All posts by yogi1964

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!

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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.

A Flare Gun in the Wild West

Last night I watched the Film Independent Spirit Awards. And the best part was for the Best Director award. The Hollywood Venus, proven even with her new unique hair style she is incredibly beautiful, Scarlett Johansson, presented the award. I filmed all of it, but edited it down to her announcing the winner, Richard Linklater for his unique and groundbreaking film, “Boyhood”. I have not yet seen it but it was filmed over a 12 year period following the life of a young boy growing up over those 12 years.

Richard was not able to attend and accept the award but his long time friend, artistic collaborator, actor and one of the stars of the film, Ethan Hawke was and accepted the award on his behalf. I was impressed by his acceptance speech. I grabbed my camera and rewinded the DVR so that I could film it to share it. Wonderful message and I want to thank Ethan Hawke for it. It means a lot to me as a paraplegic filmmaker who has been banging my hands and heart on the walls of Hollywood for 25 years and continue to get a sympathetic ear but nothing more that a “Good Luck” as they hang up the phone! But I will continue on! And I appreciate what Ethan said! Thanks again! Check it out at the link here:

I hope this shows up?

In case it doesn’t show up and you do not want to click on it, here are the words that I thank Ethan Hawke for!

“If this movie serves as anything, it serves as a little, umm, a flare gun you know to shoot up for anybody that has a radical vision that has something that they want to say that they think someone should be hearing. It is possible…the truth is, you know, the impossible can happen. And what Rick (Richard Linklater) always says is that ‘It’s the Wild West out there. This art form is so young and there is so much to be done. There is so many stories to be told and it’s going to be told not by corporate America but by you.”

Uncomfortable but Requested Film

Obviously I have not been blogging much these days. Things have slowed down for multiple reasons. Some personal and some professionally. I often feel like I have said all there is to be said on the subject of authentic portrayals and representation of paraplegics, and to a lesser degree all those with a disAbility, in previous posts. That was the main reason I transferred all of my blog posts from the now defunct GoDaddy blog servers and over here to WordPress.

movie_reel_400X400

But this is a new year. And despite last years’ slowing down I have been working on a short film. I have been encouraged and most often rejected making documentary films, and especially any that would feature yours truly. I am a behind the camera guy. And I like storytelling. Fictional stories are much more fun to create and write. That is what I have been doing for 25+ years. But since my becoming a paraplegic, which this April will be 20 years, it has an incredible journey that has not produced as I was sure it would by this time in my career and life. Which for many of those years, they were one and the same! And like with many of you in my life and career there have been many ups and downs. And thanks in large part to the entertainment industry, much of my career has been dismissed, ignored, or completely unnoticed because I have insisted that as a paraplegic filmmaker, in which I create a paraplegic character in the starring role, that I only hire a paraplegic actor for that paraplegic role. To answer the industry objection that there are no name recognized paraplegic actors to carry a film to box office success, I have written strong co-starring characters that are able bodied and more of a dual starring roles in order to attract a name recognized able bodied actor. I also create stories that are universal rather than ones that would only attract the disAbility community. This creates the “golden egg” of most businesses, including the independent film business of reach a niche market with universal appeal. My film projects provides the authentic paraplegic/persons with a disAbility portrayal and representation, along with commercial appeal for mainstream audiences.

There have been countless objections and obstacles to producing such entertaining films. I have met them all with answers and proof that such films would be worthy of success. But never getting an opportunity to prove it. It is all on paper. It has been proven in the business plans and presentations that I have written but I have failed to find those that will give me more than a polite, “good luck. It is a very interesting and noble idea”. This without even looking at the written proof, the screenplays, the business plans complete with the details of the authentic niche with mainstream appeal – marketing and advertising campaigns – and financial projections.

This is just an outline of all the trials and challenges that accompanied this 25+ year journey. Along with the personal roller coaster that I have been on it is almost unbelievable. And when people get to know me, or those that have been with me through it all, find it is incredible and wonder how I have gone on and on and on. For me it has never been a question. It is my passion and truly believing that I can and will make it happen. This genuine passion for both storytelling on film and the dedication to bringing this extremely underserved minority, an authentic and non-stereotypical representation to the entertainment industry, is what most people tell me they feel when they talk to me about my career and life! I cannot argue with them on that. I am very passionate and dedicated to my film work and the advocacy work that I have had to do because of the exclusion of people with a disAbility in the entertainment industry.

