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Reaching Out To Hollywood

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there, does it make a sound?

 

If the stigma, physical & attitudinal barriers, discrimination, accepted standard practices in the entertainment biz consciously and/or unconsciously repress the voices, visions, and representation, and unfairly keeps those with a disAbility in a box and primarily only using able bodied majority to represent paraplegics and others with a noticeable disAbility AND nobody sees it or cares when it happens – does it matter?

 

“I have never seen anybody discriminated at work in Hollywood and therefore doubt it happens.”

 

Many in Hollywood do not see the how paraplegics are treated within their own industry – while they are at work – while some may see what is on the surface, as most in Hollywood will “say” the right things, and some will even make proper efforts when a paraplegic in a wheelchair comes though the doors – but the truth is there is a lot of this that never gets seen – and especially to those who are no longer struggling to make a career in this business! Everything from the “parking lot auditions” to just skipping the audition process altogether – even when the character is specifically written as a paraplegic, keeps us out of the business and out of Hollywood sight! Cannot see us being discriminated against when we are not allowed on the set!

 

One of the results, the impact that limited – very limited portrays of paraplegics and people with a disAbility in general (1% in American television) is exponentially worsened by the fact that the “industry” practices – the standard which is widely accepted – is to dismiss, ignore, discriminate, and stereotype PEOPLE with a disAbility and that is especially manifested in the Hollywood creative roles – the writers, directors, and actors of these very limited portrayals are nearly always represented by able bodied people who have no idea what it is like to be a paraplegic or person with a disAbility. I am not an actor but I could watch previous movies and television shows, read books, speak to actual people, consult with a person on the set, and prepare an in depth character study of an inner city racial minority, and then with the help of the make-up department I could portray a single black father trying to raise his kids up to overcome adversity, grow from challenges, and basically do the right things! And not in some comedic role for a comedic movie like “Tropic Thunder” or in reverse, as black men dressed and with make up become “White Chicks”, but for a serious, dramatic role. Nobody would have a problem with that, right? Sure, I would probably not get the endorsement of the NAACP but there is not much difference in “pretending”, “faking”, or “acting” as a person from a minority group that I do not belong to – Yes there are certain lines we do not cross in our Hollywoodland of make believe and I so desire that it would include the life and challenges of a people with paraplegia.

 

These very limited portrayals, that nearly always use able bodied to represent people with disAbilities, affects the entire community of 56+ million Americans with a disAbility – that is 20% of the American population to never have any significant authentic representation in our entertainment culture.

 

And of course it affects those people with a disAbility who have Hollywood dreams, hopes, passions, training, education for working in this industry – in the creative roles of this industry – as actors, writers, directors – and outside the little box that when Hollywood says it is okay to portray a person with a disAbility then they will in the acceptable roles of a documentary film about some inspirational person with a disAbility, in the background or some other supporting and token role – BUT instead, I propose something outside the box and in mainstream movies and television – AND in non-stereotypical characters and stories – and again I do more than talk about what “should be” and actual produce it, provide it such as in my screenplay and mainstream feature film project “London Time”. Yes this is a plug for my work as an authentic voice and vision, and is a PRIME EXAMPLE of having a mainstream movie with authentic representation.

 

  • What would this mean to have our own voice, our own vision, our own performance, our own representation of a paraplegic character, a paraplegic leading man, a movie hero of our own that is not in some crazy fantasy world, but in the portrayal and story set in our own reality?

 

  • What would this kind of authentic representation – and real inclusion – in a mainstream movie that gets the attention of more than just some small indie film with television advertisement only in the markets it will be shown in – the local art house in Los Angeles, New York, and maybe a couple of other large cities in America – what would that mean to the entire minority community of the 56+ million Americans with a disAbility?

 

  • What would this kind of authentic representation and real inclusion mean to the entire community of people with a disAbility trying to work in this industry despite the past and even current Hollywood environment toward people with a disAbility?

 

  • And to others now and in the future within the disAbled community to suddenly have real examples working in and obtaining their Hollywood dreams despite the opposition?

 

  • And finally what impact do you think this kind of mainstream movie and television portrayals using authentic people with a disAbility in these creative roles of writers, directors, and actors actually representing the characters created with a disAbility – with the same weight and importance in the production budget and marketing support that other mainstream movies have – on our culture and on our society in general – how will they then view, treat, and interact with paraplegics and others with a disAbility – when we are included as part of the American scene in movies and television?

 

I know as I am a PARAPLEGIC with a passion for storytelling on film – to be a mainstream filmmaker – a movie maker who provides this authentic representation. I have been at it for the past 15 years and tried every route possible and in many of them, such as in the business proposals and business plans for my production company, Abilities United Productions (AbilitiesUnited.com) and film projects like “London Time”, “Glacial Breeze” and others, I have often touted that A-List Hollywood players and makers would be a key to helping us provide this type of authentic representation, because they know how difficult it is to make a career in this industry, the struggles of trying to make it – but especially when they were presented with the facts and reality that paraplegics and others with a disAbility have the same challenges of making it in this business PLUS the incredible barriers of attitude, prejudices, stigma, and discrimination against us just to SELF REPRESENT in movies and television.

But my many attempts at contacting and getting the help of the A-List Hollywood Players and Makers have not turned out the way I thought it would. Why? Are they too afraid of the “industry system” that portrays paraplegics and people with a disAbility in a set little box? Do they not think this is problem? Do they not care? I don’t know.

 

WHY CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS?

 

Just because we look different does not mean we feel different! We may not all have the gorgeous movie star looks of George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Brad Pitt, or Scarlett Johansson, but many working and even those who are movie stars in Hollywood do not! There are many with a disAbility who are very attractive and some that even have the gorgeous movie star looks, but we are just as diverse as the Hollywood crowd and the American society in general.


Those of us with a disAbility have the same desires to be recognized and included in the group as our able bodied counterparts! And I really feel that the power of influence that movies and television has on our culture, which in turn influences the opinions and reactions of our society – as proven with other people, issues, politics, civil rights, human rights, minorities, should also include paraplegics and others with a disAbility.


 

So I am reaching out again to the many within the system – those that have some clout, some pull, some celebrity power to help make a change – and ask that they give the same commitment they give to help others who are repressed and unjustly treated in other industries, in other situations, and other locations around the world – to those of us looking for a fair and equal opportunity to be part of the group – and not be singled out because we are different. Not to only be included on paper – in the script – written, directed, and performed by able bodied people. Let us be – help us be – part of mainstream Hollywood entertainment! Who is with us?

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Superhero in Superman

I originally began writing a new blog entry last week that spoke of Christopher Reeve and how he was an inspiration to millions of people in both words and action – and that along with that he also inspired others to become heroes – which I believe is what made him a real Superhero! While I was writing it, I knew that it really needy a more permanent home because in telling why I felt he was a Superhero to me personally, I had to document my life since my accident that caused me to become a paraplegic and how my life and that of Christopher Reeve’s intertwined even though we never met in person!

Superhero in Superman


So instead of a blog entry, I put it on its own page on the website: AbilitiesUnited.com/superhero.html There is a link to it from the home page too! And as usual, it is a little long – not unlike many of the entries here on the blog and it is like reading a newspaper article but with a lot more photos and links! And even a beautiful video – if you make it to the end! All in all – it is my story, my life which of course encompasses my work (I know I really need to get a life outside of this cause, mission and my passion for filmmaking) how Christopher Reeve still inspires me to stay true to myself and my work because of the huge impact it will have for million of others with a disAbility, and how his life impacted mine even though we never got a chance to meet face to face! Enjoy!

Business of Hollywood

According to the United States Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy the answer to the FAQ – What is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, is:

 

Congress designated each October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The Office of Disability Employment Policy has the lead in planning NDEAM activities and materials to increase the public’s awareness of the contributions and skills of American workers with disabilities. Various programs carried out throughout the month also highlight the specific employment barriers that still need to be addressed and removed.

This effort to educate the American public about issues related to disability and employment actually began in 1945, when Congress enacted alaw declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month.” www.dol.gov/odep/faqs/ndeam.htm

 

Of course I have to look, more often search diligently and hope to find decent examples of this in my industry of entertainment which seems to find it okay to employ those with a disAbility only when absolutely necessary and if they have a concern about the ADA or the EEOC then they will employ those with a disAbility in backroom positions and rarely if ever in any of the creative positions that make this industry what it is – the very product that the public buys – and would be ideal to their own image if the diversity and inclusion actually included more of those with a disAbility being portrayed and if they would not fake the representation of the largest and fastest growing minority in America!

To run a recent time line, I have to mention, again, the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) industry report published in May 2005, “The EMPLOYMENT of PERFORMERS WITH DISABILITIES in the Entertainment Industry.” It really was a scathing report that detailed the discrimination of those with a disAbility in the entertainment industry and how if the actors with a disAbility could they would hide their disability as much as possible – and if hired the performers were so afraid to ask for even minimal accommodations fo fear of being seen as weak or being fired – from one of the wealthiest industries in the world – and on top of the details of this report the authors, Dr. Olivia Raynor and Dr. Katherine Hayward from UCLA and the National Arts and Disability Center gave several recommendations that were easy for the industry to implement and make the business more inclusive for those with a disAbility – very little has changed in Hollywood!

