go back to the Screen Actors Guild’s paper, “The Employment of PERFORMERS WITH DISABILITIES in the Entertainment Industry” that was first commissioned to be studied in 2003 and the results published in 2005 found that less than 2% of all performers, in television and film, displayed a disAbility, and less than 0.5% had speaking roles. Pretty pathetic numbers for 20% of Americans.

Lastly, Mr. Kimmel was light heartedly saying that in these days, during these the 90th Oscar’s that if you’re “not making history – shame on you.” But I am more serious in the statement as it applies to those with a disAbility. Come on Hollywood – allowing those with a disAbility to represent themselves as screenwriters, film directors, and actors in mainstream entertainment would be making history. And if you’re not – shame on you!

Historic Trifecta

Continuing on with the diversity and it being recognized by the Academy, Mr. Kimmel then states:

In the meantime, triple congratulations are in order for the kid from Comedy Central, Jordan Peele, who had a huge success with his movie, “Get Out.” Jordan is only the third person in 90 years to be nominated for directing, writing and best picture for his debut film.

That is a huge accomplishment. And if you did not know or watched these Oscar’s it is worth noting that Mr. Peele is an African-American! And he is not a “kid”! He is 39 years old.

Jordan peele directing Get Out

He had a hit sketch comedy show on Comedy Central. Even though he was a known name in Hollywood, it is still inspirational to think that someone like myself, a paraplegic filmmaker could make history by producing my own movie that featured a paraplegic actor in the starring role of one of my screenplays that I would director – let alone to be nominated for directing, writing and best picture for my debut film! I would just be grateful to be afforded the opportunity to make my film with a paraplegic actor in the starring role.

Small Recognition

Mr. Kimmel continues:

“Timothée [Chalamet] is the star of a small but powerful story called “Call Me by Your Name,” which did not make a lot of money. In fact, of the nine best picture nominees, only two of them made more than $100 million.”

Mr. Kimmel was obviously talking about Domestic box-office receipts because with the added International box-office had others over $100 million. But it is encouraging that smaller films are making a difference and getting the recognition from the Academy. Because for any movie that is self-represented by people with a disAbility it is going to be a small film! I know because I have been at this for a long time and still have not found the investors that want to risk it for a film that is nearly unprecedented in yours truly being the paraplegic writer and director who is insisting on hiring an actor who is a paraplegic to portray my paraplegic character. But once that ceiling is broken who knows what will happen?!

Equal Treatment

And finally in Mr. Kimmel’s opening monologue he brings up the following:

“if you do win an Oscar tonight, we want you to give a speech. We want you to say whatever you feel needs to be said. Speak from the heart. We want passion. You have an opportunity and a platform to remind millions of people about important things like equal rights and equal treatment.”

And as I will point out in the next segments, later in the show there were some that spoke about “Equal rights and equal treatment” and that is awesome and it could be even more awesome. Hollywood you are an industry and a group of individuals who preach the equal treatment of everyone. You say that diversity is important. That everyone needs to be equally represented. So why do accept the traditions of exclusions of people with a disAbility? The exclusion of the forgotten minority? The exclusion of 20% of your fellow Americans? We don’t even need equal representation – how about 2% representation? We do not even need to be in the starring roles. How about supporting roles? Are you really the guardians of diversity and champions that give a voice to all – especially the marginalized in society and really have the compassion and heart you project to the world?

Stay tuned for ”Oscar’s 90th – Segment 2 – Let’s Dream” – coming up or in the case of the blog treatment it is literally coming up – as it will be the next blog entry right above this one!!!

Broadway disAbility Gold

In February, 2016, I was approached once again from a casting agent looking for help in finding an actress with a disAbility. But this time it was for a role in a Broadway play. To protect the name(s) of the agent and agency I am including just the text:

Hi Larry,

I’m writing because we are casting a Broadway play in 2017 and we are looking for an actress with a mobility disability or who is a leg amputee to play a leading role.  I’d love for you to take a look at a flyer with more information on the project (I’ve attached it here) and would be so grateful if you wouldn’t mind passing it along to anyone you think is right!  Or even better, if you work with groups/theatres that would help spread the word as well!

Thanks in advance for taking a look.

And here is a partial of the flyer she attached.

Broadway Casting Call from 2016

Broadway? A leading role? A person with a mobility disAbility? Is this for real? Are they serious about wanting a person with a mobility disAbility for a leading role in a Broadway play? That’s huge. Even though I know very little about Broadway I know it is a big deal. What I do know is that when I found out about the 2010 Broadway revival show, “The Miracle Worker” they did not bother to even audition a person with a disAbility for the role of Helen Keller. I made a point of making a big deal of it a few months before when it was announced that they hired then 13 year old actress, Abigail Breslin without considering any person with a disAbility. As we know Helen Keller had multiple disAbilities. She was deaf, blind, and was unable to communicate until her teacher, Anne Sullivan helped her. This is the basis of the play, “The Miracle Worker.” But the producer of the 2010 version of the Broadway show did not even bother to audition a performer with a single disAbility. A blind actress. A deaf actress. Either one would have been great onstage and able to act the part of being blind or visa versa and still be authentically portraying and representing people with a disAbility. After months of backlash from the disAbled community and the press, the producer finally admitted he did not care about the authenticity of “The Miracle Worker”, it was all about getting a named recognized actress to sell tickets. I countered that on social media that it was never going to change if someone doesn’t help performers with a disAbility get work on stage and have the opportunity to become a recognized name. Now, 17 years later, is this Broadway casting notice for an actress with a mobility disAbility for a Tony award producer(s) for real? I was hopeful and a bit excited that maybe things are changing.

I am a paraplegic filmmaker and advocate for those with a disAbility in the film and television industry. So although I am not a talent agent, I do seem to get the requests from talent agencies and casting agencies when they are looking to audition actors with a disAbility in specific disAbility roles. This has been going on for several years and I want to help in any way possible to get more people with a disAbility represented in entertainment. Even if they are not in my entertainment projects! As I have mentioned in previous blog entries and social media posts that I have had to spend an inordinate amount of time advocating for the use of people with a disAbility in the creative roles in entertainment just to prove that my projects are viable by using a person with a disAbility in the feature role of my films, and that I have the Ability to be the director of my projects despite their misconceptions of the Ability of a person with a disAbility – more specific my paraplegia. So I am glad to help when these casting and talent agencies contact me looking for help. They tell me that they find me through a Google search in which my website’s page that merely highlights actors with a disAbility comes up. Often at the top of their search!  I meant for that page to just show potential investors to my company, Abilities United Productions and its individual film projects, as well as the general interests of the website’s visitors, that there are actors with a disAbility! That web page is old and in fact the entire website is old and I am in the process of a major renovation, but for now it still attracts Google searchers and that is a good thing.