So with the prompting, encouragement and convincing that telling this story of my life in, or trying to be in, the entertainment industry will be an inspiration to others – not only to those trying to do what I have dedicated some much of my blood, sweat and tears but to those with a disAbility in general. And those who are requesting me to do this feel that it is something they and many others would like to see as well.

So I am working on it right now. Although I am currently struggling with how to present the film. I am currently writing it as a first person narration. But after hearing myself narrating in a small video clip I helped put together for my sister, I heard a lot of my speech difficulties that are still present since my strokes in 2011 and 2012. So while I am already not comfortable in me being the focus, in front of the camera, and doing a documentary short film, I am self-conscious about this speech impediment and therefore considering writing it in the third person to get someone else to narrate it. But how does that look? I am the writer, director, editor, producer of a film about myself but not narrating it?

In addition, I am working on ways to make this autobiographic, documentary film that are usually done in a methodical, educational cookie cutter way – entertaining! I can only hope that this will be a success. Since the entertainment industry has not been interested in my fictional work this might be the only tangible proof that I can show after over two decades of passionately working at making my dreams a reality.

This is a new year. Time for new thinking and a new film!

Moved the Blog

Well, since GoDaddy decided to end providing the Quick Blogcast as one of their services – I had to start a new one – and I decided to move it here to WordPress. I wanted to keep all the blogs I made since I began it in 2006. So I was able to export them here! It is not perfect – some of the entries have breaks in the sentences and makes them a little difficult to read. I will try to edit each of those posts – but most are from the very early blog entries and not sure how many of you will actually go back and read them!

I also have to make some edits to links that go to other blog entries. As well as the photos that are currently on this blog are hosted on GoDaddy but only until next month! So I will have to upload and change the links for each of those photos!

And speaking of photos, I will try and update the look of this blog. I am learning on what is possible and how to do it here on WordPress! Also, all the blogs I wrote on my previous blog hosting site had the author as “Larry the Rolling Filmmaker” and when I exported them here it changed my author name to my WordPress name “Yogi1964”. I didn’t know that would happen as I was lead to understand the Yogi1964 was just for signing in! But it is one and the same! It is me! Larry N. Sapp II – also known as Yogi. So there it is for now!

Meanwhile, this is the new location for my blog rants about paraplegics and others with a disAbility in the entertainment industry! Thanks for following this blog!

Conquering the Catch-22

There are many situations in life that we find ourselves in the Catch-22. I have in a few situation but none like the one that I have been stuck in for the past 18+ years. It didn’t start out that way. I attended the Art Institute in Dallas for its Music and Video Business courses that incorporated the instructions and hands on approach for music production, video production, and the business classes to become successful within either industry. I had success in all courses but found a real passion in video production as a writer, director and editor. After school, I worked as a freelance camera operator, production assistant, writer, and whatever I could do to make a little bit of money in the music video field. In my free time I worked on transitioning my career from the limited storytelling in music video creation to becoming a screenwriter and director in the film industry. I found what was the most fulfilling in my life. I loved every bit of it and I knew I was going to make it.

Of course there were some ups & downs over the next couple of years. Just as things were looking promising, I had a life-altering accident that left me paralyzed from the mid-back down. Due to the nature of my work at the time, I had no medical insurance and the fall down the stairs was a no body’s fault but my own. Quickly all savings and money on hand was gone and obviously I was unemployed. Regardless, my passion and determination to be a filmmaker was not paralyzed with the bottom half of my body! In fact, I found that my dreams had become more focused and refined – as a paraplegic filmmaker I could create films that portrayed people with a disAbility in authentic, genuine and non-stereotypical ways that would show all that can be done and is being done by those with a disAbility. This would provide a new and realistic look at paraplegics rather than the stagnant and fairly hopeless lives that the entertainment industry usually portrays. This would give hope and inspiration to those living with a disAbility.

Within a year, I founded and served as Executive Director and President of the not-for-profit organization, “Wheelchair Independence”. With the goals to produce videos and a resource and social gathering website to help newly injured paraplegics become independent, I and my board of directors went to work in 1996 when the internet was still a new entity and no such website existed, nor did any videos to help the newly disabled and the professionals who treat and serve the disabled were available. Unfortunately, we found a major Catch-22 in fund raising and grant proposals. 80-90% of all private foundation grant money for each fiscal year is already committed to organizations such as cancer research to local operatic houses. All other not-for-profit organizations are fighting for the remaining 10-20% of grant funding. And despite our efforts we not find the acceptance needed to sustain the needs of the business and in 1998 I had to dissolve the company.

