It Is Time – 2016

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

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

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

A Responsibility from the Oscar Filmmaking Community

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

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

A - Video is Blocked Globally

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

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

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

YouTube for Oscars 001m - the world we live in

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

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

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

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

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

YouTube for Oscars 1 - we have a responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Flare Gun in the Wild West

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

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

I hope this shows up?

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

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

Uncomfortable but Requested Film

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

movie_reel_400X400

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moved the Blog

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

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

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

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

Conquering the Catch-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hollywood Hypocrites Have New Ally – Uncle Tom Mobility

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Dare Not Cross the Line

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Real Betrayal

 

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

 

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

 

The Trouble with Never

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Missing Crucial Points

 

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

 

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

 

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

Artie asks, “Faking what?”

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

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

Artie rolls away.

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

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

Artie then turns back around and rolls away.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Manager: “Yes.”

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

 

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

 

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

 

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

 

And…

 

What message is this sending?

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hollywood Pays For Readers & Opinions

 

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

 

The New Allies

 

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

 

Looking Forward in 2012!

Happy New Year – it is now 2012 and I am really glad for it! While every year brings new hope and promise, last year started well for me, but had a very unexpected turn. For those who do not follow me or my Abilities United Productions’ page on Facebook, on March 8, 2011, just as I was about an hour away from finishing my short film, “Too Different For Who”? I stopped my editing at about 4:00 a.m. and went to sleep. I woke up about 11:00 a.m. and not realizing it for the next 2 hours (primarily because I lived alone and did not have any phone calls or other interactions with people during that time) I found out I was having a stroke! I was then admitted into the hospital and then into the stroke rehab facility where I spent 3 weeks before returning home. I have been a paraplegic for nearly 16 years at that time and only 46 years of age, so a stroke, which I thought only happened to much older folk in retirement age, was far from my mind of happening – but it did. The good news is that I have recovered the right side paralysis and most of my speech as a result from the stroke. Of course I am still a T-7 complete paraplegic from the Spinal Cord injury I survived back on April 1, 1995, which when the stroke took away the right side of the 40% of able bodied functions that I had on the top half of my body (that was the part left alone from the SCI accident and paralysis) – I was truly relieved when I got that right side part of my function back during my stroke rehab! Taking away half of a half is a real attention getter! And I am still a filmmaker – loving the storytelling on film as a writer, director, producer, and as the businessman, the founder and president of my own independent motion picture production company, Abilities United Productions, as well as an advocate for the fair and equal rights of paraplegics and others with a disAbility in the entertainment industry.

 

As soon as I got out of the rehab hospital and returned home, I finished the short film – of which I was real glad I had already finished the narration before the stroke, and published it on my home page as well as on YouTube and Facebook. I had some in-home rehab which is normal care for a stroke survivor, but drew extra attention from my hospital doctors and therapists because as a independent person who already lived with challenges as a paraplegic, I was also one who preferred living alone.  So with physical occupational, and speech therapists and a medical nurse visiting me regularly, I completed the in-home rehab and they recommended out patient rehab.

 

In addition to all of that going all – I had a deep desire to once again join up with the “Life Rolls On” foundation’s flagship program “They Will Surf Again” for the second time in my life, when they kicked off the 2011 Season with an event in Huntington Beach, CA, my most beloved home town in SoCal. That was very exciting even though there was a rather unconventional and strange weather storm that hit the area the night before which nearly threatened the event itself, the next morning – the storm had cleared, but the tides were rough causing the surf to be choppy that morning and afternoon of April 9, 2011. And they remained a bit rough when my turn finally came up and so my first run on the surf board riding the wave actually crashed upon me big time. Can you say, “Wipeout”?