Therefore I did pass on the Broadway show casting notice to actresses that I thought would fit the role. I did make an extra effort for one actress that I felt would fit the role perfectly. And for those who know her, know what I am talking about. The wonderfully talented, Teal Sherer who has done television movies and shows, national television commercials, short films and even her own acclaimed webseries called, “My Gimpy Life” that ran for 2 seasons and in 2013 was nominated by the International Academy of Web Television (IAWTV) in 4 categories which it won in 2 of them including Best Actress (Comedy) for Teal. Dual TealI also posted the casting notice info to some social media outlets in hopes to get a large turnout of actresses with a disAbility in order to show the agency the talent pool is larger than they are led to believe, and that they would select an actress with a disAbility for the role.

 

I did reply to the casting agent informing them of all that I had done in posting the casting opening and telling them all about Teal. I also expressed how pleased I was that they were going to this extent to find a suitable candidate to fill the role. Of course I went on as I usually do when talking about this subject of authentic roles and filling them with authentic actors, what it means to the disAbled community and how it truly helps the entertainment industry to expand the inclusion and visibility to the general audiences to have performers with a disAbility in their programs. Not to mention how this kind of inclusion will help to inspire those who want to get into acting that there is opportunity for people with a disAbility but only if they could see them getting roles in entertainment there on Broadway and in Hollywood. They did reply back that they were excited by my passion for what they were doing and my overall advocacy for more people with a disAbility in creative roles. And then just three or four days later the agent sent another email saying:

Hey Larry,

I just wanted to follow up to let you know that we can now mention that the project is a Broadway revival of GLASS MENAGERIE, and we are looking for the role of LAURA.  We’re actively starting to audition women who fit the description, so please feel free to follow up with your contacts to let them know!

Thanks in advance,

Of course I did let everyone know and updated every social media post with this new information.

A few weeks later I followed up with Teal who told me that she did get to audition. Not in person, but as you can see from the Casting Notice email attachment that the agent sent me they do not need to be in New York and therefore Teal said that they did ask her to submit her resume, headshot materials and a video audition. I know Teal nailed it because she’s that good! But she did not get a call back! If it were me…well, I am bias because I have seen a lot of her work but to be fair I did not see all the applicants for the role. Still I did worry because I have gotten these requests for help in finding performers with a disAbility for a role with a character with a disAbility and they nearly always went with an able bodied actor despite the recommendations or pointing them to places to find performers with a disAbility. In the many conversations I have had with actors with a disAbility over the past two decades, we have concluded that this is just to show that the powers that be – in their entertainment project – did not discriminate. But at least looking for performers with a disAbility is a step in the right direction. Five or ten years ago they would not even audition performers with a disAbility. As I mentioned above with the example of the 2010 Broadway show of “The Miracle Worker.” Well this casting notice for auditions are in 2016 and I did not think too much about it again.

Fast forward a year – to this past April when I saw a post on my sister’s Facebook page about a New York Times article by Neil Genzlinger, in the “Critic’s Notebook” section dated March 24, 2017, making specific commentary on a Broadway show, “The Glass Menagerie”. It reminded me of the correspondences I had with the casting agent, Teal, other actresses and the postings I made on some social media spots over a year ago!

Reading the article I knew this was the same Broadway show that I was contacted about last year. And I was so pleased to find out that they did hire an actress with a disAbility! In fact, this is the very first actress who uses a wheelchair to play a leading role on Broadway!

Madison Ferris - Laura - The Glass Menegerie - 1

This is a major victory for all of with a disAbility. Especially those with a disAbility working or trying to work in the entertainment industry. Even if you are not an actor but rather another entertainment creator, a writer, director, producer, filmmaker like yours truly! Because this proves again that we can be in the creative roles within the entertainment field. We deserve to be a part of the entertainment media representing ourselves and as major part of the American society – the 20% of the American population that is severely under-represented in movies and television, and in this case the stage – the Broadway stage! Here I go again advocating – but since you are reading this then you probably know all these talking points so I am preaching to the choir – therefore let me get back on track!

This New York Times article focuses on two controversial issues on this production of “The Glass Menagerie.” This is unfortunate but not surprising. First let me tell you something that is without controversy. The production stars the fantastic and talented, Oscar winning actress, Sally Field in the role of the mother of the disAbled daughter, Laura. But then we quickly find the controversies.

Madison Ferris - Sally Field - The Glass Menegerie - 1

The actress that is portraying Laura is Madison Ferris who has muscular dystrophy. For the record, I do not know Madison and therefore she was not one whom I told the casting agent about the audition. Unless she followed one of my social media posts? Back to the point is that it seems to be too much of a disAbility for some of the leading Broadway critics. According to the article they are criticizing the play on a couple of issues. And this is the first one. According to them there is the very obvious difference in the character of Laura as was written by the beloved playwright, Tennessee Williams, which is as the article’s author describes is merely “a shy girl with a limp”, and the one that is portrayed here by Tony Award Winning director, Sam Gold’s actress with muscular dystrophy – which they feel is taking it too far from the original written play and therefore way out of the norm for their Broadway standards.

Wow! Let me say two things on this first controversy. First, I have stated many times in many forums from the social media posts to business documents for my company and individual film projects, to my basic advocacy for the use of performers with a disAbility to be authentic. One of my main points in a successful film or television program – in this case a Broadway show, and is most often missing in all of them that feature a character with a disAbility is authenticity. Producers, directors, and actors often cite using locations and/or featured or supporting actors from the locations where their stories take place to give it authenticity in their creative projects. And I have said that is what makes my projects different from nearly all other projects that have a character with a disAbility. Authenticity – by using actors with the same or similar disAbility as the character in the project. All of my projects feature a character with paraplegia. The voice is authentic because I wrote it. The vision is authentic because I direct it. And those two aspects are authentic because I am a paraplegic. And the most visible aspect is that which is in front of the camera, the actor whose performance is authentic because I cast actors with the same or similar disAbility, in this case paraplegics – they don’t have to have the exact level of paraplegia as the one I wrote but they can act as one with it – or I adapt some of the action and/or dialogue to make it work. I believe this is what director Sam Gold did in hiring Madison Ferris in the role of Laura in “The Glass Menagerie.” So what if it is not exactly as written by Tennessee Williams in 1944 and is a memory play set in the 1930’s?

While I was contacted by the casting agency to help find an actress with a mobility disAbility I was skeptical but hopeful as it’s been my experience that agencies make the effort to seem inclusive but the director never had the intention of casting a person with a disAbility in the role of character with a disAbility. Some are afraid that the producer and/or the studio will never go with that authentic choice and will think poorly on the director – so they dare not to make that choice because they are afraid of never being hired as a director again therefore making it career suicide. But as I was reading this article in the New York Times commenting on the Broadway show, I found a link to an article in The New York Times Magazine that was wonderfully written by Sasha Weiss which came out before the play’s opening and focuses on the Tony Award winning director Sam Gold along with his directing of “The Glass Menagerie” and sheds some light on the casting for his newest Broadway play. In the article, Ms. Weiss explains that a few days before the dress rehearsal she interviewed Sam Gold who told her that it was he who insisted on a performer with a disAbility for the role of Laura in this Broadway play. Wow! This is great and is going way beyond the entertainment industry’s “Standard Operation Procedures” of auditioning a couple of performers with a disAbility as a token outreach as a way to then justify the casting of an able bodied performer in the role of a disAbled character. Ms. Weiss writes:

“…there had never been an actor in a wheelchair cast in a leading role. Gold decided that to be faithful to Williams’s revolutionary spirit, he would put onstage a person the audience is unused to seeing there. He and Scott Rudin, the show’s producer, began a search throughout the United States and England for actresses with disabilities. They chose Ferris, who at 25 had a range of performing experiences but had never appeared in a professional production.”