I was not deterred and instead went right back into following my real passion and dreams of being a filmmaker – to write and direct fictional films for mainstream audiences that featured a paraplegic in the starring role. And I was determined to hire only an actor with the same or similar disAbility as my featured character. Established and independent Hollywood did not welcome these slightly “out of the box” ideas of hiring a film director who was a paraplegic nor hiring an actor who is a paraplegic to portray the paraplegic character that I created in my screenplays. Even those that liked my pitches and accepted my screenplays to read and possibly purchase, wanted the characters and plots to be more stereotypical. I made some changes but they continued to want more stereotypical changes, I finally refused and pulled the screenplays from submission. Hollywood seemed content to keep business as usual and exclude paraplegics from portraying and representing themselves in movies. So I took the next step and followed the Hollywood gurus’ instructions to be a successful filmmaker by creating an independent production company and created, “Abilities United Productions”.

Now armed with the creative screenplays, and using my business skills and experience, I quickly went to raise the necessary capital to turn this start-up into a fully working production company. Only I found another major Catch-22. And again it was in funding:

  • Traditional funding sources, banks, venture capitalist, and even angel investors do not fund high-risk companies even with the potential for high-returns, such as the nature of the movie business. Even with the assistance of the Small Business Administration which I first had to prove to them that being a member of the disability minority was a disadvantaged group and deserved to have that status, I was still turned down and told to take my business to the entertainment industry’s avenues of funding.
  • But when I went back to Hollywood seeking assistance, now with a specific brand – the Abilities United Productions providing the authentic voice, vision, and representation of paraplegics – a brand with a business model and plan to capture the “golden egg” for most businesses by reaching and retaining an underserved niche market (the disAbility consumer market that is 54 million Americans strong and is the largest and fastest growing minority in America) with universal mainstream market appeal – I was still was met with the same resistance as before as they felt paraplegics were not necessary and would only get in the way.  

With this Catch-22 having me spinning my own wheels in circles – I changed directions and spent considerable time and effort to reach another option for independent filmmakers and for one like myself who has a cause. A noble cause that would at least get to pulling at some heart strings, along with the fair & equal opportunity for those who are not treated as most other minorities. And with the business model and business plans that I developed – I could show the real opportunity for social responsibility, critical praise worthiness, and commercial success:

  • Hollywood star power – and ask for their assistance in helping me attract the funding and attention of those who could assist me in this historical “turning point” in American cinema. I was sure that would help overcome and even conquer the Catch-22 was I surrounded by. But all I found was another Catch-22. I could not get past the agents, or assistants of the actors, actresses, directors, or producers unless I had the money to produce my films. I could not even get their time to explain the cause – the need for their assistance to overcome this huge injustice, along with the simple solution that my business model, plans, and films would provide. I had to have the money and be ready to produce my film before anyone would even listen. I have a database with well over a hundred of the power makers and players and documented every time I attempted to contact, who it was I directed the conversation with, and how, i.e.: phone calls, letters, emails, faxes.
  • Throughout this process, I did find some individuals who saw that this was a very good opportunity to invest – but as it turned out most of them were posers – those who said they had access to investors, to hedge fund managers, etc. – but
    when it came down to it – I never got in front of the person or persons who can sign on the bottom line and they never produced any real investors.

And then came the 2008 economic recession. Nobody was going or was able to invest in independent films.

Over the years, before and after the economic crises I have tried many, many other independent filmmaker options. From the well-known to the not so well known, such as:

  • Sundance Institute – tried to apply but they said it is not wheelchair accessible. Even the Sundance Film Festival isn’t accessible to most of the seminars, etc.
  • Film Independent the organization that produces the Spirit Awards for independent films and the Los Angeles Film Festival also has several programs to develop and help independent filmmakers and promises to help those who need it – but you have to already have a majority of the help in place! I know because I applied to several of their Filmmakers’ Labs, the programs to help independent films and filmmakers but was turned down for every one of them.

Despite the many obstacles and objections from all of the standard methods of raising capital for my production company I vow not to quit. I will find a way to conquer the Catch-22 that unfortunately happens to be 10 times the factor most other independent filmmakers encounter. I will continue to find opportunities that offer a chance for independent films, disAbility causes that seek to help improve the images of those with a disAbility, seek the support from Hollywood individuals, celebrities with the power to help make a change, as well as potential angel investors that have a personal interest in seeing people with a disAbility portray and represent themselves in non-stereotypical, mainstream, fictional movies and television programs.