North-Side-choppy-waters

I seriously flipped from my feet over my head and the surfboard as the wave engulfed me and I went completely underwater. It was a serious wipeout but I kept my head and was confident that I would float back up to the surface of the water, as my friend, John had testified to later. I was glad he and the many volunteers of the event were right there to help me recover and despite the extreme pain from the wipeout that I felt on my left side rib cage, I was able to manage to get back out there for another wave! I didn’t confess to the pain because I feared I would not get another chance to ride another wave – because even though it was choppy – this was surfing, and not just surfing, it was surfing in Huntington Beach, California! So even though this event and day wasn’t as good as it was my first time joining the “They Will Surf Again” program in La Jolla, CA, the year before, which also landed exactly on my birthday, September 11, 2010,

Riding it in! (2)

and despite this event in 2011 was taking place so early after my stroke (shhh, it was only 10 days after I was released from the rehab hospital) but this was…

Huntington Pier, by Woody Woodworth

Huntington Beach – again not only my favorite home town from the past, with many fond memories and where I had surfed many times before (although it was years ago and before my SCI paralysis), it was also the only time the “They Will Surf Again” program was going to be in Huntington Beach for the 2011 season, and this is where both professional and amateur surfers and the city of Huntington Beach, righteously nicknamed it, “Surf City”

index_logo1 (2)

– which is the long time home of the U.S. Open Surfing Championship, where surfers from around the world come to compete,

 

Kelly-Slater-wins-ASP-season-opener

Nike-US-Open-of-Surfing-4

US+Open+of+Surfing-2010-brett-simpson

and all together made this a huge event in my mind and especially in my heart! This was still a very special surfing event for me! And can now, I can cross that wish, that dream, that I thought was nearly impossible of happening since becoming a paraplegic – off my list!

 

I have and continue to thank all of those at the “Life Roll’s On” foundation, and the entire “They Will Surf Again” program with its great volunteers and supporters of the program (individuals and companies that have donated products and services to make this event happen for so many) and of course my dear friend, who is like a brother, John Narvaez, along with his wife, Joelle, and young son, Jack, for not only supporting my choice to attend this against the odds and some would argue common sense (something that I often hold in high esteem), but for coming out to the event and being there to share the moments as well as being my solid support, a mental security, a peace of mind, just in case anything happened during the event that might have been related to the recent stroke I had (which I was very reluctant to share with many people at the event in case it would disqualify me from participating as a surfer that day)

Johns Patio - chillin with cold ones - 01 (2)

Having John there was very important to me as I had recently learned how very challenging it is when you cannot think properly or communicate what you need or feel – a surreal lesson from the stroke! Learn from your challenges otherwise they will only serve as a bitter disappointment rather than way to improve yourself. So my deep thanks to everyone, as I gave and continue to give a lot of love and appreciation for that day, the entire event, and the now cherished memories that brings a smile to my face every time I think about it!

 

After that event and special opportunity for me, my life also rolled on! I continued with the stroke rehab, and with some very personal reflections that included re-examining what is important in this life and the common sense Pros & Cons of getting older, which is exponentially faster as a paraplegic and now also as a stroke survivor, I carefully considered and ultimately decided that it was best to follow a new opportunity that meant moving in with my sister, Renee and her wonderful kids who were about to move to Logan, Utah, where I had lived for a couple years just prior to my much anticipated return to my home of SoCal where I grew up! It was a difficult decision since it meant giving up my much coveted living arrangement of solitude and it meant leaving my beloved SoCal, but like most of life’s hard decisions – there is both good and bad that goes along with it! And despite what I had to give up, I did gain a lot – I love my sister and her kids, so being with them and sharing with them every day, along with the comfort of knowing that if I were to have another health challenge – which I am now at a higher risk of having, including the standard 30% chance of having another stroke, plus the additional challenges that I don’t normally talk about but are mostly related to my 16 years as a paraplegic – I feel that this is a great choice!

 

Therefore, in June of 2011, with help of my family, I moved to Logan, Utah. I immediately had separation anxiety from leaving my home in SoCal, and had the additional challenges of getting all of my healthcare insurance and doctors and prescriptions switched to a new out-of-state location, along with shrinking my stuff into and sharing a living space with 4 people, has taken some getting used to but I am happy! Plus my brother, Travis and his family whom I also love and who also lives in Logan, Utah has been of great comfort!

The Fam 2

Meanwhile, I have also continued my self directed rehab of speech therapy to hopefully, eventually recover 100% from the stroke. I am getting there but still have some challenges with finding the words at times and then speaking them, all of which in itself is a bit difficult for a guy who is known for talking a LOT as everyone who even knows me slightly will attest that I am that guy!