Now I know that the search from the casting agency who contacted me was sincere!

SamGold-head-450x517 - 1And I applaud and thank Sam Gold and Scott Rudin (a film and stage producer) for taking what seems so obvious and making the decision to cast a performer with a disAbility in a role that is written as a character with a disAbility! To do what many, at least in Hollywood would consider career suicide by casting a performer with a disAbility, especially one as Ms. Ferris who has “never appeared in a professional production.” This was a huge risk since there has never been an actress with a mobility disAbility using a wheelchair in a leading role on Broadway! Despite the risk Mr. Gold and Mr. Rudin have now been the first to break the disAbility ceiling. This kind of authentic portrayals of those with a disAbility are the same kind that had broken the “Standard Operating Procedures” during their times when some people were not allowed on the stage to portray themselves. For example, in the early 1900’s when Al Jolson appeared in black face because blacks were not allowed to perform on stage or the screen. Going even further back to when women were banned until 1660 when King Charles II “granted a charter to the Drury Lane company, making it the Kings Own Company, and to prevent the moral outrage to his subjects caused by boys dressing up as females the charter required that all female parts must be played by women. So there it was, in a document which exists to this today, the door to the acting profession was opened to women by no less a hand than that of the King himself.” And thereby making “the first English woman to ‘legally’ appear on the stage in England was one Margaret Hughes, who on 8th December 1660, played ‘Desdemona’ in ‘The Moor of Venice’ (a reworking of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’)” (http://www.stagebeauty.net/th-women.html#doorop).

Interesting that that first legal and authentic portrayal of a woman by a woman was in a play that was a reworking of Shakespeare’s “Othello”, which brings us back to the Broadway’s leading critics and elites’ issue of the reworking of Tennessee William’s character of Laura, a girl with a limp to a woman with muscular dystrophy. They site that Gold’s version does not fit the text exactly with William’s original play. This is a weak criticism. As I mentioned above, it is typical in the entertainment industry for a director to adapt and rework the script to fit the leading actor. How often do remakes happen or a book is adapted and everyone is okay with changes to fit the medium or the times? They often site dramatic license as the escape clause to explain their changes. And honestly that has been the most often sited escape clause for many who hire able bodied to portray and represent a character with a disAbility in movies and television of the past. In this case of Ms. Ferris having more of a degree of a disAbility than a limp you have to make adjustments. This happens all the time when directors have to make adjustments for their actors. Especially leading actors that are the drawing in audiences. Get over it! This is a slightly different interpretation in order to bring an authentic portrayal on Broadway. That should be refreshing rather than a slam. In my opinion, you should slap yourself, shake it off and enjoy this Tony Award winning director’s vision on a classic play fitted for the actress he hired.

Madison Ferris - Sally Field - Joe Mantello - The Glass Menegerie - 1

Sam Gold said something that really sums it up beautifully.

“I’m not very interested in pretend. I’m interested in putting people onstage. I want people. And I want a world that reflects the real world.”

This quote was in the article from Ms. Weiss who Mr. Genzlinger took from and also included in his article. And I include it as well because that is what I have been advocating for others to do when it comes to including performers with a disAbility as well as the inclusion of writers and directors with a disAbility in Hollywood and Broadway. This will help to “reflect the real world.”

Next comes some of the harshest criticism of the play that was brought on by some on the Broadway chat boards. They say that using Ms. Ferris and her wheelchair is exploitative. I have to respond with the title of Mr. Genzlinger’s article, “A Wheelchair on Broadway Isn’t Exploitation. It’s Progress.” Was it exploitation when Margaret Hughes came on stage in 1660 to be the first woman legally allowed to portray her gender as Desdemona? She went on to have a very long and successful career as an actress. Or when the first blacks were allowed on the stage and in front of the screen to portray their race authentically? Mr. Genzlinger made another great point in his article on this issue:

“Sometimes, what seems a cheesy gimmick or instance of exploitation is really just the front edge of needed change. Some theatergoers were probably outraged the first time a black Juliet was cast against a white Romeo. Did that change how some of Shakespeare’s lines registered and imbue the play with new meanings? Sure. Is race-blind casting now widely accepted and the theater going experience richer for it? Yes.”

He also mentioned the moving forward in television and the use of an actor with cerebral palsy to play a character with cerebral palsy in the new hit sitcom on ABC, “Speechless”. And the upcoming season of “Sesame Street” introducing a new character that has autism. Is this exploitation or finally getting the authentic portrayals and representation of the 20% of Americans who have been excluded from the entertainment media – by so much and for so long?

I have read some of the Broadway critics’ reviews of the play. I was horrified by their comments. The spoke of the physical challenges of Ms. Ferris getting up the stairs and onto the stage in the opening scene that Sam Gold used to introduce the characters. He left the house lights on. The critics said that it was uncomfortable to watch. Took five minutes and to long for them to sit through. But they stayed only to feel it again when Ms. Ferris had gotten out of her wheelchair and was sitting on the floor. This happens in a few scenes. What the critics did not like was the way Madison Ferris had to contort her body to move and to get back in her wheelchair. This is how it is when someone is living with certain mobility disAbilities, namely muscular dystrophy.

Madison Ferris - Sally Field - The Glass Menegerie - 2

I like what Mr. Genzlinger said in his article on this criticism:

“It’s worth contemplating what that means from the audience’s perspective. On those chat boards, some writers have complained that Ms. Ferris isn’t very good. Here’s the thing: We have been conditioned to define good acting in terms of facial expressions, comic timing, physical bits. An actor with a disability, especially one involving muscle control or cognitive impairment, isn’t necessarily going to be able to give the kind of performance we’re used to. Will Ms. Ferris impress someone looking for that kind of performance? Probably not. But she gives the most realistic portrayal of a person with muscular dystrophy that I’ve ever seen.”

Critics and audiences are not used to this kind of performance. But they need to get used to it and they will with more exposure to it. Sam Gold took the leap to make this the first in a leading role on Broadway. I must say that if it were me I would have hired a paraplegic, such as, I don’t know, off the top of my head, Teal Sherer! A paraplegic, depending how high the level of paraplegia, can move in and out of their chair, maybe with some help, up the stairs with some challenges but probably a lot quicker than a performer with the level of muscular dystrophy that Madison Ferris has at the time of the play. That might have relieved some of the “uncomfortable” time that these critics had. And it might be a legitimate reason that they the play only lasted for a month. Maybe not. Either way, this is something they, the critics and audiences need to get over and get used to.