Hollywood Hypocrites Have New Ally – Uncle Tom Mobility

Audiences often applaud the diversity of the movie or television program when they see a character from a minority group – especially if it is more than a small supporting, token role and instead is a featured or starring role. While that is often worthy of praise for inclusion of minority characters in their film or program, what most people – the moviegoers and television viewers don’t see – is how that role is created, portrayed and represented. This is certainly true for the minority characters with a disAbility. While the debate of the fair and equal portrayal of racial minority characters in the entertainment industry continues for positive changes in the authentic racial voices, visions, and performances, right up to the top ladder with authentic representation in the executives’ making the decisions at the movie and television studios (see the NBC Universal – Comcast Merger controversy and the proposed new race minority owned television channels), allowing for real representation.  It doesn’t even compare to how fair or rather unfair and unequal the portrayal and representation of the disAbled minority are given in today’s movies and television programing. And this selective diversity in Hollywood of which minorities to give authentic, fair and equal representation to and continue with the Standard Operating Procedures of exclusion of those with a disAbility is done openly and the best examples of this is when a character with a disAbility is easy to fake.

 

Hollywood has a history of films and television shows that have characters with a disAbility but the most recognized, used, and faked disAbility is those with a mobility disAbility – such as a paraplegic character. It is the easiest to fake. To any able bodied actor in any wheelchair and voila – you have an instant disAbility minority represented character that proves the movie studio or television network is inclusive and diverse. Oh, and don’t forget, with a named recognized actor and the proper publicity, you are 90% guaranteed to win critical praise and possible Oscar nomination and an award winner! Do not mess with the Hollywood success model for portraying a disAbled character. This is gold, baby!

 

Who cares what actual people with a disAbility thinks or feels about someone faking their struggles, their challenges and trials that they deal with every moment of every day? 

 

Fend off a few small protests from paraplegics and disAbility advocate groups and the general audiences will forget all about it when the movie is released. This is the standard practices for dealing with portraying a mobility disAbility character. Most in the entertainment industry have been doing it this way for so long that many do not even see what is wrong with this discriminated practice. And because of Hollywood’s decades of spoon feeding these very limited paraplegic portrayals that most audience’s accept any able bodied actor sitting in a wheelchair, who has been following the instructions of an able bodied director, who is interpreting the words on the pages of a script that was scribed by an able bodied writer. Their standard operating procedures will usually have all these individual creative forces educate themselves on how to fake being a paraplegic. Thus usually includes reading a book by a paraplegic, spending time with a paraplegic and if it is an able bodied actor, he or she will roll around in a wheelchair at home or in public to get the feel of it. And in some cases, the producers will hire a paraplegic as a consultant to teach the able bodied actor, and sometimes to be on set to give advice. This is what qualifies the able bodied to know what it is like to be a member of this minority group. And of course this is enough to properly fake the portrayal and represent those with a mobility disAbility. This is how it is done behind the scenes of a Hollywood production. Effectively excluding paraplegics or others with a disAbility from the creative roles as writers, directors, and actors. All audiences see is a new movie or television program that is praiseworthy of being diverse with a paraplegic character.

 

Dare Not Cross the Line

 

Critics of this argument and the history of the Hollywood accepted practice of not using a paraplegic actor will immediately reply that this is what actors are trained to do – to fake – to pretend – to bring to life the make believe! And I would agree, but, there are certain lines that you do not cross in this job, this talent and business of make believe – and that line is pretty clear when you fake having a “specific identity factor” – such as a minority status – based on gender, race, ethnicity, etc. Of course there are some exceptions, and that is when the character is faking the minority status, i.e.; “Tootise”, “Mrs. Doubtfire”, “White Chicks”, “Tropic Thunder” and others, when the audience is in on it and this is usually for comedic effect.

 

What about those with a disAbility? Why is it okay to cross the line and fake having this “specific identity factor” of having a disAbility so accepted? As stated above this has been done for so long that nobody questions it, but also because most in the entertainment industry and some in society do not even recognize that those with a disAbility as a minority. But by all definitions, in word and spirit, those with a disAbility are a minority group. In fact, it is the largest and fastest growing minority in America. Along with being identified as a significant minority consumer group in 1997’s “Packaged Facts”, a report that was the first consumer study on the disAbled community – all proves that those with a disAbility are a minority. In addition, let me repeat that being a member of the disAbility minority group, just like many in a racial minority group will tell you, that the specific reason that classifies you in a minority group, affects most if not all aspects of their lives and therefore is a “significant identity factor”.