During this month in 2008 the actor’s guilds came together and announced a new campaign to raise awareness and encourage inclusion of the entertainment industry with the Inclusion in the Arts and Media for Performers With Disabilities (I.AM. PWD) I was excited about having the backing of 3 huge industry unions working and supporting the inclusion of actors with a disAbility to be more accepted in the movies and television productions. I am not an actor, but because one of the excuses Hollywood uses when confronted on why there isn’t more portrayals of those with disAbilities – is that there isn’t the material written that includes those with a disAbility. I have heard that from actors and even those who are members of the unions’ Performers with Disabilities Committees – so it seems logical that I would fit right in – as a provider of material – and even better than just a writer who includes a character with a disAbility – I am a person with a disAbility AND writing featured roles in authentic, non-stereotypical characters and stories and if that wasn’t enough I am the complete behind the camera package – I am also a director with a disAbility and therefore a filmmaker providing an authentic voice and vision of and for those with a disAbility! The exact material that the industry says it requires to hire performers with a disAbility so surely this new I.AM.PWD campaign would want to partner with someone like yours truly? Well, I was so excited when I found out about this new campaign during the month it was announced – October 2008, that even while I was in the hospital, I wrote a short film screenplay, “Un-Working Class” that dramatizes the struggles of actors with a disAbility and in a creative transition it ends with a plea to the industry to give us a chance and see what we can do and will provide. I thought this would be a great campaign commercial – so to speak – but it seems they were not interested as I never heard back. But they were a new organization at the time and not nearly as put together as they are now – and therefore back then the best I was able to do was to bring it up with an actor I knew was involved as a PWD who said he would bring it up with whoever was in charge – but I never heard back from either the actor or anyone from I AM PWD! So now that they are a lot more organized (check out IAMPWD.org ) maybe I  should try again! Although they seem to be focused on talking about the issues and hoping Hollywood changes rather than taking some real action like making a film with me that shows everyone what it is like for those of us with a disAbility in the entertainment industry and how it could and should be in reality. To each their own – I will continue to do my work and when the time comes many of them will line up and ask me for a job!

In October 2009, SAG published a follow up about people with disAbilities being portrayed in Hollywood and despite their efforts the “Latest Casting Data Follows Historical Trends and Continues to Exclude People with Disabilities” The report stated:

Despite years of bargaining with producers to include the hiring of performers with a disability in Casting Data Reports, this protected category continues to be left out. Fifty-six million Americans — 20% of the U.S.population — have a disability. Despite being the largest minority group in the country, people with disabilities remain virtually invisible in entertainment media


So despite the huge union power of SAG and their years of bargaining with producers – the producers of the television hit show “Glee”, of the largest box office success “Avatar” and the upcoming prequel “X-Men:First Class” they discriminated against the largest minority in the country by hiring able bodied actors to fake being a paraplegic for characters specifically written as characters with paraplegia.

On July 26, 2010, celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act – the most comprehensive civil rights law ever enacted to protect those with a disAbility, President Obama broadcasted a Public Service Announcement, issued a Proclamation that ” we renew our commitment to ensuring that everyone with disabilities can live free from the weight of discrimination and pursue the American dream”, and in keeping with a 2008 Presidential campaign promise also signed an Executive Order that would make the federal government a model for the private sector in the hiring of those with a disAbility. And now in October 2010, President Obama is reiterating the importance of real inclusion and his commitment to those with a disAbility during this “National Disability Employment Awareness Month”! Come on Hollywood – if you will not listen to me, won’t you listen to President Obama?

He spoke of those of us having the right to live free of discrimination and pursue the American dream regardless of our disAbility. Yet in Hollywood it is practically insane for anyone with a disAbility to dream of having a career – if I am not telling the truth, where are the Hollywood examples with disAbilities? Despite years of experiencing first hand the discrimination and stereotyping that is common practice in Hollywood, I still have an American dream of being a filmmaker and of breaking Hollywood stereotypes of paraplegics and provide authentic voices, visions, and performances of paraplegics and others with a disAbility that can also represent themselves in movies and television. Changing Hollywood for a better future that gives us the respect of being treated as being just as important as they treat other minorities – especially racial minorities considering that our disAbility is as much of a factor in our identity as our race, gender and age.

The entertainment industry is a part of the business community and should be held to the same standards and laws about having a fair and equal employment opportunities for all minorities, including those with a disAbility who make up 20% of the American population. So why do they continue to get away with discriminating against paraplegics and others with a disAbility?

Is all of the above not enough to get the entertainment industry to do the right thing for those with a disAbility? And I used to wonder if they even knew how wrong and offensive they were in their portraying and representing people with a disAbility by having able bodied actors, writers, directors faking that they know what it is like to live with a disAbility – which I found out last year in the very television program that is the only one currently portraying a paraplegic, “Glee” where they showed that their paraplegic character was offended that another classmate was faking her disAbility. So they clearly do know this is wrong and offensive – if not to them at least to paraplegics and people with a disAbility! Not that it matters that much to them because even though they are very correct in this portrayal – we are offended by anyone faking a disAbility – even in movies and television with a very few exceptions – yet they hire – EMPLOYED an able bodied actor to fake being a paraplegic. I guess it is like the old saying – do what I say not as I do!

So what is the next step? Get the above mentioned – the Department of Labor, the actors’ unions, the President of the United States and others to the Supreme Court and make it a law to include those with a disAbility in all departments of the entertainment industry and not just teh accounting department – make a new affirmative action law that will finally give us the fair and equal opportunities to finally be included in movies and television and to be able to represent ourselves?

Well this year’s “National Disability Employment Awareness Month” campaign has a poster that should speak to Hollywood. I can only hope because as a filmmaker, a screenwriter, director, producer, and paraplegic, I have been told that I do have talent! But unfortunately, Hollywood does have the boundaries – and plenty of them when it comes to those with a disAbility. If not then I wouldn’t still, after 15 years, be fighting and spending time telling you about the barriers of attitude that is all over Hollywood – and instead I would have already made “London Time”, “Forever Yours”, “Sunrise Surf” and other feature films but instead because of the Hollywood barriers they are still in the “project” phase! And other paraplegic filmmakers and others with different disAbilities would be filmmakers representing their disAbility and if there were none of these Hollywood boundaries that I speak of, the SAG speaks of,  then paraplegics and others with a disAbility would be  having the same human respect of being recognized as members of society as other minorities and our able bodied counterparts have in the entertainment industry. The talent is out there and so are the Hollywood boundaries!

NatDisAbilityEmployAwareMonth-2010

Of course I have a few ideas on how to tear down those Hollywood boundaries – and they do not involve the above mentioned government agencies or officials, the Supreme Court, current laws of employment and discrimination, or Unions chastising anyone in the entertainment industry, and it will make those who join me in my filmmaking projects leaders in the genuine inclusion – a step ahead of the rest of the industry – making history, considering the past portrayals and representations since the birth of the entertainment industry and continue on today in the 21st century as I listed above and therefore will become participates in a significant “turning point” in American cinema – and potentially make a lot of money in the process! In fact, I challenge anyone in or out of Hollywood to bring me any valid objection or reason that anyone will lose in making a commercially viable film, like my “London Time ” feature film project, that is authentically represented with a paraplegic writer/director (yours truly) and an actor who is a paraplegic in a movie that breaks the stereotypical images, characters, and stories that are normally associated with a movie that features a paraplegic character in the starring role! Seriously, I will put “London Time” up against any independent film project out there looking for the same professional independent production budget ($8-15 Million) and distribution support and I can show how there are no comparisons – “London Time” is clearly the best film project available with the best potential to be a huge box office and non-theatrical revenue stream hit! Can anyone tell me one reason that I could not justly counter of why “London Time” is a bad idea? It is way past time for paraplegics and others with a disAbility to represent ourselves and so we can have our own heroes on the silver screen and then in our own homes through our home entertainment centers! Do you have any idea what a guy like “Dirty Harry” or John McLane of “Die Hard” who happens to also be a paraplegic using a wheelchair would mean to the entire disAbled community of 56+ million Americans? Well that is Detective London of “London Time”! Go meet him on the “London Time” page!

Hollywood Drive By Shooting!

I could shoot first and ask questions later, but the most important part of this is that it is time to shoot! I cannot wait for the proper independent production financing and distribution support for the feature film, “London Time” to fulfill my need to shoot something! So, it is time to shoot a short film while we continue to make opportunities happen for “London Time”. While I have several shorts written and some partly written – I have it narrowed down to the following – and I wonder if you have any thoughts on which I should shoot! Which do you like or think is the best to help make the mission of authentic representation of paraplegics and those with a disAbility in general, in movies and television?

“Glacial Breeze”

Oooo, so icy cold!