Our society makes up 1 out of 5 Americans have a disAbility and are a part of the fabric of America for a long time. We are so far removed from being put into asylums to not be seen or dealt with in person and have been active participants in American society for decades. Yet we are just barely getting some recognition of being those visible and active people you see in the workplace, recreation hot spots, while shopping or in our homes. It is taking a long time to get some authentic portrayals in the entertainment industry. It takes brave people to help make it happen. Sam Gold is a very brave and courageous Tony Award winning director who at the possible risk of his career brought the first authentic portrayal of a character with a disAbility with an actress with a disAbility in his version of “The Glass Menagerie” to Broadway. ——- And Neil Genzlinger is also brave and courageous by calling out and challenging the “leading Broadway critics” on their petty and self-serving criticism of the play in his New York Times article. In full disclosure I want to add that both have personal connections to the issue of the authentic use of Madison Ferris in the role of Laura. Mr. Genzlinger said in his article:

“My own daughter, who has a serious disability called Rett syndrome, is just three years younger than the 23-year-old Laura.”

And in the article mentioned above about the director, Sam Gold from the New York Times Magazine by Sasha Weiss. She writes:

“Gold and his wife, Amy Herzog, a playwright, have two daughters. The elder, Frances, who is 4, has nemaline myopathy, a muscle disease, and uses a wheelchair. Their younger daughter, Josephine, is 2. Becoming a parent to both daughters, he told me, has brought him into contact with his own fragility. “Your life is in three acts, and that second act is a hard shift to make, toward dependency, community, vulnerability, unconditional love.” Now that he had been pried open, the project of turning the lights off and inviting people into a room to experience their own vulnerability felt more pressing.”

In Hollywood I have reached out to some that have personal connection to people with a disAbility in hopes they would help me bring the issue of authentic portrayals forward as Mr. Gold and Mr. Genzlinger have done here on Broadway and their critics respectively. But I have not been able to get anyone in Hollywood to respond and therefore to help. Perhaps it is because I am not a “name” in Hollywood. Yet. And then again maybe it is as I have mentioned above that too many in Hollywood are scared it will kill their careers if they step outside of what the West Coast Entertainment Industry machine considers is okay to portray and represent. Just because I have not been able to do it does not mean someone else can’t. I mean look at “Speechless.” It is a hit and has been picked up for a second season. And “Sesame Street” adding a character with autism. Not sure if that is a Muppet or a live person so I wonder will it be authentically portrayed? But it does provide a glimpse of hope for those with a disAbility that have been ignored and pushed aside by the entertainment industry. I hope with more television shows and now Broadway shows will accept that those of us with a disAbility are a very large minority that should not be dismissed any longer and that those with a disAbility who have studied and worked in non-professional capacity deserve to be able to portray and represent ourselves as the professional creatives in their entertainment industry.

In one final note, I want to encourage you to visit the People magazine online look at Madison Ferris and her role in “The Glass Menagerie.” It includes a short video and article about her journey in acting, living with muscular dystrophy and to the Broadway stage. The Broadway play has closed. But I hope to see her in more creative roles in the entertainment industry very soon.

Authentic Jackson

Earlier this past Spring, March 7, 2017 to be specific, big time actor, Samuel L. Jackson made some obvious observations about a lot of British actors are taking on the roles of American characters lately. Not just that black British actors are in a lot of American movies but more specifically that they are being cast in roles that are specifically written as American characters. On Hot 97, a New York radio station, is where he gave the interview back on March 7th.

jackson hot 97

The interview and the video of it was included and written in The Guardian and on Page Six, the very next day and then on Patheos, Stacey Dash’s website where I first learned of it on the day after the next day, March 9th (I know – I am 3 months behind in writing this blog post!) and to be more specific Jackson is talking about roles that are about American race relations and how the black British actors would not know what the race relations are like and have been like in America.

Jackson was first talking about the movie, “Get Out” which had just been released in theatres on February 24, 2017 and by the time of the interview, March 7th, it had already grossed over $80 million in box office receipts.   Get Out (2017)

It is actor Jordan Peele’s feature film directorial debut and is a satirical horror movie about an African-American man who goes with his white girlfriend to meet her family. Peele is a bi-racial man that most identifies as an African-American, as he said on the AMC television show “Talking with Hardwick”, and is best known for the hit comedy, “Key & Peele” on Comedy Central. In the movie, “Get Out”, which Peele also wrote, is from his perspective about the current American relations between blacks and whites and he hired British actor, Daniel Kaluuya in the role of the black boyfriend.

 

Samuel L. Jackson remarked that:

“There are a lot of black British actors in these movies. I tend to wonder what that movie [Get Out] would have been with an American brother who really feels that.

“Daniel grew up in a country where they’ve been interracial dating for a hundred years. What would a brother from America have made of that role? And I’m sure the director would help. Some things are universal, but not everything is.”

That makes sense. I cannot say for sure because I am a white American, but let me explain how I can relate to what Jackson is expressing. I have made the comparison between racial minority portrayals and representation to disAbled minority portrayals and representation in movies and television – specifically when it comes to those that are specifically written as disAbled characters. When I read an article or hear an interview from a black or African-American talking about not enough roles, or directors, or executives representing them in the movie studios or network television stations and the movies and programs the produce, I can easily insert “those with a disAbility” in everywhere they mention “black or African-American” in their statements and it make complete sense.

Jackson’s statements in this interview is a wonderful example of what I mean and if you switch the phrase “black British actors” with “able bodied actors” and “that movie [Get Out]” with any movie that features a disAbled character, and finally “American brother (obviously referring to black American actors)” with “disAbled actor(s)” you would understand how I can relate to Jackson as a black American actor upset with black British actors taking roles that are specifically American. And I being a disAbled American being upset when able bodied actors are being cast specifically in disAbled roles. I am not an actor. I am a writer and director who is disAbled. And have felt the same way when an able bodied writer or director is hired in a project that features a person with a disAbility. I also know my fair share of actors with a disAbility and what it is like when they find out that an able bodied actor is hired to portray the role of a disAbled character.

Let us go back to the first statement by Jackson:

“There are a lot of black British actors in these movies. I tend to wonder what that movie [Get Out] would have been with an American brother who really feels that.”

And what I have been saying:

“There are a lot of able bodied actors in these movies (featuring a person with a disAbility). I tend to wonder what that movie (for example the most recent movie, 2016’s [“Me Before You]) would have been with an actor with a disAbility who really feels that.”

I have already said these words many times! Not verbatim but very close. I not only chose to speak out about the able bodied actor who portrayed the paraplegic character in “Me Before You”, but also the author of the book, that the movie is adapted from, as not being a person with a disAbility and cannot know what that “really feels” like. Let alone know what that is like – like a performer with a disAbility and a writer with a disAbility – and if you also add the trifecta of a director with a disAbility then you will know what it “really feels” like.

The next statement by Jackson:

Daniel grew up in a country where they’ve been interracial dating for a hundred years. What would a brother from America have made of that role? And I’m sure the director would help. Some things are universal, but not everything is.”

What I have been saying:

Sam Claflin (the able bodied actor who was cast as the paraplegic character in “Me Before You”) grew up in an entertainment industry where they’ve been excluding paraplegics from being cast in movies and television for a hundred years. What would a paraplegic actor have made of that role? And I’m sure the director would help (if he or she had direct relations with a paraplegic). Some things are universal, but not everything is.”