 

I am a man, I am a paraplegic. And as a paraplegic man, I am a member of the disAbled minority group. And whether I like it or not, my disAbility, my paraplegia, my use of a wheelchair for personal mobility, is who I am. It is not all of who I am, but it is significant enough that it is an identity factor that makes me who I am. So rightfully, I get offended when anybody fakes being a paraplegic – you have no idea what it is like to live with paralysis with all of the physical, mental and emotional demands and challenges, and the disadvantages socially, economically, and environmentally unless you live life with paralysis.

 

This offense includes the faking of being a paraplegic in movies and television. Not all circumstances, but in most fictional roles in movies and television, it is offensive to me as a para. I have identified these times when I can see the value and when it is necessary to fake the disAbility status in previous articles and blog posts. And the most offensive is the way all of those with a
disAbility are viewed and treated in and by Hollywood. As if being a paraplegic or a person with a disAbility is nothing more than a mere medical condition, that those people are not a whole person, or even recognized as a member of a significant minority group and therefore not deserving the same type of respect for our own voice, our own vision, our own authentic portrayal and authentic representation in movies and television. And I know as a paraplegic filmmaker, trying and sometimes pleading with Hollywood to give me a chance to prove that we as paras can make a difference and represent ourselves, but they do not want the tree to be shaken or the Standard Operating Procedures that deal with paraplegics or others with a disAbility to be tampered with at all. If there is going to be any changes, they will do it themselves, so they can be heralded as the ones that make for real inclusion – they do not want or need a paraplegic to do it or even help do it. This is the Hollywood I have been dealing with since becoming a paraplegic in 1995.

 

The Real Betrayal

 

Although most of Hollywood is fine with their unfair and unequal portrayals that are stereotypical in their characters and misrepresented by able bodied people. And they are fine with how they justify these images and limited portrayals in movies, television and the media. This the how Hollywood continues to care and treat people with a disAbility when it comes to inclusion, or rather exclusion in the entertainment field. After all my years, dedicating most of my life to my work as a para filmmaker, I have come to expect this in and from most in Hollywood. But the one place that I, and others of us who work or try and work in this industry, that would have our backs and full support to make a change, a purposeful and genuine change, in our portrayals, in representing ourselves and in defending our rights to a fair and equal opportunity in these creative roles that will eventually have an impact on the entire community of those with a disAbility – is the very community we are part of – the disAbled community.

 

The disAbled community and all of their sub-groups, such as those that I am part of as a paraplegic, the mobility disAbility community, I have had and expected would always would have my back (no pun intended) and will have the backs of all others – not just paraplegic filmmakers like myself, but other paraplegic screenwriters, directors, and actors! I never thought they would lower themselves to justify the way Hollywood portrays a paraplegic character and how the Hollywood media supports this justification. Or so I thought!

 

The Trouble with Never

 

Here we are in 2012 and the saying that you should “never say never”, well it is proven by this year’s “New Mobility” magazine’s “Person of the Year” edition making a television character, a person and naming that character as the most significant person of 2011! Using the same techniques that would make the Hollywood machine proud, by jokingly and sarcastically titling the article “Seriously? Person of the Year? Artie Abrams, by Allen Rucker.” Artie Abrams is the name of a paraplegic character, portrayed by able bodied actor, Kevin McHale, on the popular Fox network show, “Glee”.

 

Do they have any idea how far this sets us back in all of our efforts and work to make a change in how Hollywood portrays and represents us? Do they care how Hollywood will now be able to point to this justification article when they create and promote another paraplegic character in a movie and/or television program that is completely stereotypical and completely portrayed by able bodied Hollywood people? Hollywood will now not only just sweep it under the rug, and deal with a couple minor protests when a new movie or television program features a paraplegic – but they will say, “See even the paraplegic community thinks our justification is justified. They think our ways of portraying them is fine!”

 

I can easily pick apart this entire article. And I thought I would when I first started writing this entry. But instead I will pick out a couple that really stick out to me. Allen Rucker writes about one episode, the ninth episode in the first season titled, “Wheels.” He summarized it with the premise that the school is unable to afford to rent an accessible bus to transport the glee club to a competition. So the club director has the club members put on a bake sale to raise money for the bus rental. From here Mr. Rucker than takes time to point out one of the poignant scenes as Artie is all alone and performs a solo of the hit song by Billy Idol titled, “Dancing With Myself.” And then remarks, “…you’d be hard pressed not to react to this performance, especially if you were in a chair yourself.” Which I would agree with. It was a good song for a solo. Especially for a wheelchair user. I have been known to do the same – and not always when I am all alone. I will whenever the mood and the song strikes me.