90f06-glacier_melting

And yet oh so good looking! What happens when the person we thought was so attractive from first sight looks differently to us when we see the whole person?

c4448-beautifulgirls

Glacial Breeze separately follows two people, a man and a woman, whose lives kind of mirror one another as they are very attractive and the opposite sex flirt with them all day long until they all bump into each other at a restaurant that night and we get to see the whole person of each! Yes, this is taking the moral of the story from figuratively to literally as we do not see that our two main characters are wheelchair users until the end and that is when we get to also see what others are like when they too see the whole person is in a wheelchair that they didn’t see during the day, driving in a car or behind a desk.

  1. This is one that is fully written and even a complete storyboard .
  2. No dialogue – will use sound effects and music. This allows the audience who unless they know me or the Abilities United Productions brand – will get caught up with the supporting characters who are attracted and flirting with our two main characters and will also be surprised near the end when it is revealed they are wheelchair users! It will hopefully make audiences reflect on their own opinions and reactions to seeing the “whole” person and a little insight to what it is like for these unique characters with a disAbility!
  3. Approximately 12 minutes long and estimated budget of $6,500.

“Un-Working Class”

This is a dramatization of many stories of people with a disAbility working or since we are rarely accepted in creative roles, trying to work in the entertainment business. It has several fictional characters and one (e-gags I cannot believe this) that is based on me who is on a production set directing a scene from the “London Time” screenplay and may be (I really cannot believe I am saying this as I don’t like being in front of the camera) that I may portray! It is full of creative ways to tell our story of life as an artist in this business that end in an almost Public Service Announcement style that asks Hollywood to let us be the creative beings that we are with the same opportunities to represent ourselves just like all other minorities and our able bodied counterparts.

  1. This is fully written in a screenplay but does not have a storyboard.
  2. Handful of stories that interconnect to tell everyone what it is like for those with a disAbility in Hollywood – it could be seen as an expose and may cause some backlash while also raising awareness to our reality in this business.
  3. Approximately 20 minutes long and estimated budget of $6,000.

“Let Me Be Myself”

The Geico Cavemen commercials are unique and universal in showing what it is like to be stereotyped and how it feels when others represent them only in those stereotypes.


daa03-geico_caveman_airport

They also show what it is like to be different from everyone else and despite that and how others view them, it is okay to be yourself. I highly identify with them as a paraplegic and full time wheelchair user! In this short film, I want to use the comparison of some of these Geico Caveman commercials and mirror them with some other wheelchair users. That includes using a similar slogan in which they say, “Geico, so easy a caveman can use it.” I would be using the image I created with the saying “Hollywood says: disAbility is so easy anybody can represent.”

5dff5-disability_so_easy_hollywood

 This is not completely written – merely sketched out and will use only a handful of locations such as: the bowling alley, airport walkway, night time street, etc.

  1. This could be a good, quick, video that might be good internet marketing if it goes viral or semi-viral. But there could also be a problem with using some of the Gieco commercial scenes and the 3 Doors Down song used in the commercial. May be able to contact and get permission under the premise this is to make a good point that is necessary and will not be used commercially.
  2. Approximately 5-7 minutes long and estimated budget $2,500.

“The Randomizer”

This is a comedy that emphasis the minority status of the disAbility community and how it is not given the same respect as all other minoritiThis is a comedy that emphasis the minority status of the disAbility community and how it is not given the same respect as all other minorities in Hollywood. Investigative news reporter is doing a story on the claims of this new phenomenon of a “minority randomizer” that randomly selects the minority status of a person who is injured or has a disease/illness. The first is an interview with a white man who does not believe there is such a thing as a “minority randomizer” but as he drives away in his car it is struck by another vehicle and he steps out of his car shaken and a bit in pain but also as a victim of the “minority randomizer” as a black man!

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As he shakes his head, grateful that his is alive, he then realizes what has happened he tells the reporter that he is so glad he was wrong about the “minority randomizer” because he is an aspiring actor and this means he still has a chance at working in Hollywood, unlike if he was disAbled – although his parents may be even more upset now then when he left the Mid-West to follow his dreams! Because a disAbility can happen through injury or illness and either born with or acquired later in life, the reporter investigates other cases and claims of this new “minority randomizer” included a new born in the hospital who is not the same race at their parents but they are extremely happy it is a racial minority and not a disAbility minority so that their child will have the opportunity to become to a star in Hollywood! A couple of other cases are investigated and then the reporter closes the news segment by saying that it looks like the phenomenon appears to be real and until things change in Hollywood and those with a disAbility are treated with the same respect of self-representation as other minorities the “minority randomizer” is a good thing for those working or hoping to work in the Hollywood!

  1. This is still being developed and not written or storyboarded.
  2. Could be a real funny short that could get some airplay on the “Funny or Die” website which could bring a lot of attention to the real issues that are being made fun of in this short film.
  3. Approximately 15 minutes long and estimated budget of $4,500 (depending on the car accident scene and location or set work for other scenes)!

“Coming Out”

This begins with a head shot of a person (could be me – e-gags again!) explaining that their lifestyle is different than most and is based on something that is they feel is a major part of their life and their identity. They did not choose being like this and in some cases of others who are like him – it is not something that can easily be hidden – and that even fashion can be a dead give away as the camera zooms out and more of the person is shown he unbuttons a dress shirt and puts on gel gloves (those that are without fingers and often made of leather and/or mesh and easily mistaken for another lifestyle apparel.) After explaining this unique lifestyle he then mentions how it is time to “come out” and declare who he is and that because he lives and works or aspires to work in Hollywood the most liberal of people and companies that believe everyone should have the right to have their own voices, representations, and heroes and that they often embrace minorities of all kinds and that all should be treated equally – the camera then reveals he is a paraplegic in a wheelchair and his closing remarks state the reality that all of the above are true but that there is an exception when it comes to the disAbility minority and the individual voices and representation of those with a disAbility who Hollywood only on occasion will include a character with a disAbility and most of those limited roles are only considered inclusive on paper since they are nearly always written, directed, and performed by anybody except those with a disAbility.

  1. This is still being developed and not yet written or storyboarded.
  2. I wrote a blog entry very similar as this 2 or 3 years ago that is just as funny and serious, but this would have a lot more affect in a short film that could become an internet viral video on YouTube. Many people will follow the character through his description of his often misunderstood minority status, about being different from most and how he should empower himself by “coming out”! That he should be loud and proud of who he is and that it is good that he wants a career in Hollywood rather than the military! Until his minority status is revealed – and then it should – hopefully cause the audience to think about the realities of being disAbled and repressed because of our “lifestyle” in Hollywood.
  3. Approximately 5-6 minutes long and estimated budget of $500 (depending on the use of props and maybe editing in some other images as he describes what he is talking about. It could be less if I…e-gags again…if I am the one in front of the camera!)

So those are the possible short films. Some have more information that can be accessed on the website and some that require more development, but I think they all have great potential to help raise awareness and cause others into action to our cause and mission with a possibility of raising some support for the new representation (aka – representing ourselves) of those with a disAbility in a non-stereotypical and commercial movie such as “London Time”!

What are your thoughts?

Which one to you like best?

Which do you think will have the best impact?

Are they the same short film project?

Tell me which one you think I should shoot first and soon!

Celebrity Justice Microcosm of Hollywood

With all the talk about Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen not being held to the same standard as all other citizens I wonder why some people are so surprised.

Sheen-Lohan

Not only does this seem to be a long time practice when dealing with celebrities who get in trouble with the law but this is how the industry works too. It seems that just like individual celebrities, the motion picture and television industry is not being held to the same standard as all other industries either! The fact that they are often not even challenged is more surprising than these celebrities who are multiple offenders who still get the lightest of sentences!

Case in point: Hollywood Discriminates! Whether it is on purpose, ignorance, fear, ambivalence, stubbornness, not wanting to change, just not caring or paying attention, refusing to recognize or accept as all other industries have – that those with a disAbility are not only a minority but the largest and fastest growing minority in America, or a host of other reasons, but Hollywood does discriminate – right in front of everyone – and not only gets away with it, but is often applauded for being diverse and inclusive. HOW? WHY? Their inclusion and diversity is only on paper – and it is just as thin considering that the overwhelming majority are written by those who have no idea – except what they have read – of what it is like to live with a disAbility. And the same holds true when it comes to giving life to those characters with actors performing and directors giving their vision of what that character on paper is all about, why he or she feels the way they do and their reactions when other characters interact with them!  

If a study like that done by the National Arts and Disability Center at UCLA that was commissioned and then published by the Screen Actors’ Guild – “The Employment of PERFORMERS WITH DISABILITIES in the Entertainment Industry” which details some of the incredible statistics of discrimination in Hollywood was done on any other industry – companies within that industry would scrambled and rush to make changes to end discrimination or any appearance of discrimination. But this was published in 2005 and most of the industry – certainly the top companies like the Big 6 studios didn’t even blink an eye. In fact, the discrimination continues by hiring able bodied majority actors to portray and represent disabled minority characters – such as those in the most successful movie of all time, “Avatar” and in the new hit television show “Glee”.  