“Some things are universal, but not everything is.” How true that is and especially in the entertainment industry where authenticity that Jackson and I are talking about seems to mean nothing on their scale of importance.

Selma poster - 3

 

Mr. Jackson also responded to the black British actor David Oyelowo’s portrayal of American civil rights hero and leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. who was hired for the film role in the historical drama, “Selma.” He said:

“There are some brothers in America who could have been in that movie who would have had a different idea about how King thinks.”

So Jackson points to the American character, this time based on a real person, in which an American actor would better be able to authentically portray and represent this particular character because they would have a better insight, background and context to the character. I have been in African-American homes and nearly everyone had a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. on the wall. I am not sure if that can be said for black Brits? And Jackson’s point is that the portrayal would probably been deeper and one that would have resonated with audiences because they do have the background of living it. Feeling it. I propose that able bodied actors cannot feel it because they have not lived it to really portray a character with a disAbility. In fact, whatever Jackson feels about the Brits pales in comparison to how I feel, and I know many of those with a disAbility trying to work in Hollywood feels, when an able bodied actor is cast in the role of a character with a disAbility. Living with a disAbility, such as paraplegia every moment of day and night it far deeper than the American race relationships or portraying an American hero by a black British actor. Nevertheless, he is making a point or points about something he knows about. And that is something I can relate to.

Jackson continues in the interview and mentions why he thinks the entertainment industry hires these British actors and does this to his American brothers:

“They’re cheaper than us, for one thing. They don’t cost as much. And they [casting agents and directors] think they’re better trained, because they’re classically trained.”

The industry is show business – a for profit business. And I will defer to Jackson’s statement on the amount the industry pays for American versus British actors because he would know better than I and I agree that getting a comparable skilled actor for less money is business – not personal. But what about authenticity? Again it is show business and it does not work like a typical business. Big money and big risk are at stake for a theatrical run movie. Its success with audiences can hinge on the smallest details. The feel that it is real – even though it is “make believe” industry – it is what audiences want and can tell when they are being cheated. So authenticity does mean something. There are some directors in some film projects that insist on it when it comes to some aspect of a movie such as a regional storytelling. As for example, Ben Affleck was specific to hire local Boston actors, and members of the local population, in all the extras in his directorial debut film, “Gone Baby Gone.” He insisted that they did not hire professional extras in order to keep it as authentic as possible. Whether it is locations, people, featured actors, or stunt work performed by the featured actors, such a Tom Cruise in most of the action scenes of his movie. Many strive for the most authentic film that they can make. They know that audiences can tell and feel authenticity. Therefore, does Samuel L. Jackson have a valid point here in the black British actors being hired for specific black American roles? Ones that relates directly to American race relations and not to universal subjects or themes as Jackson opines?

What about my advocacy for the authenticity of disabled creatives in the roles of writers, directors and certainly actors when it comes to disAbled characters?

It was not hard for me to immediately find the comparison that Samuel L. Jackson was making when it comes to the authentic portrayal and representation of specific American race relations and those roles being cast with those who do not have the same race relations from where they live. They have little to no background or context to the character and/or story. Compare that to using paraplegics and others with a disAbility for roles that are too often cast with able bodied actors who also have no background or context to the character and/or story that features a paraplegic or others with a disAbility.

Therefore, I thank Mr. Jackson for his bold yet obvious statements regarding the hiring of those creatives in the roles that are specific and should insist on authenticity for a film or television program. While his is about racial and regional authenticity and mine is about disAbility minority authenticity, we both have valid points. I will add that the exclusion of authentic disAbility creatives in movies and television are exponentially worse in the entertainment industry than the hiring of black Brits for authentic American roles.

After some push back in social media from some black British actors, Mr. Jackson replied during an interview at the premier of his latest film “Kong: Skull Island” by saying:

“It was not a slam against [British actors], but it was just a comment about how Hollywood works in an interesting sort of way sometimes,”

“We’re not afforded that same luxury, but that’s fine, we have plenty of opportunities to work.”

I can testify from 20+ years of working or trying to work in the entertainment industry “Hollywood works in an interesting sort of way” as in the examples Mr. Jackson sites and I will again add that it is very true when it comes to those with a disAbility in Hollywood. And he is also correct that he and other black American actors “have plenty of opportunities to work.”

Those of us in the disAbility minority have very little work opportunities – especially in the creative roles, that either rarely include or more often exclude a character with a disAbility in the entertainment industry. And we certainly deserve to be included as we make up 20% of the American population. How can you exclude 20% of the American population in movies and television? According to the U.S. Census, blacks, African-Americans make up 13% of American population. Can you imagine what would happen if they or any other minority were excluded as much as those 20% with a disAbility are today? And what happens here in American is often followed by the international entertainment industries. Hollywood should lead in the inclusion of people with a disAbility as creatives – writers, directors and actors.

While I have often advocated for those with a disAbility, especially paraplegics to be portrayed and represented by those with the same or similar disAbility as the characters in movies and television because they know what it “really feels” like. They know it – they live it. How can anyone else truly portray that experience? Like Samuel L. Jackson is saying about the specific American race relationships being portrayed and represented by those who know it – that live it.

While there is some progress with the network television program “Speechless”, we are far from where we should be in the 21st Century and in an industry that promotes itself and prides itself as being the most inclusive industry in the world. So Hollywood, can we be included so you can continue boasting of being the most open and giving voice to all, especially those who are marginalized? Because we are more accepted in society than you are showing in movies and television, and more that you are accepting us within your society of creative members. It is way past time for Hollywood to get out of the Dark Ages of excluding the people and stories of those with a disAbility. And the best way is to hire those with a disAbility as writers and directors to be the voice and vision, and actors to be the authentic portrayals – all to be the authentic representation of the 20% of the American population you have ignored for far too long. Let’s work together to represent the honestly inclusive industry that gives voice to all in movies and television entertainment!

Voices Finally Growing!

There is a movie, “Me Before You”, that is opening Friday, June 3, 2016. According to the movie’s description on their IMDb website page, is about when “A girl in a small town forms an unlikely bond with a recently-paralyzed man she’s taking care of.” movie poster from imdb - resized - 315x600They did not mention a lot in that short logline/tagline about the movie. I can say that it is set in England. And it looks like a good, romantic dramedy. For those who do not know what a “dramedy” is, it is just what you are probably thinking it is, a hybrid of a drama and comedy. I remember reading about this movie, or more likely as I will mention in a moment, I saw either a television commercial or a trailer during the previews to one of the movies I saw a while back.

Usually, I know about all the movies and most television shows that feature a person with a disAbility, and especially those featuring a paraplegic, months before the general public. But I have finally put more of my attention on my film and entertainment business rather than being the advocate and watchdog that can take up a lot of time. So for this movie I found out along with the general public. I know that is very unusual and as soon as I finish my short film, and complete the development of two other projects, I will be right back at it!