 

Nonetheless, I have done what was best, and unfortunately, this is also why I apologize that I have not blogged except for once during this past year, back in January 2011. That is a big difference from my usual multiple blog posts every month as it was in 2010 and the years proceeding – since I started blogging back in 2006. Not that I think a lot of people read this blog – for many reasons – maybe the content, maybe that it is not on a blogging website and instead is part of my own website – but this is where I am today and for the past 12 months!

 

This brings me to this Happy New Year of 2012! And I can assure you that I am keeping the faith, hope and promise of an authentic representation for paraplegics and others with a disAbility in American entertainment alive for another year. I do use the common phrase of learning and cherishing the past, living for today, and dreaming of tomorrow, throughout my life but especially at this time of the New Year! So I hope the best for everyone this year and hopefully – even if Hollywood does not change how they operate their portrayals and representation of the images of paras and others with a disAbility in movies and television – I do hope that they will stop repressing those of us that want to provide a solution to the common and often accepted practices of discrimination, and stereotypes, the barriers of attitude toward people with mobility disAbilities and provide us with a fair and equal opportunity to represent ourselves just as all other minorities are given in Hollywood! So, come on Hollywood – let’s all have a truly inclusive industry and live up to the promise that you yourselves proclaim as a proud part of your foundation – that every one has the right to represent themselves in today’s entertainment industry – on both sides of the camera! Let’s all have a great 2012!

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?

Hollywood’s Industry Versus Individuals

“That’s a fact, Jack!” – Although any “industry” is made up of the people who work within it – the “system” is a set way of doing business and the people within that system are often relegated to remain conducting themselves within the guidelines of that system. But are they one and the same? Do the individuals within the industry feel the same way and/or are simply fine with the way the business is run? Do they ever speak out if the injustices that are blatantly being practiced within the system are offensive? Even if the injustices do not apply to them directly? That is the question I keep asking myself about the Hollywood “industry” and its system of business, and the “individuals” that work and prosper in the business, and even have the power of directly or indirectly changing the injustices within that system – will any of the businesses, organizations, programs, or individuals stand up for those that cannot stand up for themselves?  

The Hollywood “Industry”

It is obvious to anyone who will spend a little time really looking at the Hollywood system of business and the common practices within the business, or will pay but a slight attention to my blog, website, or creative work, that Hollywood is an “industry” that blatantly discriminates against those with a disAbility. And thanks to the television series “Glee” episode 9: “Wheels”, from the first season, we finally know that they know it is offensive to those with a disAbility to fake having a disAbility. But because they used an actor who is faking that he is a “paraplegic” character who is the offended person that another character faked having a disAbility, it seems okay to preach about how offensive it is even if they do not practice what they preach! So, does “acting” like a person with a disAbility become exempt from the definition of “faking” a disAbility? Where is the line drawn between acting and faking, between acceptable and unacceptable, between offensive and inoffensive?

 

And regardless of how the “industry” feels about this issue – does it really matter if it is faking or not? And if it is not offensive to the masses does it really matter who is offended? It does to those that live with a disAbility and especially to those with a disAbility that have the ability, the training, the passion to be an actor, writer, or director and do so without faking the disAbility! And even if the able bodied population does not care who plays the paraplegic – does it matter if those who are paraplegics care who portrays and represents them in the very limited movies and television programs that feature a paraplegic character? This goes well beyond merely caring about or the popularity of a particular actor who is playing the part, but goes deep into who is portraying and representing the minority status of a character.