While the television show, “Glee” portrays in episode 9, “Wheels” about how offensive it is to fake a disAbility through the paraplegic character “Artie” who producers EMPLOYED able bodied actor Kevin McHale, they also used another character, “Finn” pretending to be disAbled to get a job and in fact threatening the manager with a discrimination lawsuit from the ACLU if he did not hire the “handicapable” person – who is secretly faking being a paraplegic. This is wrong on so many levels! But interesting how they can portray on both a moral and a legal level how wrong it is to not use – not hire a person with a disAbility – especially when portraying a person with a disAbility – all the while they do exactly that! 

Has anybody thought about threatening an ACLU lawsuit for discrimination against the producers of “Glee” for NOT hiring a paraplegic actor for the paraplegic character – just like they portrayed in this episode?

And why do they continue to get away with it? Is there any reason that makes it okay to discriminate? Would that reason be okay to hire a white actor to portray a black character?

Al-Jolson-Promo-Jazz

In the 1920’s, Al Jolson was a huge star even before the talkie film/musical – “The Jazz Singer” and wearing black face was accepted by majority of audiences and the entertainment industry did not allow black entertainers on the stage or in front of the camera so this portrayal and representation was acceptable. But did that make it right? Would it be right today? Except for comedic affect and only on occasion such as in “Tropic Thunder” – but what about other minority portrayals and representations – even those that are acceptable today?


When a person with a disAbility sees a character with a disAbility in a movie or television program it gives them a sense of pride for being included, and that gives some hope, even empowerment – but that quickly fades and can even lead into alienation and anger when it is discovered that the image was faked by an actor who has no idea what it is like to live with a disAbility. That is the impact the Hollywood discrimination of those with a disAbility can and does have.

Sam-Worthington-Jake

Sam Worthington a very able bodied actor – and a screencap of “Avatar” because all promotional pictures for the movie conveniently frames most if not all of the wheelchair out of the picture. Regardless of how you frame it – it is a majority actor portraying a minority character – basically this portrayal and representation is an “Al Jolson in a wheelchair”. And this is acceptable in the 21st Century!


Kevin-McHale-Artie

Able bodied actor, Kevin McHale portrays regular character who is paralyzed in the new hit television show “Glee”. Surely he knows how paraplegics get through their daily lives knowing they will never stand up, run, jump, or walk ever again, and how paraplegics feel enough to not only portray but also represent paraplegics on television. He said he learned how to make his legs lay to the side to accurately portray paraplegics. That is supposed to be a substitute for genuine and authentic portrayals and representation on television for all paraplegics and those with a disAbility? No matter how you fake it – you are still faking it – just like wearing black face – but is this for comedic affect?


And if I read one more article where the co-creators and co-writers, Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk, and Ryan Murphy, who have written every episode of “Glee” so far, where they say they “understand the concerns and frustrations expressed by the disAbled community” I will do all I can do take out a full page ad in the trades to quote them and then call them LIARS – there is no way they can understand what it is like to be a paraplegic and how upsetting it is when someone is faking a disAbility – especially like being paralyzed – oh, wait – they do understand – they even portrayed it – in episode 9 “Wheels” so instead of LIARS – I will call them what they are – HYPOCRITES!

They know it is morally wrong and that legally they could or should be sued for discrimination for not hiring a paraplegic – both of which was portrayed in the same episode – but they do it anyway? And they get away with it? In fact, they offer no apologies when confronted with issues (ie: they only say they understand the concerns and frustrations of the disAbled community) and instead hide behind the Hollywood legal loophole to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to not discriminate based on disAbility by saying they “hired the best person for the role”! And the majority of the audience is fine with this. WHY? Are you one of them?

Just like Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen as the most recent examples of Celebrity Justice – we have James Cameron who is making a record-setting $350 million just from “Avatar” while discriminating and faking a disAbility minority, and “Glee” producers Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk, and Ryan Murphy to make $40 million while continuing to discriminate and fake a disAbility without being held to the same standard as all other industries and any challenges from the ACLU as prime examples of HOLLYWOOD JUSTICE!

This Hollywood Justice is not based on principals, what is right or wrong, or even the law – as in Americans with Disabilities Act, or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – and they get away with it because audiences and society in general do not care enough to hold them to the same standard while accepting their justification of discrimination by claiming artistic and dramatic license. Even with the amazing technology, stunt doubles, camera angles, and an industry that is one of the richest on the planet and can afford to make some very minimal modifications to make a film production accessible or afford the so-called higher insurance rates for employing authentic actors with a disAbility – for at least the roles that are specifically written as characters with a disAbility – they still find excuses to discriminate and hire able bodied actors. Audiences and society in general would not accept any excuse for discriminating or faking a racial minority with an actor using black face in a dramatic role, but these Al Jolsons’ in a wheelchair portraying and representing a disAbility minority seem to be acceptable.  

So who is at fault for the injustices of Hollywood Justice?

A. Hollywood Producers/Studios/Directors

B. Able Bodied Actors accepting the roles

C. The Legal System

D. Audiences & Society not caring

E. ALL OF THE ABOVE

What will make Hollywood be held to the same standard as all other industries – and will give those with a disAbility the same fair and equal employment opportunities in creative roles, representation, treatment, inclusion, dignity, respect, human and civil rights as all others in movies and television?

This Hollywood Justice affects 20% of Americans, not to mention their family and friends who love them and wished they were portrayed fairly, and not just a handful of Hollywood stars getting away with not being held to the same legal standards as all other citizens! Hollywood Justice has a huge impact. Do you care?

20 Years of ADA & Hollywood

This past week we in the disAbility community celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – one of the most comprehensive civil rights bills ever signed into law – which has had a significant impact on the equal rights of those with a disAbility – and not just here in America but it help to set a standard for other countries all over the world. And I did my part in recognizing and celebrating this 20th Anniversary by joining with 193 other wheelers at the Los Angeles Dodger’s stadium parking lot Sunday morning, July 25, 2010, to participate in the event sponsored by the “Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation” and the “Life Rolls On Foundation” to celebrate the 20th Anniversary and for the Guinness World Record of “Most Wheelchairs in a Moving Line”!

ADA-20th-Reeve-DodgerStadium-02

Before we lined up for the World Record we gathered after the activities to form a human ADA picture! I am in the middle of the straight line on the left side of the “D”! Can’t really see me but I am there, I promise!

The very next day was the exact 20th Anniversary of the signing and President Obama did make it significant through a Public Service Announcement (which is quoted below), by signing a Proclamation, and some remarks at a gathering of administration members and other guests on the South Lawn of the White House.

Some of those remarks should be highlighted. After relating some of the stories of people being denied basic rights because of their disAbility, the demonstrations, protests, activists fighting for a change, getting people in positions of power in Washington D.C. to help, and with the founders of the ADA, the President said:

They understood this injustice from the depths of their own experience.  They also understood that by allowing this injustice to stand, we were depriving of our nation — we were depriving our nation and our economy of the full talents and contributions of tens of millions of Americans with disabilities.

That is how the ADA came to be, when, to his enduring credit, President George H.W. Bush signed it into law, on this lawn, on this day, 20 years ago.  That’s how you changed America.


Equal access — to the classroom, the workplace, and the transportation required to get there.  Equal opportunity — to live full and independent lives the way we choose.  Not dependence — but independence.  That’s what the ADA was all about.

But while it was a historic milestone in the journey to equality, it wasn’t the end.  There was, and is, more to do.  And that’s why today I’m announcing one of the most important updates to the ADA since its original enactment in 1991.

Today, the Department of Justice is publishing two new rules protecting disability-based discrimination — or prohibiting disability-based discrimination by more than 80,000 state and local government entities, and 7 million private businesses.

Of course I have to wonder if the companies in the motion picture and television industry are part of those “7 million private businesses” that will be prohibited from “disability-based discrimination”.

Why do I have to wonder about Hollywood being affected? Look at the history of the industry employing those with a disAbility – especially in the most visible and creative roles – the ones that actual represent those that are being marketed in their products, actors, writers, directors.

And if we just look at the history from the past 20 years since the signing of the ADA – we see little, very little change in these very important positions.

AND if we look the only industry study on those working or trying to work in the industry with a disAbility – the 2005 SAG published report, “The Employment of PERFORMERS WITH DISABILITIES in the Entertainment Industry” we can see the details on how much the industry discriminates against those with a disAbility. And with the exceptions of forming some “committees” and outreach programs that is basically all that has changed in the past 5 years! SAG really is the industry leader in advocating and keeping a focus on those with a disAbility in the entertainment industry but despite their efforts they reported in October 2009 that the “Latest Casting Data Follows Historical Trends and Continues to Exclude People with Disabilities” stating:

Despite years of bargaining with producers to include the hiring of performers with a disability in Casting Data Reports, this protected category continues to be left out. Fifty-six million Americans — 20% of the U.S. population — have a disability. Despite being the largest minority group in the country, people with disabilities remain virtually invisible in entertainment media.