Allen Rucker than concludes this feel good review with more praise for the episode on how it concludes “In a sympathetic nod to Artie, the episode closes with every Gleester in a chair doing a choreographed performance of John Fogerty’s “Proud Mary.” Twisting and turning up and down ramps, none of the performers ever leaves their chair during the number. Again, nothing like this has ever been seen on a primetime drama. There are groups of real wheelchair users who regularly perform dance routines, pop and classic, but never in front of 7.35 million American TV viewers, along with 3.5 million others in Canada and the UK.”

 

Missing Crucial Points

 

But in all this justification for how good Artie is for American television, Allen Rucker fails to point out some other significant points that deal with how people with a disAbility are portrayed especially in this episode. As I have pointed out in at least two previous blog entries, Glee is Everything to Everyone and Faking A Minority Is Okay In Hollywood and I will again here because it is very significant and I can only wonder why Allen Rucker, who is a person with a mobility disAbility, did not mention this when writing about this episode.

 

For years, through all my interaction, and all my rejections, all the times of being dismissed or ignored, I had come to the conclusion that Hollywood must just not understand how those of us with a disAbility feel when someone fakes being a person with a disAbility. But as I watched this episode the most significant scene was near the end of the episode when Artie and his Glee club classmate, Tina, whom he has a crush on, are on a date. They are both rolling in chairs (I will explain why Tina is in a chair later) through the hallways and having a fun time. They stop for a while and Tina kisses Artie. Then she has something to confess.

 

Tina: “I have to tell you something. I’ve been faking it.”

Artie asks, “Faking what?”

Tina confesses, “I don’t have a stutter. I pretended to have one in the 6th grade because I didn’t want to give a speech on the Missouri Compromise. I was really shy and it made people think I was real weird. So they left me alone. And it wasn’t until Glee club did I realize how much I was missing. And I don’t want to push people away any more. You understand what that’s like, don’t you?”

Artie bows his head and then raises it to respond: “No, I don’t. I would never try and push people away because just being in a chair does that for ya. I thought we had something really important in common.”

Artie rolls away.

Tina stands up and apologizes, “Wait, Artie, I’m sorry.”

Artie stops and turns around to face her: “I am too. I’m sorry you get to be normal and I get to be stuck in this chair the rest of my life and that’s not something I can fake.”

Artie then turns back around and rolls away.

 

He rolled away from the beautiful girl that he had a crush on because she was faking a disAbility. Artie was so offended that she faked having a disAbility, even though it was not the same disAbility, but just the mere fact that she was faking it was so deeply offensive to him that he rolled away from the best chance a complete geek in a wheelchair was ever going to get with a beautiful girl.

 

WOW! The writers, Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan (who are also the co-creators of the show) – they “get it”! They get it that people with a disAbility are seriously offended when able bodied people fake having a disAbility. So, Hollywood does understand how we feel – they just either don’t care or are hypocrites.

 

Allen Rucker didn’t “get it” when reviewing this episode. Well, he does mention at the end of his article when reciting the storylines that involve the Artie character he mentions, “Artie falls for a girl named Tina because he thinks she has a disability, too — stuttering. When he finds out she is lying, he dumps her.” This is similar to nearly all of the able bodied reviewers write about this scene. Most say that Artie broke it off because Tina lied and/or because they no longer had something in common. But a paraplegic, and other with a disAbility would see between the lines and see the truth of this scene – he is offended by her faking her disAbility and his final line of dialogue proves this. And Allen Rucker should have seen this and pointed it out. But the significance of what happens in this scene is both revealing and hypocritical. I wonder if the writers, director, and/or especially if the actor were a paraplegic, there would be more emphasis on the faking part and the audience and the able bodied reviewers might have understood this scene and how we as paraplegics and people with a disAbility really feel? That would be a breakthrough and some real depth to the character. That would mean a lot to disabled community – people would get us and isn’t that what everyone wants – to be understood?