I have tried to explain how important this factor is before and because I think it is where most people are either unaware or simply do not care, and addresses the line between “acting” and “faking” I will attempt it once again! There are certain “identity factors” that we now consider as “faking” no matter how good the “acting” is and have become unacceptable except for certain circumstances more prominently for comedic effect that we do not “fake” or “act” a gender, race, or age group. These are important identity factors to an individual person and the group of people they represent. For instance, a man does not play the part of a woman, unless it is for a plot reason and the audience is in on it such as in “Mrs. Doubtfire”, or “Tootise”. Nor does a white person portray a black character unless it is for a specific reason that the character is “faking” such as in “Tropic Thunder”. And also it is not appropriate to have a teenage actor portray a person going through a middle age crisis or as a retired person living their golden years unless it part of the plot like in “Freaky Friday” or “Like Father and Like Son”. Although there were times in the entertainment “industry” that these were acceptable portrayals – because women were not allowed on the stage, and at the beginning of the “motion picture business” blacks were not allowed on the stage or in front of the camera and therefore it was acceptable for Al Jolson to portray a black character and sing black folk songs while wearing a black face to portray being a black person.

There are some factors – like those that go toward a person’s identity – that you do not “act” and you do not “fake”!  

Now the question is whether being a paraplegic or having any ADA defined disAbility is a worthy identity factor?

Well since the majority of the time people with paraplegia are often referred to as a “handicapped person” or even as I prefer as a “person with a disAbility” the language is part evidence that it is often an identity factor in who I am. And the visual elements that I cannot hide or be in the closet for since my disAbility as a paraplegic is very obvious – using a wheelchair! This also presents the social aspects in which many “wheelers” find themselves in most of the time – where able bodied people will “talk down” to us. This is partly because of the physical need for a standing person to look down to address a person sitting in a wheelchair and that sometimes cause the subconscious to speak down to the person as well. Not to mention that in our society it is often presumed that a person with a significant disAbility is not a whole person – is less of a person and that is manifested in the way a person often communicates with a wheeler. I have 15 years experience as a paraplegic and this is not only my perceptions but research on the disabled that I have read.

We can also look at the legal aspects of this disAbility identity factor. When we look at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and its federal authority to enforce laws against workplace discrimination we find that the categories that are protected against discrimination of an individual’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, and disAbility are commonly accepted “identity factors”. Yet even with decades of the good the EEOC has done in maintaining fair and equal employment opportunities for Americans in these most often discriminated categories – it seems it looks past Hollywood’s discrimination practices. I suspect that this is because of the legal loophole of having “dramatic and artistic license” to do whatever they want! And legally or morally the “industry” has corrected itself in its former discrimination against most of the EEOC categories such as for gender, race, color, as described above – and yet continues to disregard the category of those with a disAbility! This is especially true in the creative roles of writer, directors, actors who are paraplegics or have another significant disAbility.    

Look at it on a human level.

Try and imagine how it would feel for the nearly 6 million Americans (and millions upon millions more globally) who live with paraplegia, or another mobility disAbility to see upon the screen one of the few Hollywood paraplegic characters being portrayed by an actor who is a paraplegic! That would be incredibly empowering especially if it is in a non-stereotypical portrayal and in a mainstream movie or television program – not some documentary or Hallmark inspirational story!

London_Time_Poster_med-small2

One where the character and story is not all about having a disAbility but is also not ignored – one like the feature film project “London Time” with the title character, Detective London, a homicide police detective and Dirty Harry type character who happens to be a paraplegic!

The Hollywood “industry” has made it clear they are not interested in changing the limited portrayals and misrepresentation of people with a disAbility as is evidenced in:

  • The history of movies and television programs produced that feature a character with a disAbility.
  • Through the experiences of thousands of people with a disAbility trying to work in this “industry”.
  • The first “industry” report on performers with a disAbility (commissioned & then published by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) over 5 years ago) showing that discrimination of performers with disAbilities in the entertainment industry – and the continuing efforts by SAG, who report that through a 2009  Casting Report proving these issues are still be ignored by the industry, stating that “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.”
  • A new report (and the only additional one, from the SAG report mentioned above, about the “industry” to also include those with a disAbility) published by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) in their annual “Where We Are on TV” report for the 2010-2011 television season included for the first time, people with disAbilities among the categories to be included in the study of television series regular characters portrayed. It showed that “only six series regular characters on the broadcast networks, or 1%, are scheduled to appear in the upcoming season are people with disabilities.”