There are some portrayals of paraplegics in the past year that have been in very successful movies and television – but is any portrayal good portrayal? The top movie in box office history, released in December 2009 featured in the leading role, a paraplegic character that despite under the circumstances of being ideal for a paraplegic actor to portray (hiring an unknown actor and that all “able bodied scenes” were computer generated images of an alien species) “Avatar” employed an able bodied actor, was written and directed by able bodied James Cameron, and was a movie filled with stereotypes, clichés and predictably contrived inspiration.  On the small screen, the highly watched new television series that debuted in 2009, “Glee” with a regular paraplegic character is not only also portrayed by a previously unknown able bodied actor – they accurately portrayed in episode 9, “Wheels” how offensive, upsetting, demeaning it is for someone to fake a disAbility through and by the paraplegic character that is portrayed and represented by an able bodied actor faking that he has a disAbility. Full of hypocrisy and if that wasn’t enough, in that same episode, another character on the show, Finn, who is the high school football quarterback and obviously able bodied, fakes being a paraplegic to get a job while threatening the manager with a discrimination lawsuit based on his disAbility if he wasn’t hired.

So they can discriminate by not hiring paraplegic actors while at the same time can preach how wrong it is to fake having a disAbility while they fake having a disAbility! But how do they get away with it – both legally and morally? Mainly in the Hollywood legal loophole they use called by the artistic prerogative of “who’s best for the part”. But why do they not use that excuse when portraying other minorities? And will it continue to allow them to side-step the ADA in both the letter and spirit of the law?

Speaking of the Letter & Spirit of the Law!

The President went on to say, during his remarks on the South Lawn, that the government would take the lead and be the model for businesses across America in employing those with a disAbility:

We’re also placing a new focus on hiring Americans with disabilities across the federal government.  Today, only 5 percent of the federal workforce is made up of Americans with disabilities — far below the proportion of Americans with disabilities in the general population.  In a few moments, I’ll sign an executive order that will establish the federal government as a model employer of individuals with disabilities. 

I wish Hollywood would be the leader in this since they are the ones that influence the culture and opinions of many through the power of the entertainment images that are all around us – but will they at least follow the government and the President’s executive order for them employing those with a disAbility?

And it is not just here in America but globally as the President wants to continue to be the example for the rest of the world:

And to promote equal rights across the globe, the United States of America joined 140 other nations in signing the U.N.  Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities — the first new human rights convention of the 21st century.

America was the first nation on Earth to comprehensively declare equality for its citizens with disabilities.  We should join the rest of the world to declare it again — and when I submit our ratification package to Congress, I expect passage to be swift.

Would you say that American citizens with a disAbility have equality in Hollywood? Anywhere in Hollywood – such as employment? Portrayals? Representation? Should there be a ratification package or at least a clause that would require Hollywood to fairly and equally represent those with a disAbility? Or will the industry do it on their own?

The President concluded his remarks with the basic freedoms and equality that should be given to all Americans:

Equal access.  Equal opportunity.  The freedom to make our lives what we will.  These aren’t principles that belong to any one group or any one political party.  They are common principles.  They are American principles.  No matter who we are — young, old, rich, poor, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled or not — these are the principles we cherish as citizens of the United States of America.

They were guaranteed to us in our founding documents.  One of the signers of those documents was a man named Stephen Hopkins.  He was a patriot, a scholar, a nine-time governor of Rhode Island.  It’s also said he had a form of palsy.  And on July 4, 1776, as he grasped his pen to sign his name to the Declaration of Independence, he said, “My hand trembles.  But my heart does not.”  My hand trembles.  But my heart does not.

Life, liberty,  the pursuit of happiness.  Words that began our never-ending journey to form a more perfect union.  To look out for one another.  To advance opportunity and prosperity for all of our people.  To constantly expand the meaning of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.  To move America forward.  That’s what we did with the ADA.  That is what we do today.  And that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow — together.

These civil rights are not just all about access but as the President said it is about equality – the ADA is civil rights of ensuring accessible means to be treated as equals!

The President also said in a 30 second PSA on the ADA’s 20th Anniversary (and can be seen on the disability.gov website) that:

“Today, about one in five Americans is living with a disability, over 50 million people, including many of our friends and neighbors, teachers and co-workers, heroes and leaders. Twenty years ago the Americans with Disabilities Act guaranteed every person the right to live, work and participate fully in the American experience. We’ve come a long way since then and we are committed to make even more progress in the years ahead. Visit disability.gov to see how you can help.”

Is Hollywood and the Hollywood dream of being an actor, writer, director, becoming a big movie star, part of the “American experience”? Is it one that those with a disAbility can “participate fully” in?

Hollywood history, even the most recent history as described above in the movies and television of the past year, shows that even in the limited roles that feature a paraplegic or another person with a disAbility, that it will be written, directed, and acted by someone, anyone other than a person with the same or similar disAbility as the one being portrayed. Despite the ADA signing 20 years ago and the only industry study on those with a disAbility, published by SAG over 5 years ago, that detailed the incredible industry-wide discrimination along with many recommendations to help end the discrimination that SAG itself has tried to push forward but have basically all been ignored. So what is the incentive for any person with a disAbility to even dream, let alone attempt to work in Hollywood?

Despite the incredible odds for anyone to come and make it in Hollywood, let alone a minority, or a minority that is not often hired to portray and represent themselves such as those with a disAbility, some of us have the exact same passions and dreams that our able bodied counterparts have and we have to try and express our art and hope it will be seen beyond our disAbility.

And honestly I do it because in addition to my passion and talent as a screenwriter, director, and overall filmmaker, I do it for all those with a disAbility who love watching movies and television and would be empowered by having an honest, genuine, and authentic voice, vision, and performance that would represent and provide them their own heroes!

So kids like these posing with one of the beautiful members of the wheelchair dance troupe “Chairlie’s Angels” that performed earlier at the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation’s 20th Anniversary Celebration of the ADA at Dodger Stadium:

ADA-20th-Reeve-DodgerStadium-01


Will not have Hollywood force the representation of a guy disrespecting their disAbility by saying it is not that significant and that is why any actor can fake it:

Kevin_McHale_Advanced+Screening+Glee+Wheels

Kevin McHale the actor faking he is disAbled to play the part of paraplegic character “Artie” on “Glee” at the advanced screening of “Glee” episode 9, “Wheels”.

sam-worthington-late-show2

Sam Worthington the actor hired to fake the minority status of being a paraplegic for the lead character in “Avatar”

Instead those kids and all people with a disAbility can have and expect these actors who do NOT fake a minority status and a very significant identity factor such as a disAbility:

ZackWeinstein01

Zack Weinstein – was hired for a small, one-time part on “Glee” episode 18, “Laryngitis”. Zack did a great job (clips that included his scenes are on his website that you can access by clicking on his name above) but I cannot help to speculate as to the reasons why the producers of “Glee” did hire an actor for this role who authentically represents those with a disAbility and it is most likely in response to protests over the controversy of hiring Kevin McHale for the regular role of a paraplegic. Regardless of the motives – at least they did hire him and Zack did a great job acting and singing in the role! Zack also just announced that he has just been hired to play a guest starring role in one upcoming episode of the popular CBS Network television series, “NCIS”! I congratulate Zack and praise the producers, directors, and all others responsible for hiring on “NCIS”.

Janis Hirsch, Daryl "Chill" Mitchell

Daryl “Chill” Mitchell – a working and established actor before a motorcycle accident in 2001 caused a spinal cord injury that paralyzed Daryl. He has done some work since including the Fox network show “Brothers” that also debuted in the 2009 television season. Unfortunately, the show has been canceled for low ratings – which I am sure is not because of the authentic actor who is a wheelchair user. But I still wanted to highlight Daryl, who is a fantastic actor, and applaud the Fox Network for making this show and hiring an actor who is not faking a disAbility.  

Brock-Waidmann-headshot

Brock Waidmann – is a performer with a disABility and active wheelchair user, has been hired to play the role of “Zeke” on the upcoming NBC Network television series, “The Paul Reiser Show”, coming this mid-season in January 2011! NBC has ordered 6 episodes of the show and hopefully it will be a ratings success and be picked up for more! I will be doing a more in depth blog entry on this show in the near future! Meanwhile, Brock has announced on his Facebook page that he is going on other auditions. Wish you the best of luck, Brock!

These are just those with recent or soon-to-be National recognition. They are also those who are wheelchair users. There are many more actors with all types of a disAbility that are working, such as RJ Mitte who authentically represents a supporting character with Cerebral Palsy on the successful AMC cable television series, “Breaking Bad” (which a specific applause should be given to series creator and primary writer, Vince Gilligan for creating and casting this role), or those trying to work in the entertainment industry. And one place to locate information on Performers with a disAbility and the issues of those with a disAbility in entertainment is the actor’s unions (SAG, AFTRA, AEA) that came together to create the IAMPWD – stands for “Inclusion in the Arts and Media for Performers With Disabilities”! But despite even the awesome power of these three labor union’s combining forces for this campaign that has been going on for almost 2 years – and the other positive signs in television such as those highlighted above – some major movie producers, writers, such as Bryan Singer – it is business as usual – regardless of how morally wrong or offensive it is to those living with a disAbility of hiring able bodied actors to fake representing that they have a disAbility such as employing able bodied actor James McAvoy in the role of paraplegic character Charles Xavier in the upcoming blockbuster prequel, “X-Men: First Class”.