 

But wait, it does not stop there. Even more in this “Wheels” episode is insane and offensive. And not just to those with a disAbility but to all people. This requires some set up – some that was left out of Allen Rucker’s review of this episode. The Glee club director, Will, not only has the club members put on a bake sale to raise money for the accessible (well in the show they call it handicapable) bus, but he also makes all of the members to become wheelchair users. He gets them all wheelchairs for a week and each of them have to spend a certain amount of time in their chairs. And these are not the semi-affordable basic hospital chairs. These are expensive chairs that are similar to Artie’s chair. So at school and at the bake sale we see them in chairs rolling around. Will does this as a lesson to teach the students a little what it is like for Artie, and as we find out at the end of the episode, they are using the wheelchairs in the Glee competition in a choreographed routine. So they have had these chairs for a while. (As a side note and nothing to do with Allen Rucker’s analysis or rather simple review of this episode – but to repeat, the writers and trio of co-creators, Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan, and Paris Barclay the director of this episode – I wonder if any of them questioned or had someone research what the cost of renting wheelchairs – especially 11 or 12 of them for a week would cost? I would bet it would clearly cover the cost of a handicapable bus for a day or two!) Okay so that is the setup – the reason why Tina and the other glee members have wheelchairs and brings me to the other outrageous scene. Glee student character, Rachel Berry figures out a way to help fellow Glee classmate, Finn Hudson, who needs to find a job but has not been successful. So Rachel devises a plan by having him “fake” being disAbled and continue using the wheelchair. Rachel and Finn, who is in his wheelchair, go into a small restaurant and Rachel immediately grabs the attention of an employee;

 

Rachel: “Excuse me. Are you the manager?”

Manager: “Yes.”

Rachel: “You need to hire my friend Finn. He’s clearly handicapable and refusing to hire him can be seen as discrimination. My dads are gay and unless you want the full force of the American Civil Liberties Union coming down on you, I’d work something out.”

 

Finn gets the job and as he tells other students that he got it but that he has to use the wheelchair while he is at work. He says that it is worth it!

 

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

 

Can I get the “American Civil Liberties Union” to come down on Murphy, Falchuk, Brennan, and the Fox Network for “refusing to hire” a “handicapable” paraplegic actor for the role of Artie Abrams? Because to me that “can be seen as discrimination.”

 

And…

 

What message is this sending?

 

Every person with a disAbility should be employed! If not every person with a disAbility only needs to threaten to sue if they are not hired. Employers better hire someone in a wheelchair or they will be sued for discrimination. Or that the employers better run and hide when someone with a disAbility comes in and might ask for a job. I can go more into what kinds of messages this sends, and I again wonder about the storyline here as it brings me back to the wheelchair rentals. Maybe they were not rented but rather purchased? Otherwise Finn will have to continue to pay for the weekly rental as long as he is working and that will take a big chunk out of his part-time paycheck!

 

BUT this is about Artie and being the Person of the Year.

 

Instead of focusing on what the Artie character who is portrayed by an able bodied actor and what kind of representation or rather misrepresentation this character is sending out, Allen Rucker spends more sugar coating on how many people and the specific demographics that the show and the character reaches. Justifying the casting processing, which was good to finally find out that they at least auditioned a paraplegic actor. Before this article, I read articles that had Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk never address or answer if they auditioned a paraplegic. All they ever went on about is that Kevin McHale was “right for the part”. Oh, and how, Chris Colfer had auditioned for the role of Artie, but when they saw his audition they felt the need to create a new character, a gay teen student. An authentic character – an openly gay actor playing an openly gay character. Now if they could have done the same for the openly paraplegic character. Allen Rucker discovers from “an interview with Robert Ulrich, one of the principal casting agents for Glee” that he tried to find actors in a wheelchairs but didn’t find any in the traditional avenues – the traditional talent agencies. But he took the extra step and contacted “the Media Access Office, a service funded by the state of California with the express mission of connecting people with disabilities with employment in film and TV. The MAO office submitted one such actor, Toby Forrest, a performer and musician”. Really, the MAO only could find one actor to send over to audition? Allen Rucker goes on to say that after the audition both Robert Ulrich and Toby Forrest felt he was too old for the part. “So they ended up casting an experienced musical comedy talent in McHale.” Yeah right. I looked him up on the imdb.com website and his acting experience was very limited before “Glee”.

Still, how does this article become the “New Mobility” cover story?