Those are the facts, experiences, and a fairly good look at the “big picture” for paraplegics and others with a disAbility being portrayed as part of the American scene – which is mostly being ignored and excluded from movies and television – but when we are seemingly reluctantly included in a movie or television program, the over whelming majority of those limited portrayals are done by able bodied – well intentioned, but still able bodied actors, writers, and directors – denying, repressing, and/or discriminating against self representation of the paraplegic people, for the paraplegic people, and by the paraplegic people!

The Hollywood “Individuals”

That is the Hollywood industry so what about those that make up the industry – the individuals? Will any dare to stand up for those who cannot stand up? Many will and do stand up for “cases” all around the world – but what about a “cause” that is in their own backyard, their own workplace?

Over the many years that I have been trying to get my work produced and raise awareness to this “cause” – or at least raise the awareness of how important it is to those of us who are paraplegics or have a disAbility in general – to the disAbled community in general and to those trying to work within the industry – I have tried every possible route to get help – from the traditional avenues, to the emerging and non-traditional routes in business, in show business, and even with the disAbled community. On occasion I have attempted to contact individuals that work within the “industry” to help me either raise the awareness of being given a fair and equal opportunity within the industry, or to help me get my work produced to show everyone what “doing the right thing” would mean socially and commercially when dealing with the portrayal and representation of paraplegics and those with a disAbility!

In 2006 and 2007 I spent considerable effort in contacting those individuals in the “biz” to do one or the other in helping me help millions of people finally have an authentic voice, vision, and representation in movies and television. I created an Excel database of Hollywood individuals and companies with contact info, when and how I contacted them and if there were any responses as they happened. This database of mine has well over 100 people whom I felt had the power, knowledge, experience, the heart from either being directly or indirectly connected to a person with a disAbility, or plainly would care enough that as soon as they were presented with the evidence of the discrimination and practices of the “industry” would gladly want to help us correct the years of injustice and provide a brighter and a real inclusive future for those with a disAbility. Despite repeated attempts with several of these individuals and always in a professional manner – I got less than 10 responses. Unfortunately, they all basically said that they thought I was doing a great thing, a wonderful job with a noble cause but none went beyond that and wishing me “good luck”! While I really appreciated any response it was very frustrating that there were so few of them and that none felt they wanted to “dirty” their hands with something they probably felt would go against the “industry” that they worked in.

Since then I have continued to do my work as both a filmmaker and an advocate for disAbility rights in Hollywood. And I have found that many of these individuals do not see any discrimination and therefore think it doesn’t exist! Yet not seeing it should be evidence that it does exist! Hollywood – the industry – has successfully kept us out of being portrayed and certainly out of any of the creative roles in the limited portrayals of paraplegics in movies and television. I am going to make another campaign of pleading to Hollywood individuals and although I am not Santa Claus – I am making a list and checking it twice to find who is naughty and who is nice to our cause!

The question is: should I publish this list – here on my blog or on my website? Maybe this way others – within and outside the disAbled community – will see who in Hollywood, who with the power and ability to help, will care and who doesn’t care about how we are portrayed and misrepresented. And maybe this will cause some to be more apt to help this “cause”? OR this could cause me to be blacklisted as some horrible person trying to make those who do not respond or help as “bad” people and further hurt my chances (on top of being a paraplegic in this industry) at being a mainstream moviemaker who happens to feature paraplegic characters. Will this help or hurt this cause of being the authentic voice and vision and determined to hire paraplegic actors in the roles of my paraplegic characters and therefore providing a completely authentic representation of paraplegics in Hollywood’s mainstream movies and television?!

(Career) Suicide Is Painless — & Could Be Successful

Well since there are very few options I have not tried in the past 15 years – this may or may not be a career suicide move – but I am at the end of my rope any way so do or die and if it is a suicide move it would be painful for me but maybe those in Hollywood – the industry and the individuals that make it work – will finally take notice and give paraplegics and those with a disAbility more than a passing glance or nod when it comes to being truly included in mainstream movies and television. I have been dedicated to this work and “cause” for so long now that anything that will bring a brighter future in the authentic portrayal and representation of paraplegics in Hollywood will be a success. 

Authentic Paraplegic Filmmaker