Regardless of when I found out about this film, of course I was very interested in finding out more about it. For years I have been advocating for films like this is to be “authentic”, using a paraplegic actor in the role of the paraplegic character and therefore I wanted to know about the authenticity of this one because I did not recognize the actor playing the English paraplegic character. I am a huge fan of British movies and television shows, but that did not help me identify this actor and so when I Googled “Me Before You”, I found that he is an English actor named, Sam Claflin. And as usual, in Hollywood’s Standard Operating Procedures, he is an able bodied actor. It is a shame because the British entertainment industry has been leading the way by hiring actors with a disAbility to portray characters in their television and movies. As I have mentioned in other blog entries they are somewhat ahead of American entertainment on the authentic portrayals, but not in this case. Maybe not such a shock or surprise because although it is filmed in England, using primarily English actors, and some post-production editing was done there, it is MGM and New Line Cinema listed as the Production companies and they are completely Hollywood.

The next step that I check is the source. The writer. That could add some authenticity to the film and the character if the writer is a person with a disAbility, or their spouse or one of their children is and especailly, in this case, one who is paralyzed. This is one of the three creative positions I have advocated for movies to be more real, genuine, and authentic when portraying a paraplegic character. I have pleaded with, written specific details on how to be more authetnic, advocated, fought for these three main roles in the creative positions of a movie, the writer, director, and the actor of a paraplegic character – be a paraplegic. At least one of them. So in my search for the writer of this movie, I found out it is based on a very popular novel by the same name. The author, JoJo Moyes, is not a paraplegic and as far as I can tell has no personal connections to a paraplegic. The best I could find to her connections to the disAbled community was a professional one, as a “typer of braille statements for blind people for NatWest”. Me before you - book - 1This according to her website where I also found out that she was an English journalist for 10 years and more recently “been a full time novelist since 2002, when her first book, ‘Sheltering Rain’ was published. Since then she has written a further eleven novels, all of which have been widely critically acclaimed.

“Jojo has won the Romantic Novelist’s Award twice, and ‘Me Before You’ has been nominated for Book of the Year at the UK Galaxy Book Awards. ‘Me Before You’ has since gone on to sell over 3 million copies worldwide.”

And now she is a famous screenwriter since she was hired to adapted her book, “Me Before You” for the film.

In my Google search, I did not want to dig too much further in the story of “Me Before You” because I have to admit, I was intrigued about the story. In viewing the movie trailer, it looked like it was a happy, romantic movie. The paralyzed character is portrayed to have hope when the “girl from a small town” comes into his life. He even has romantic aspirations for her and it appears she does for him. This is Hollywood so there will be a Hollywood ending. This could be one in which the disAbled character even though it is not authentic, maybe the story would somehow be. The paraplegic character was finding love and would have a “happily ever after” ending. After all, even though all of my screenplays and short stories leave out the disAbility stereotypes they do have in one way or another the happy ending. And as a reminder, the author is a famous romantic novelist! This is good and I am interested in watching this movie when it comes out. Therefore I do not want any spoilers!

 

Notice the hashtag – #LiveBoldly – I found these promoting the movie.  And to clarify, the full quote that is listed on the promo picture on the right is, “Push yourself. Don’t settle. Just live well. Just LIVE.” — This is sounding good. And the trailer, the television commercial looks good. This has the possibility of being the kind of movie that features a paralyzed person in a good way despite not being authentically portrayed!

 

But the past couple of days I have seen some Facebook posts from my fellow disAbility advocates and especially the disAbility film advocates. The comments were very short and without knowledge of this movie, a bit cryptic. So I had to click on the articles they posted so I could find out what they were talking about. And I was not happy with what I found.

The first one was an article about an event that happened five days ago. On May 23, 2016, in the regular course of movie promotion, the star, well I am calling him the actor faking the disAbility of paraplegia in the upcoming movie, “Me Before You”, Sam Claflin went on the movie’s Twitter account to Tweet with fans for an hour. #AskSam  #LiveBoldly – As I read the down, the author of the article, Dominick Evans, one of the more active disAbility film advocates, which in that respect reminds me a lot of myself five, ten years ago, wrote that the film is far from one that has a happy Hollywood ending. In fact,

THE PARALYZED CHARACTER KILLS HIMSELF.

Yes, I am giving spoilers with no alerts. And I have good reason for it. People should not go see this movie. The character is despressed because of his disAbility. And instead of any mention of getting him some mental help, he feels it is better to be dead than disAbled. He feels it is better he gives up his life for an able bodied person. I guess the life of a person with a disAbility is worthless? Or at least worth less than an able bodied person. They certainly did not show any of this in the trailer or televsion commercials!

They fooled me.

This is what I have fought against Hollywood from doing. Do not keep portraying this kind of stuff. And if they portrayed a paralyzed person LIVING BOLDLY then people who become paralyzed, injured or acquire some other disAbility, they will know they can LIVE BOLDLY TOO!

Dominick Evans, the disAbility advocate and author of this article, tells us that he is one who requires much the same level of caretaking as is portrayed in this movie. And he is a very active person with a disAbility. He is one that is an advocate, a filmmaker, a family man. He is not like the person portrayed in this movie.

The person/character portrayed in the movie is depressed and wanting to kill himself. Assisted sucicide. Euthenasian. Call it whatever you want but many people, especailly in these days of assisted LIVING, and accessible activities and jobs, help for PTSD that can affect those that are newly paralyzed and therefore no need to portray this kind of mindset.

Hollywood and I will say the author of the book, JoJo Moyes are perpetuating the NEGATIVE so often found in books and movies by people who have no idea what it is like to LIVE with a disAbility – especially those that they are portraying. That is why it should be people like myself and Dominick who is also a filmmaker. We need authentic portrayals. Writers, directors and actors with the same or similar disAbility of that which is being portrayed in the character.

Now I am going beyond just encouraging you to read his article. I am pleading with you. It is easy to read. It gives the points that are so important to those of us with a disAbility. And it shows the Tweets that many people with a disAbilty had asked Sam Claflin about his portrayal of a paralyzed person. It seems he did not answer any of them. And in fact, he left the Twitter Chat after 40 minutes – instead of staying the full hour as they promoted him to do. Please read this:

https://storify.com/dominickevans/sam-claflin-ends-twitter-chat-on-mebeforeyou-after

This shows that there are many people now active in voicing their opinions about this kind of portrayals. Non-authentic portrayals. In story and in performance. 10, 15, and certainly 20 years ago I felt like I was the only one that felt this way about these kinds of stereotypical movies. I have mentioned many of them before. And in those like this movie where the paralyzed person wants to die instead of living – “Whose Life Is It Anyway”, “Million Dollar Baby”, “The Sea Inside”. We have seen it. They are portrayed. Let those portrayals stand. It has been done. Let us have more POSITIVE and REALISTIC portrayals of the overwhelming majority of us with disAbility – with paralysis. We know about it. We live it. We do not focus on what we canot do but on what we can do.