 

Just as in the “Wheels” episode, people with a disAbility are offended when able bodied people fake having or pretend to have a disAbility. I am and I know many others with a disAbility, especially a mobility disAbility are offended by an actor faking that they have a disAbility. And I am so surprised that Allen Rucker would write this article. As I mentioned earlier that he himself is a person with a mobility disAbility and what I did not mention is that he used to work in the entertainment industry. Although it was primarily before he became disabled. I have read his autobiography, “The Best Seat in the House” where he talks about how this kind of portrayal by able bodied actors are offensive. So he of all people should know what this article, a cover story on a major publication that serves the mobility disAbility community specifically, would be a major setback for those with a disAbility working or trying to work in the entertainment industry. There are already many obstacles for people with a disAbility to work or even dream of working in the industry and now Hollywood will use this article to perpetuate their continue use of able bodied people as actors, writers, and directors and dismiss those of us who have real passion, constantly developing skills and talents toward one day working and expressing them in film and/or television.    

 

In a supplementary piece to this article, “New Mobility” editors quickly responds with a “Q & A” as to “Why” they selected Artie as the Person of the Year. And their answer is;

 “We’re pleased that so many of our readers are commenting on our choice for Person of the Year. Our intention was to rattle cages and create controversy. Now we hope our readers will turn to discussing the issues that the choice brings up.

In 1988 Time magazine chose “The Endangered Earth” as their “Person of the Year” to bring attention to very real problems facing all citizens of the earth. In the same way, “Artie” can be seen as a catalyst for discussion for the disability community. The fact that we are so invisible in our media, in our entire public discourse, and that the most well-known wheelchair user is a fictional character … what does that tell us? How does the public — not to mention legislators and policy-makers — view us as individuals and as a community? If they draw conclusions based on fictional characters as portrayed by nondisabled actors, what does that say about our public image, our real-life choices?

The truth is, we are not honoring Kevin McHale, nor “Artie,” nor anyone else. We are questioning why people with disabilities are not accurately or sufficiently represented in our culture. We agree with our readers: “Artie’ does not represent us in any realistic way. But he does shine a spotlight on us. What will we do with the attention?”

It is a fairly good answer. Their “intention was to rattle cages and create controversy” and if the most recognized wheelchair user is a fictional character “How does the public — not to mention legislators and policy-makers — view us as individuals and as a community?” I ask them the same question that I am asking Allen Rucker, do you have any idea how much this article, with all of its attention, which you admit was your intention, will have in Hollywood and for those with a disAbility trying to work in Hollywood?

 

Hollywood Pays For Readers & Opinions

 

Most in Hollywood will not read the article. They will use the cover of this “New Mobility” issue as a tool to continue their standard operating procedures of hiring able bodied actors and others in the creative roles that people with a disAbility could easily do if given the opportunity. And as I supposed above that Hollywood would bring it down to its simplest terms and even distort the actual article and wave this issue as a flag to say “See? Even people with a disAbility like how we portray them!” They will not read it – and if they do they will see only the parts that sugar coat and praise all the good the Artie character does for people with a disAbility. I know this as I have tried for over a decade to bring up the issues and provide a simple solution to the problem of exclusion of people with a disAbility. I have created the business blueprints, in terms they require and creative works that breaks the standard stereotypes, but as soon as they hear the word “paraplegic” or a “person with a disAbility” they quickly turn off what I have to say or read anything I have written. I know this from hundreds of experiences of dealing with every angles within Hollywood from the indie scene to the studios. And I know Allen Rucker knows this too. And he should have explained this to the editors of “New Mobility” and convinced them that if anything, this article should only be published as an entertainment article somewhere in the middle of a Spring or Summer issue and not a featured article with the highest attention of a “Person of the Year” issue.

 

The New Allies

 

And this is why I have titled this blog article “Hollywood Hypocrites Have New Ally – Uncle Tom “Mobility”. Hollywood has long been hypocrites when they proclaim they are the champions of the underserved, the means to give voice to those who are ignored, misunderstood, and/or to bring light to issues of inequality in our society. As they have to some, like women and racial issues, but are hypocrites when it comes to those with a disAbility. In fact, instead of champion the ignored issues of those with a disAbility, they nearly ignore the disabled all together, and instead exclude the disabled in the limited times they do feature a person with a disAbility. And as the episode in Glee spoken in the “New Mobility” issue and in this blog article has proven, Hollywood does know how offensive it is to those with a disAbility to have anyone fake having a disAbility – and they bring up this issue using an able bodied actor faking a disAbility! That is the pure definition of a hypocrite. And as for an Uncle Tom? I guess every minority group has to have one or two, and now the Mobility disAbled minority officially have theirs.