I hope the future allows for more inclusion and that when those with a disAbility are included in movies and television that it is more than just on paper and we can also be included in the representation of those portrayals. Will it take another 20 years of ADA civil rights law for treating those with a disAbility with basic human rights as equals for Hollywood to change the standard for portraying and representing a character with a disAbility with the same respect as all other minorities representing themselves? I hope the examples of Daryl, Zack, Brock, and many other individuals, and organizations such as SAG and the Tri-Union’s IAMPWD campaign, are the beginning of a real and honest sustaining change in Hollywood – but it has to go a lot further – as the President said about the ADA, we still have a lot more to do! Then hopefully someday these examples are common, they become the standard instead of the exceptions to authentic representations in portraying characters with a disAbility! I have said it before and will say it again, I know where we can make what history will record as a significant “turning point” in American cinema! Ah, but what do you care, right?

Faking A Minority Is Okay In Hollywood

Image isn’t everything but in today’s extremely fast paced world where high tech devices bring us tons of images by accessing the internet, downloading and watching entire movies or television shows right in the palm of our hands while traveling through time & space in planes, trains, and automobiles, or while relaxing on a remote sandy beach – images are extremely effective in capturing and holding our attention. And the images in our movies and television play a significant part in our culture and shaping our opinions as much in the 21st century, if not more than those of the past several decades!

I have often remarked on the racial and gender minority stereotypes and misrepresentations being broken and changed forever with the films in the 1960’s starring Sidney Poitier in strong, non-stereotypical roles, and those of women breaking stereotypes that were very common even in the 1970’s! And I am not alone in this comparison to that of the stereotypes and discrimination of those with a disAbility.

“In the same way that the Black Power movement in the ’70s insisted on the unique power and beauty of African Americans, or the woman’s movement empowered women to expose stereotypes and tell their own stories, the disability rights movement and ‘crip culture’ are challenging our preconceptions about what it is to be human.”

Playwright Kathleen Tolan, American Theater magazine – “We Are Not a Metaphor (April 2001)”

Sure the Hollywood stereotypes and discrimination of blacks and women where broken during the times that also had the civil rights movements led by Martin Luther King and the ERA advocates, but where was Hollywood during the disAbility civil rights movement that kind of culminated with the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990? Hollywood was and remains today – on the brink of the 20th Anniversary of the ADA signing into law — silent in our basic human rights to represent ourselves. In fact, they have also looked the other way and continue to not only ignore the inclusion of people with disAbilities, but on the rare occasion they do have a character with a disAbility in a movie or television program it is often stereotyped and nearly always discriminated by having “others” not of the disAbility minority portray and represent those with a disAbility. And this continues today – 20 years after the major disability civil rights movements marched on the steps of Washington D.C.

Is this the right way or wrong way to treat those with a disAbility?

Nearly every time an able bodied actor is hired/employed as a character with paralysis or another disAbility what they are saying is that the paralysis/disAbility is not that important so therefore anybody can represent that they have that disAbility. That it is no more significant than the regional or international accent of the character – or no more significant than the person’s profession. Really? Paralysis is no more important than the character’s career as a sales accountant, project manager, a chef, a cosmetic counter clerk, etc.? Sometimes this kind of fake representation – pretending to be paralyzed – is saying we recognize that it may be important to those of you living with paralysis, but not to the rest of us, so too bad! And this is not just an occasional practice in American movies and television – it is nearly every time!

But I am not just here preaching about this issue and pointing out that it is bad to “fake” someone’s disAbility minority status and what kind of impact that has directly and indirectly on those living with a disAbility. I practice what I preach and I am a paraplegic filmmaker ready to go into production with a very commercially viable film project that will prove what kind of exciting entertainment an authentic voice and vision from a paraplegic screenwriter and director (yours truly) can make with an authentic performance from an actor who is a paraplegic (not yet cast/hired/employed) to authentically portray a non-stereotypical character with a disAbility who is a fascinating man, a homicide police detective, a widower, a father who wrestles with his own demons that haunts his sleep with the nightmares reliving the night a drunk driver smashed into his car killing his wife and young daughter while leaving him paralyzed nearly 10 years ago, a man committed to healing others by finding the suspects of injustice even though his own healing seems like it will never come, a man who says what is on his mind and doesn’t care about being all that politically correct, a man who will do whatever it takes to capture the guilty, a good guy who is a badass, a man who finally allows someone in – an old friend, Marci Waters whom he is reunited with personally, professionally and romantically which at his most vulnerable moment is the one who finally helps him fight off his demons, he may or may not be “the most interesting man in the world”, but he is Detective London, and everyone and everything in his world, runs on “London Time”!

London_Time_Poster_med-small2

Unfortunately, there are more obstacles and challenges than the typical filmmaker trying to get Hollywood’s attention and support with financial support and distribution commitments because of the common practices toward those with a disAbility.

Some say it is all about the accessibility, casting who is the “best for the part”, or “that’s just how it’s always been done”, that nobody cares, and a handful of other reasons why it is okay for an able bodied actor to portray and represent paraplegics and those with a disAbility in general, in movies and television – but regardless of any of these reasons or excuses, the bottom line is that it is all about basic human respect and dignity. Period.

And if I were to ask if it is important that people of all races, ethnicity, gender, age, and sexual orientation be portrayed and represented with respect and dignity everyone, but the extremist of our society, would say, “Yes.” And if I were to add paraplegics and others with a disAbility into the equation every one of them would probably also say, “Yes.” But the difference comes in the actual application of that portrayal and representation.  

Over the past decade and in dozens of different ways, examples, and descriptions I have explained all the:

reasons,

implications,

impact,

excuses,

legalities

social ramifications,

the facts of what is and what can be,

of using able bodied actors, writers, directors to portray and represent those with a disAbility – and not just once in a while but NEVER allowing those with a disAbility to represent themselves unless:

it cannot be easily faked by an able bodied actor AND it is only a small role – NEVER a leading role!

The bottom line is that dismissing authentic representation by the disAbility minority is just as disrespectful as it is by misrepresenting and “faking” any other minority status. There is already a huge stigma surrounding those with a disAbility, especially ones that cannot be hidden, such as paralysis, but to virtually be ignored and rarely included as a character in movies and television does not help! And if ignoring us wasn’t enough, whenever we do get to be included it is nearly always portrayed by someone else – someone who has no idea what it is like:

 

living as a member of the disAbility minority – to live with:

the physical,

economical,

emotional,

social, and

environmental challenges,

 

all of which contribute to our:

daily existence,

our personal identity,

and being a member of disability minority community! 

Living as a paraplegic or with another significant disAbility – is a lot more than just rolling around in a wheelchair! Even if an able bodied actor can plop down in a wheelchair and “fake” being a paraplegic or another disAbility – can you see how this could be offensive to those who live life with all the added challenges associated with a disAbility – that an able bodied person thinks they can pretend all of this and then portray and represent those of us who live everyday of our lives with a disAbility?

What does this virtual ignoring and then misrepresentation by faking a minority status by Hollywood portrayal and representation mean on the surface and between the lines? This actually has a lot of impact and in many different aspects of how others see us, treat us, and interact with those of us with a disAbility. It really is all about giving those with a disAbility basic human rights, respect and dignity by having our own voice, vision and representation – and without it or by always having others represent the disAbility minority, such as is extremely common with able bodied actors as paraplegic characters, you are rejecting, denying, demeaning and sometimes even laughing at the basic human rights to self-represent, respect and dignity of those with a disAbility.

Discrimination Disguised as “Being Best For The Part”!

First of all, I want to applaud and thank producers, writers, directors, and studios for including a few more characters with a disAbility in your movies and television programs! Since this is the 21st century and this representation is far behind where it should be, we now need to take a closer look at these characters, stories, and the common stereotypes and discrimination nearly always associated with the Hollywood inclusion of those with a disAbility.

Twenty years ago “faking” a disAbility was rarely challenged but now that those with a disAbility have proven that they can do all kinds of activities from living independently to extreme sports AND are protesting the outrageous stereotypes and discrimination of casting able bodied in roles that are specifically written as characters with a disAbility – we are often hearing the Hollywood legal loophole excuse, “we hired the best person for the part.”

The Hollywood Cups

You know the street con artist game of finding which cup has the ball in it? Well, although that seems what Hollywood likes to play with those with a disAbility, I suggest we play a more simple game. Let’s all play the Great Switcheroo Game!

The rules are simple, everyone is created equal and to keep it simple, let’s use some common sense when it comes to minorities and be sure we do not discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information, as outlined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission!