Over the years I started to meet others with the same feelings and thoughts I had about these portrayals. At the time it was mostly actors with a disAbility. As a filmmaker, I was, I am writing the non-stereotypical screenplays. I wanted to make a difference in Hollywood and did everyting in my ABILITY to pitch it and prove it to them. But they never wanted to hear anything about change. And the small group of people with a disAbility that felt the same way – also felt like they were alone and fighting a system that would not hear our voices.

Now, in 2016, the momentum is growing. It has grown and is growing! There are many voices – growing in support of real authentic storytelling and authentic portrayals of the paraplegic life. Not just actors and filmmakers witha  disAbility. I wish that I knew about this Twitter #askSam, #liveboldly event ahead of time so that I could add my voice – one that if anyone has been following my blog here, or will scroll down and read some of the blog entries knows – I have advocated everything that is being said in these Tweets for years. Even though I am not on Twitter that often because I have a hard time limiting my comments to only 140 characters – I would have done so to add my voice that has been a voice for 21 years! Instead, I will do this – add a blog post and promote it on social media in hopes to reach as many as possible. You! And you can pass this on!

 

me before you - not dead yet uk - 1
This is from a disAbility advocate in the United Kingdom.

 

 

Here is another great article in Self magazine online and again I plead with you to read it. If you “like” this page and/or you “like” me – then YOU need to read this to understand me and what I am doing with my work in Abilities United Productions.

Please read:

http://www.self.com/trending/2016/05/why-some-disability-rights-activists-are-protesting-me-before-you/

I am sure there are a thousand other things I could say in this blog entry, and many I will wish I had added before posting it, but know this, I am NOT going to see this movie. I ask you to also not give your money to support this kind of portrayal of those with a disAbility.

And please pass this on in your social media. Even if it is not this blog entry – then one or both of the articles I posted above. Real easy to do when you are on their page. If you do not see the Social Media links – click on the address bar and copy the website’s address. Then paste it on your Facebook or Twitter page with comments such as that this is an offensive movie to people who are paralyzed. That you know a person who is paralyzed and he is offended by this portrayal and is asking you to not support it. This is an insult to people with a disAbility. We want to live. Life, even with a disAbility is worth living! Our lives are just as valuable as the able bodied life. And we want that to be portrayed – not this insult.

We really need to get this out over the next 7 days – before it opens on Friday, June 3rd. I was nearly fooled into it. You have been educated and if nothing else – you know what is going to happen and therefore it’s not worth your money! Do not let your friends be fooled. If you’re a real friend you will do this for them! If you are my friend, I ask you to do this. We need YOUR voice to be added to ours. The power of social media and the power of the pocketbook will tell them not to make this kind of portrals anymore. Thanks.

 

It Is Time – 2016

I would say “Happy New Year” for this first blog post of 2016 but it is already the beginning of the second week of February! I have been thinking of writing this blog entry since the beginning of January. I have in the past blogged at the first of the year with great optimism. In those years past, there has been reason to be positive and giving me reason to be excited about a new year. Usually it was because I had a promising deal in the works that would help in funding a film project, help in other ways of progressing a film project or for my business, Abilities United Productions, or that the entertainment industry is making some promising effort to be more inclusive to those with a disAbility in the creative positions within the film and/or television programs. Unfortunately, every time, in the deals for my films or the industry, those promises were broken. It has been so many “new years” that I have been through and been so optimistic and then so let down, that I have not posted such optimism the past couple of years.

This year, I am happy. And it is not related to any promises from others. I have been working on some new projects. Not just film projects, such as my short film, a short auto-biography focusing on my experiences the film industry, “American Dream: Deal With It”, but two new projects that will help all of us with a disAbility in the entertainment industry. I believe that these new projects will also be helping future generations with a disAbility to realistically dream of working as creative entrepreneurs or as entertainment creative employees in Hollywood. I am really excited about these projects. I cannot say exactly what they are because for now they are in the development stages. But as soon as I have them secured as businesses I will announce them here, on the website and social media outlets.

And speaking of the website and social media outlets, what I can tell you is that in addition to these new fantastic projects – I am going to focus on updates, which could include completely new looks to this blog site, the Abilities United website, the You Tube channel, Twitter, Linked In, starting a Stage32 page (they are billed as a Linked In site for film professionals), and other places that will keep Abilities United accessible to everyone. As will the social media presence of the new projects! I will need the help of all of you and your friends, not to mention many more to extend the reach of these updates to the current Abilities United presence but to the new projects – one of which is critical to get as many as possible actively engaging in it to make it successful for all currently working in the entertainment industry and those who will be dreaming of it. We will make our own path into the entertainment industry. So 2016 is an exciting new year. It will be known as the start of the new inclusion of people with a disAbility in the entertainment industry!

A Responsibility from the Oscar Filmmaking Community

I wanted to post this on Monday since the Oscars were broadcasted the night before but I had gotten busy. There were some controversies from some of the acceptance speeches but I do not wish to talk about them. The most interesting one is that of the Academy’s President, Cheryl Boone Isaacs. I was already laying down when she came on stage and began talking. I was very interested in what she was saying so I grabbed my camera and rewinded the dvr so I could record it and share it. SO the hand-held camera was a little shaky at first and I also had to increase the volume as I was filming. Please excuse that but I have uploaded it to YouTube and added Captions. These Captions I did my best on. If there were any spelling or grammar errors I apologize as both of those annoy me a lot. You can watch it here or skip down for my thoughts on her statements.

UPDATE: YouTube has blocked the video due to Copyrighted material – But the Oscars’ uploaded video of the show is terrible. I wanted to place it here – starting at the point of the AMPAS’ President – but the audio is off from the video. Others commented that it didn’t work at all. So, since I went to the trouble of Closed Captioning it – I made still photos of the proper section and uploaded them into the appropriated sections below.

A - Video is Blocked Globally

I was impressed with her Oscar speech. Right from the beginning she said, “Tonight we are here to celebrate the storytellers, the men and women whose accomplishments have touched the hearts of people around the world.”

YouTube for Oscars 001e - here to celebrate the storytellersYouTube for Oscars 001f - have touched the hearts of people around the world

I have often used the phrase “a storyteller on film” when describing myself as a filmmaker. I loved that – right off the beginning! She went on to describe the locations of some of the Best Picture nominees. And that these “movies have captured in compelling narratives the world we live in.”

YouTube for Oscars 001m - the world we live in

I agree. Somewhat. The world we live in was somewhat portrayed in a way that included a person with a disAbility in a movie. There are 54-56 million Americans with a disAbility. Nearly 6 million that are paraplegics and using a wheelchair. The movie, “The Theory of Everything” is about one wheeler from England and was made because it was about the famous theoretical physicist, and theoretical cosmologist (which I think is redundant since 99% of all we know about the cosmos is theory), Stephen Hawkins who has been living with ALS, a disease that quickly took over his mobility and eventually had him become a wheelchair user for the majority of his life. From what I understand, because I have yet to see the movie, is that “The Theory of Everything” does portray the earlier part of his life as he was a University student and when the ALS disease was initially began to attack his body. So while I am a very big advocate for people with a disAbility who are portrayed in movies be portrayed and represented by actors with the same or similar disAbility, this would be one that I would not criticize because it would require an able bodied actor to handle the able bodied scenes which from what I understand is a good portion of the movie. Or at least able bodied and the time that the disease was deteriorating his body and his mobility. That took some time and what the movie was about. Well, along with his relationship with his first wife and how it effected her. This movie garnered a lot a praise and even won the Best Actor award for Eddie Redmayne for his portrayal of Stephen Hawkins later in the night.

But with this many Americans with a disAbility and the United Nations estimation of 650 million people with a disAbility globally, where are the stories, the movies that include them, and not just the famous people with a disAbility, that surely are a part of the world we live in? And ones that are not only featuring or co-starring people with a disAbility AND are portrayed and represented by the actors and maybe also those like yours truly, the filmmakers with a disAbility to give the voice, view and representation of this huge underserved of the largest and fastest growing minority in America? This is the world we live in – and it not a world of famous paraplegics or others with a disAbility.

Okay. Now let’s move on in her speech. She mentions about the power of film.

YouTube for Oscars 001n - at the AMPASYouTube for Oscars 001o - we celebrate the power of film as a universal languageYouTube for Oscars 001p - that connects and unites the human spiritAgain, I have often spoken of the power of the movies – especially the universal power – the global power of Hollywood movies and with this great global power brings great responsibility. This is one of the reasons I have said they have the power and responsibility is to authentically portray and represent paraplegics in movies and television. Allow us to portray and represent ourselves!

And then in her very next sentence she states, “As we stand on this stage with the eyes of the world upon us, we as the filmmaking community have a responsibility.”

YouTube for Oscars 1 - we have a responsibility

WOW! I have been saying that for nearly two decades! And this is when I grabbed my camera, rewinded the dvr, and began to record her speech. As I mentioned above, I have argued that Hollywood has great power which brings great responsibility. And that people with a disAbility need to be included more movies and television and that those portrayals need to include people with a disAbility in the creative roles as writers, directors, and definitely actors in those portrayals.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs went further by listing the responsibilities of the filmmaking community.

YouTube for Oscars 2 - no ones voice is silenced by threat

  1. “A responsibility to ensure that no ones voice is silenced by threat.” I would end it with “silenced” period! Actually I could say that in my nearly 20 years at this as a paraplegic filmmaker I have seen a “silent threat” that if I or we as a community push this whole “we want to be authentically portrayed and represented” then we will produce even less than the already miniscule amount of movies and television portrayals that include people with a disAbility. We have been silenced by Hollywood because they believe people do not want to see those with a disAbility – so they will not give audiences a chance – and certainly not a chance with an actor with a disAbility.
  2. YouTube for Oscars 3 - ensure different opinions shared wo fear2. “A responsibility to ensure that different opinions can be shared without fear of personal or professional attack.” WOW! Again! The audience then gives a huge applause. The only time she had to pause her speech. When the applause began to get louder, the director cut to a camera on Harvey Weinstein who was clapping. He has been a champion of “different opinions” but I wonder how he would feel about the opinions of a paraplegic filmmaker? And would I be able to share them with him and without fear of personal or professional attack? In Hollywood, an attack is the same thing as a blacklist. And Hollywood does have a blacklist. I wrote about a few years ago. Again, in my nearly 20 years as a paraplegic filmmaker, I know for a fact that they do not want to have some “different opinions.” They feel that the issue of paraplegic portrayals is one that has been settle many years ago. And that is that paraplegics are not necessary beyond being “consultants” for the screenwriters, directors, and especially for the actors who will be portraying the paraplegic character. They do not want the paraplegic communities opinions and more specific, the paraplegic writers, directors, or actors opinions. I am not alone with this knowledge and personal experience. Will this change in the future? It is up to them. We continue to try.
  3. YouTube for Oscars 4 - protect the freedom of expression3. “A responsibility to protect the freedom of expression.” That is wonderful. Three very significant responsibilities that the filmmaking community have as the eyes of the world are upon them. Do the eyes of the world see any authentic portrayals of the largest minority in America, the people with a disAbility? Does Hollywood protect the freedom of expression? Sure. But that doesn’t mean they accept the expression! I have had a hard time just getting an opportunity to pitch my film projects. Nor get any representation. Unlike an actor who have agents, a filmmaker usually has to find legal representation. Entertainment attorneys have access to all sort of studio executives, distributors, A-list and B-list actors. I have tried to get them to represent me and or my production company. But none will even look at my business plans – for the company or the film projects. So I remain on my own. And I know that some actors with a disAbility have the same difficulties in getting an agent to represent them. So they also go it alone. Paraplegics and others with a disAbility are almost always an albatross in the Hollywood. The chances that they get heard or get a job, in which is how their agents or attorneys will then get paid – a percentage of the job – is not worth it to them. They have to spend a lot of time finding a job for the paraplegic or others with a disAbility and they keep getting “no” from all the production companies and studios and networks. No one is going to work for nothing. The work for the best chances. And we are barely a chance and so it is not worth it to them. And I cannot blame them. They have families to feed too! But we do deserve the same and equal opportunities. And Hollywood has the power and responsibility to provide it.

Now that Cheryl Boone Isaacs has spoken of the responsibilities of the filmmaking community she continues with some very positive words.

YouTube for Oscars 5 - honor the courage YouTube for Oscars 6 - cross borders test boundaries YouTube for Oscars 7 - voice to challenging ideas and alternate pov YouTube for Oscars 8 - encourage to see world and those around us in new ways

“At the Oscars we celebrate our love of movies and in doing so we honor the courage of filmmakers who cross borders and test boundaries. Who give voice to challenging ideas and alternative points of view. And who encourage us to see the world and those around us in new ways.”

She goes on about how many people are watching the Oscars and their connection to movies. And then finishes up with thanking the audience and those who are in attendance. But the words that I put in bold above I like and are encouraging for filmmakers and actors alike. Unless you are paraplegic or someone else with a disAbility. I just could not have said it better myself. It is what I have been saying for years – and can be found in my business model which is described in my business plans. My storytelling on film do “give voice to … alternative points of view. And [do] encourage [you] to see the world and those around [you] in new ways.” But no one will know this if Hollywood will not give me and others an opportunity to prove ourselves as disAbled but very capable to portray and represent ourselves in movies and television.

These were all great words from the voice of the entertainment industry. But the Academy does not run Hollywood. It is the studios, networks and distribution companies. And to many of them, these were just words. Nice words but only when they fit their business model. And although my business model and plans are very similar – in fact, they pretty much mirror those of the most successful independent films – with the slight difference that I as a paraplegic insist that I remain the filmmaker, the writer (the voice) and director (the vision), and that I hire a paraplegic actor (the face) to portray my single paraplegic featured character in my film project – to have the authentic portrayal and representation of paraplegics in my movies. Equal portrayal and representation that they give other minorities. You would not think that would be such a barrier, but it is in Hollywood. I and many other paraplegics and others with a disAbility will go on and not give up. Even if we don’t make it – although that is what we work for and hope for so much, as much as our able bodied counterparts, but if we don’t make it, hopefully we will cut a path that gets closer for the next generation of filmmakers and actors with a disAbility.