To play the game we have to set it up beginning with one of the only television shows that have a paraplegic character – the hit Fox Television show “Glee”. Again thank you “Glee” creators and Fox Television for included a paraplegic character in a show…that is all about diverse characters! At least you recognize that we deserve to be included as a diverse group when many in the biz won’t even accept that we are a minority! But when controversy over the casting of an able bodied actor in the role of a paraplegic – a person with a disAbility that could be realistically represented by an actor with the same or similar disAbility, these same creators and executive producers quickly responded with the Hollywood legal loophole excuse that they employed the actor they felt was “the best for the part.” So you recognize that we are a minority group – a part of a diversity ensemble – but unlike all other minorities – we cannot represent ourselves? Because the actors who are paraplegics that you auditioned cannot act, sing, or dance in their wheelchair as well as an able bodied actor? Therefore, we are not best for the part?

I am a paraplegic, and most would agree that being paralyzed is a significant factor in life. I talked about in a little more detail in the previous blog entry, “Cut Them Off At The Pass ”. Now it is time for those who are able bodied to raise your hand if you would like to trade places with a paraplegic or another person with a significant disAbility! Anybody want to Switcheroo with me? Hello? Just raise your hand up high. Anybody? I guess not. In fact many say that they would rather be dead then have to live a life with a significant disAbility. So I suspect that most would rather trade their race, age, or gender, than trading their being able bodied, even with imperfections, than to become paralyzed or have any other significant disAbility. With that in mind, I think you can see why this disAbility factor is as significant to my identity as is my age, race, gender, and sexual orientation, and can also see why I can be offended when some able bodied person “acts” like a paraplegic! Especially when there are many paraplegics who are actors or want to become actors! Look at the attempt by the “Glee” producers to quiet the disAbled community’s protest by finding one of those actors, Zack Weinstein! But it was only as a guest spot for one episode. If this were because they were really concerned how those with a disAbility felt, the character of Artie Abrams would be moving out of the school district and Zack’s character would be moving in!

So since even journalists covering the “Glee” success interviewing cast and the creators of the show barely glaze over the fact that this minority portrayal is being represented by someone who isn’t even a member of the same minority, and even actor Kevin McHale responds at the controversy by saying he only auditioned for the part and that the producers hired him because they felt he “was the best for the part”, then if that is sufficient for casting in a role, it is also sufficient for playing…

The Great Switcheroo Game!

Okay, remember the rules are we do not discriminate against anyone AND the goal – to win the game we have to cast/hire/employ the best actor for the part! The first player is asked the question, “What if the proposed biopic for Oprah Winfrey based on Kitty Kelley’s tell-all biography is produced and the best actress to portray Oprah was an actress who was talented, great acting skills, a total professional, looked amazingly like Oprah, had her mannerism down, sounded a lot like the talk show queen, and blew away the director and producers, but that the actress is disAbled and uses a wheelchair. Does this matter?”

Oprah-wheelchair-2

The follow up question is “How about if the disAbility isn’t as dramatic and she doesn’t get around as fast as she would using a wheelchair, but at least she is standing, walking slowly, with a limp and uses a cane?”

Oprah-Cane

She is “best for the part” – except for that little detail that this actor has a disAbility which is a significant identity factor she is perfect for the role! And the rule is that you hire who is “best for the part”! Remember that most do not think it is a big deal who represents having a disAbility – so it works both ways!

Is that ok with you? Or is there a double standard? Oh, wait, I do remember now that we established that having a disAbility is a significant factor, one that is very much related to a person’s identity, and that most able bodied people would never trade their able body for a disAbled body.

Having a disAbility is as significant as a person’s race, gender, and age. And by definition and in most industries disAbility is a minority status. And so what if another minority status was “faked” or in this case – in keeping with the Great Switcheroo Game – here is when Gawker.com merely suggested that the “best person for the part” because of his enormous talent at acting, singing, dancing, that actor Jamie Foxx should be considered to play the part of Frank Sinatra in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming biopic of the late, great crooner!

Foxx-Sinatra

Other entertainment sites and bloggers picked up on it and immediately it became a funny suggestion into industry insiders’ saying Jamie Foxx would be perfect for Frank Sinatra role! Foxx is incredibly talented and technically speaking – as Hollywood likes to do – they are both members of a minority – African-American representing an Italian-American! Does portraying and representing a minority have to be specific?

People commenting on the reports of Foxx being considered for the role of Sinatra were outraged! Others thought it was completely hilarious and some said it was just as it was – a misunderstanding that turned into a hoax as Gawker.com announced shortly thereafter!

Does this kind of ridiculous portrayal and representation of a minority only extend to race? This kind of outrage is exactly what I feel when any able bodied actor is cast into a paraplegic role! There are some exceptions that I have spoke of before, like that of the John Locke character on the television series “Lost” on a very mysterious island that has super natural powers and the character is able bodied an overwhelming amount of the screen time, BUT in MOST movie and television roles some things should not, and really cannot be “faked”! And that would be any minority status that was a significant factor in a person’s identity!

I can tell you that if there was a biopic about Christopher Reeve that focused on his life after his accident and some able bodied actor was cast in the role of the high spinal cord injury of Reeve I would be just as outraged!

Clooney-Reeve

Actually I would be even more outraged – I would be all over it! Yet it is the same with any character who is a paraplegic being portrayed and represented by an able bodied actor. And to be sure we understand the difference that I am speaking of here is another picture – a wide shot of the two actors!

Clooney-Reeve-WS-text

Of course this is a speculation and could be one of many different able bodied actors and not just George Clooney whose representation of a person with paraplegia would make me lose my mind!

It Is Not A Choice & You CANNOT Fake It!

Race is not a choice. Gender, age, is not a choice, and whether you are born with or acquire it later in life through disease, illness, or injury, disAbility is not a choice. Hollywood should not be treating it as a choice and instead give disAbility portrayals and representations the same respect. That is what this is all about – respect and dignity – and it is who is “best for the part” so long as it is dealt with the same respect and parameters as all other minorities!

“GLEE” Says IT IS OFFENSIVE AND WRONG FOR PEOPLE TO FAKE HAVING A DISABILITY!

Despite the “Glee” creators and producers using the “best for the part” excuse (a.k.a. – the Hollywood legal loophole in the Equal Employment Opportunity discrimination laws) they apparently understand this is not something you can fake! Did I say that right? They understand that faking it is wrong and offensive to those with a disAbility?

In the episode’ “Wheels” Artie the wheelchair user is disappointed when on a date with fellow Glee club classmate, Tina with whom he has had a crush on and after she kisses him says:

“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 girl and possible relationship which for a character like his, who is a geek and a full-time wheelchair user means his chances with girls are greatly diminished and yet this factor of her “faking a disAbility” was so serious that he threw away his best opportunity for a relationship with a beautiful girl.

WOW! Ryan Murphy and the other writers – they “get it”! Now, did they “get it” while writing this the 9th episode of the series, or did they know this all along? I suspect it is the former otherwise they are the kings of the proverbial “do what I say and not as I do” because if they got it before the series started – we would not be having this “best for the part” & the “respect and dignity” discussion. Well that is half the problem – it is not a discussion – nobody in Hollywood wants to have an honest and open discussion on this issue – so it is more like me talking.

Glee says it is offensive to those with a disAbility for anyone faking a disAbility – with an actor, Kevin McHale who is faking a disAbility. And that is okay? Wow, so it is okay to preach what you know is wrong all the while you are doing the exact wrong you’re preaching about! (And this episode isn’t done with the “faking” a disAbility yet – Wait, I will get to it in a moment below!)

If I had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Ryan Murphy I would ask him when he realized this and if not before or when writing this episode, then what was it like for him, the other writers, the actor Kevin McHale when they were filming this scene? Did they or any of the cast and crew watching the filming of this scene recognize what hypocrites they were being?

I will repeat from my original blog entry on “Glee is Everything to Everyone ” and say it is incredibly hypocritical to say it is okay for the “character” to portray the fact that it was wrong and made him very upset that another “character” was faking a disAbility, but that it is okay for the actor portraying this upset “character who has a real disAbility” is FAKING the disAbility! WHAT THE HELL? So it is okay for a person faking a disAbility to say it is not okay to fake a disAbility – and everyone will applaud! Oh, wait, many of the comments that I read from fans of the show where wondering what was going to happen between Artie and Tina and couldn’t understand why he reacted the way that he did. REALLY? Do you think they might have understood or at the very least would not question such as realistic response – IF THE ACTOR PORTRAYING A PERSON WITH A DISABILITY WAS REALLY A PERSON WITH A DISABILITY?

And am I wrong for being as angry and upset as the “character” was in the “story” about someone pretending – someone representing that they have a disAbility when they don’t? I am even more upset because this is real – they are broadcasting into the homes of millions of families here in America and around the world – preaching how it is disrespectful to pretend, to fake having a disAbility but the actor can do it. What kind of message is that giving all the audiences about those with a disAbility and especially into the living rooms of 25% of all American households where at least one person really lives with a disAbility and REALLY CANNOT “FAKE IT” as Artie says he can’t even though the actor portraying and representing him can and does FAKE IT?

So Mr. Ryan Murphy (who has just resigned a deal with Fox which will bring him near $40 million) and your other co-creators and co-writers, and actor Kevin McHale – when did you realize your hypocracy? Was this realization and the protests from disAbility groups, bloggers, and activists prompt you to cast/hire/employ the actor really living with paralysis, Zack Weinstein for the small one-time part – in an attempt to make it right? Do you think it is right now and you have no more obligation to the disAbled minority community?

 Gems Throughout This “Wheels” Episode

This whole episode had a lot of wonderful points that dealt with the issues those with a disAbility go through – but the “not practicing what you are preaching”, this hypocrisy is really hard to overcome. Like when the Glee teacher, Mr. Will Schuester apologizes to Artie that the Glee club members all treated him like they had, Artie responds with saying, “Ah, that’s okay. They just don’t get it.” REALLY? AND I SUPPOSE YOU DO?

And

When the students are leaving the Glee club room while in wheelchairs that Glee teacher Mr. Schuester had put all of them in to understand how Artie feels, and one of them bumps into another student, Artie says, “Respect the chair.”  REALLY AGAIN? Then I want to ask, “WHEN WILL YOU RESPECT THE CHARACTER – THE DISABILITY – AND THE PEOPLE LIVING WITH PARALYSIS?”

And

This episode also deals with another disAbility and not just the paraplegia that Artie lives with. Sue Sylvester is the cheerleading squad’s teacher and has earlier accepted a new cheerleader, Becky Jackson who has the disAbility of Down syndrome, and while working with her in a personal practice with Becky Jackson who is jumping rope, Sue rides her pretty hard. Mr. Schuester is watching from the distance and after she dismisses the student Mr. Schuester gets on Sue Sylvester saying “she isn’t like everyone else”. Sue Sylvester responds, “I want you to listen to what you just said, William. You want me to treat her differently because she has a disAbility when it seems to me she wants to be treated like everyone else.” EXACTLY! Treat us with a disAbility like you treat all other minorities, people, sub-groups in your show – AUTHENTICALLY! Oh, wait, you did with this character of Becky Jackson who was portrayed and represented by actress, Lauren Potter who herself does live with Down syndrome! And in this episode we find out the reason why Sue Sylvester has a special affinity for the Becky student over others who auditioned – is because her older sister, Jean Sylvester has the same disAbility and is portrayed by actress, Robin Trocki, who also lives in real life with Down syndrome!

WOW! SO SOME DISABILITIES ARE TREATED WITH RESPECT & DIGNITY AND OTHERS ARE NOT?

OR

IS IT JUST TOO DIFFICULT AND OBVIOUS WHEN FAKING A DISABILITY LIKE DOWN SYNDROME

AND

EASY TO FAKE PARAPLEGIA?

AND

WHEN WILL YOU AGAIN – PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH – BY TREATING ACTORS WITH PARALYSIS LIKE ALL OTHER ACTORS OF A MINORITY GROUP?

AND FINALLY –

WOW, CHECK THIS OUT! REMEMBER THAT “GLEE” SAID THROUGH THE ARTIE CHARACTER THAT IT IS OFFENSIVE TO THOSE WHO CANNOT FAKE A DISABILITY FOR ANYONE TO FAKE A DISABILITY!

Glee student character, Rachel Berry figures out a way to help fellow Glee classmate, Finn Hudson by having him “fake” being disAbled and continue using the wheelchair he was required to use in class, as they go into a place of business (I cannot make it out – a small restaurant or a “ma and pa” type retail store), and Rachel immediately says to an employee;

“Excuse me. Are you the manager?” The man says yes and she continues, “You need to hire my friend Finn. He’s clearly handicapable and refusing to hire him can be seen as discrimination. My dad is (and after many times of rewinding and re-watching this segment I do not know what she is saying that her dad does, but concludes…) and unless you want the full force of the American Civil Liberties Union coming down on you, I’d work something out.”

He gets the job as he tells other students that he has to use the wheelchair while he is at work but at least he got a job! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

So let’s get this straight! According to “Glee” producers, creators, writers, actors, and the FOX Broadcasting network:

  • it is okay to cast/hire/employ an able bodied actor to “fake” minority status if that is a disAbility minority – Meanwhile that same character with a disAbility expresses how wrong it is for another character to “fake” a disAbility
  • while in the very same episode – it is okay to promote having another character who is able bodied “fake” being disAbled within the show to get a job in which they intimidated the employer with a discrimination lawsuit for him to get the job – regardless of his qualifications or the fact that he was faking the disAbility?

So all we have to do is threaten to sue with a discrimination lawsuit if they do not hire an actor who is a paraplegic and they will cast an authentic actor! Wow, where is the ACLU when it comes to Mr. Ryan Murphy, his co-conspirators, I mean co-creators, co-writers, co-producers, and the distributor, the exhibitor FOX Broadcasting network all who are making millions of dollars off this discrimination – especially when most of the “evidence” you will need to prosecute these guys with – they wrote, filmed and broadcasted in this episode! In any other industry they clearly hung themselves! But in Hollywood they KNOW THEY WILL GET AWAY WITH IT – they are so confident that in addition to doing just the opposite  by discriminating against actors who are paraplegics BUT they will make an episode like this where a character will fake it and threaten to sue for discrimination if he is not hired. Perfect example of how Hollywood will exploit the system to get away with discrimination, while blatantly ignoring the law, at the same time will broadcast that what they are doing is wrong – for everyone else! None of this applies to them and they can make millions and millions of dollars while doing it and it is okay for them to do all of this while they laugh at disrespecting the basic human respect and dignity of those with a disAbility. And if anyone objects or makes some noise – they will claim they are doing good – they are all about diversity and include a paraplegic character so therefore those with a disAbility should be grateful not critical. And they will get away with it because most of the audience doesn’t care – they just want to know will Artie and Tina ever kiss again!

To Summarize:

It is incredible that Glee can correctly portray how offensive it is to those with a disAbility – which may I remind you we are the largest & fastest growing minority in the country with 56+ million Americans – for anyone to fake having a disAbility and being a part of this minority community – while at the very same time they are faking it on both sides of the camera – with an actor faking he has a disAbility to portray a character with a disAbility – and another character who is clearly able bodied on the show faking he has a disAbility!

In “Glee” and throughout Hollywood – Not all people are created equal – not all minorities are created equal – and obviously not all disAbilities are created equal.     

Hollywood Legal Loophole “Best For The Part”!

Yes, they will get away with all of this – the hypocrisy, the stereotypes, and the discrimination all the while waving their artistic legal loophole flag – AND not caring that this only works one way – there is no way they would hire some actor who clearly is “best for the part” if that actor has any visible disAbility.

So what is the answer? How do we change this common practice of stereotyping, discrimination, and now hypocrisy? We need to continue to voice our opinions and our outrage even after they give a small part to an authentic actor like Zack Weinstein and hope we all go away. We have to let everyone know that this is not about who is “best for the part” – it is about respect and dignity for the disAbility and all of those who live with it – so we can have our own voices and our own heroes – instead of those faking our voices and pretending to be our heroes. It is just like portraying and representing all other minorities, and is exactly as the producers, creators and writers said themselves in this “Glee” episode – it is wrong to fake it!

It is about right and wrong. They know it is wrong and they still do it! How do you feel about it? Tell me and others – right here as a comment on this blog below – or on the Abilities United website – or the place that referred you here!

Of course there are some exceptions as I spoke of before, for example the John Locke character in the television series “Lost”, but for the most part it is completely wrong – and it is certainly wrong with the Artie Abrams character on the television series “Glee”. So we have to counter this injustice by doing what is right – with authentic writers to be the authentic voice, authentic directors being the authentic vision, and authentic actors being the authentic performance – giving the movie or television program a completely authentic representation of paraplegics or another disAbility! In a television series like “Glee” made up of an ensemble cast of many characters, many belonging to a minority group, you can get away with an able bodied writer(s) since they proven they “get it” and even an able bodied director – BUT not an able bodied actor – anymore then you can get away with a white actor portraying racial minority character. I know all of this because this is what I have been working on as a paraplegic filmmaker for 15 years! And that is what “London Time” is all about! When the time comes and I finally have the funding secure, I will cast the best authentic actors for each part. One of them has a disAbility! Detective London is a paraplegic and I will cast who is “best for the part”. That will be an actor with the same or similar disAbility as the character! Just like I will hire a female actor for the female leading role of Marci Waters! I suspect that “London Time” will be very successful based on my research, development, projected production quality and marketing strategies, but even if it isn’t – it is the RIGHT THING TO DO! And hopefully “London Time” will be the beginning of the Hollywood change into giving those with a disAbility the same fair and equal opportunities to be cast/hired/employed as the EEOC says they must and the same basic human respect and dignity that they give all minorities in movies and television!