20 Years of ADA & Hollywood

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

ADA-20th-Reeve-DodgerStadium-02

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of the Letter & Spirit of the Law!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADA-20th-Reeve-DodgerStadium-01


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

Kevin_McHale_Advanced+Screening+Glee+Wheels

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

sam-worthington-late-show2

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

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

ZackWeinstein01

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

Janis Hirsch, Daryl "Chill" Mitchell

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

Brock-Waidmann-headshot

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

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

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

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Faking A Minority Is Okay In Hollywood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London_Time_Poster_med-small2

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

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

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

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

reasons,

implications,

impact,

excuses,

legalities

social ramifications,

the facts of what is and what can be,

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

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

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

 

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

the physical,

economical,

emotional,

social, and

environmental challenges,

 

all of which contribute to our:

daily existence,

our personal identity,

and being a member of disability minority community! 

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

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

Discrimination Disguised as “Being Best For The Part”!

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

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

The Hollywood Cups

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Switcheroo Game!

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

Oprah-wheelchair-2

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

Oprah-Cane

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

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

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

Foxx-Sinatra

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

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

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

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

Clooney-Reeve

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

Clooney-Reeve-WS-text

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

It Is Not A Choice & You CANNOT Fake It!

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

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

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

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

“I have to tell you something. I’ve been faking it.” Artie asks, “Faking what?” Tina confesses, “I don’t have a stutter. I pretended to have one in the 6th grade because I didn’t want to give a speech on the Missouri Compromise. I was really shy and it made people think I was real weird. So they left me alone. And it wasn’t until Glee club did I realize how much I was missing. And I don’t want to push people away any more. You understand what that’s like, don’t you?” Artie bows his head and then raises it to respond. “No, I don’t. I would never try and push people away because just being in a chair does that for ya. I thought we had something really important in common.” Artie rolls away. Tina stands up and apologizes, “Wait, Artie, I’m sorry.” Artie stops and turns around to face her. “I am too. I’m sorry you get to be normal and I get to be stuck in this chair the rest of my life and that’s not something I can fake.” Artie then turns back around and rolls away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Gems Throughout This “Wheels” Episode

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

And

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

And

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

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

OR

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

AND

EASY TO FAKE PARAPLEGIA?

AND

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

AND FINALLY –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Summarize:

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

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

Hollywood Legal Loophole “Best For The Part”!

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

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

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

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

The New “London Time” Look!

London_Time_Poster_med-small2

WOW! Now this should give you a little idea of the look and impression of what “London Time” is all about! Of course I  pitch it in words, as a modern day, 21st Century “Ironside” meets “Lethal Weapon” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigations” and an authentic movie hero with a disAbility, that Detective London is more of a Dirty Harry character that just happens to be using a wheelchair. Just as I wrote about in the previous blog post “A Real Father’s Day Promise “.  I also try to convey what kind of movie I am making! What it is like when Hollywood allows a minority to represent themselves – instead of faking the minority status of an actor, writer, and director! This is giving paraplegics and other disAbilities the same respect as other minorities with an authentic voice, vision, performance and overall AUTHENTIC REPRESENTATION of paraplegics and those with a disAbility in general and the impact and impression this can have on American cinema – one that is not stereotypical, nor some “statement” film that is all about the disAbility. I do not ignore the fact that my character is a paraplegic but I also do not focus on it! “London Time” is a commercial independent movie, that I will produce with a blockbuster look, elements, and potential! But these are just a few, passionate, enlightening (to some) and empowering (to all those with a disAbility) words, and sometimes a picture, an image can have the impact of a thousand words! I hope this mock promotional poster does that! It is not an official movie poster!  I have not even produced the film yet! I have written the original screenplay but, as the icon and the credits at the bottom of the poster spell out, the screenplay has been an official finalist in the only film festival screenplay competition I have entered it into, and no casting of these major characters have been done, which brings me to this important disclaimer:

This mock promotional poster for the ”London Time” film project in development, is a compilation of altered images from the internet. The most important of these are that of the three main characters: Detective London, which is authentically represented by actor and paraplegic performer with a disAbility, Tom Muxie. I did alter some of his appearance to include wearing a police badge and the informal, plain clothes, and kind of a rough look that mirrors his personal, inner self that I have developed for the character of Detective London. The other two characters are taken from promotional photos from a popular American television show that includes both of them prominently wearing police badges and followed some of the look that I have created for those characters. Marci Waters is the old friend of Detective London who returns to Dallas in order to accept the position as the new lead crime scene investigator of the forensic department. She is smart, strong, and sexy! Detective Richmond is the younger partner of London working for the homicide department and is a little more formal in his appearance than his senior partner Detective London. I use these images because they fit the characterizations described and they prove to be realistic characterizations since they are similar to those from the popular television show. THEY ARE NOT associated with “London Time”, me or my company Abilities United Productions in any way. This includes Tom, which I invite you to click on his name to learn more, whom I think is a fantastic actor, and is associated only as a friend who has graciously permitted me to use and even alter some of his image to provide the look that I am looking for in Detective London. I want everyone to know just as Tom completely understands that this role has not been cast and as I have promised over the years to many actors who have contacted me that there will be open auditions for this role once I have secured funding for the production. I do hope and encourage Tom to be there and all actors with a disAbility that fit the characterizations that I have described here and else where, and can authentically represent with the same or similar disAbility as that of the character of Detective London. The final reason for using these images is that I really want to give the impression and look of my feature film project that goes beyond merely words and will have a strong impact that most of us associate with pictures and images and the fact that I can not economically afford to hire a photographer, costumes, props, or models to produce such a promotional look at this time! As soon as I can afford to produce a real promotional poster for the “London Time” film project I will and will remove this one. Until then I hope this just gives a general but distinct impression of what I mean when I describe what “London Time” is about!

Meanwhile, if you have a comment on what you think of this new look over the previous image of merely being a Detective London police badge graphic for “London Time”

police_badge_clip-on_wallet_2

then please add those comments below! I would love to read them!

A Real Father’s Day Promise

Sunday was Father’s Day and I couldn’t help but think about all of the father’s with a disAbility. Unfortunately, I do not have any kids, but I do have a lot of great nieces and nephews! I don’t think there is an Uncle’s Day but I do have a father and he is great. Thinking about gifts for Father’s Day and as usual, because I love movies, I often give DVD’s for presents to everyone for every occasion, birthday’s, Christmas, etc. This got me thinking about the kind of DVD’s that I or you would give dad for Father’s Day!

Action movies come to mind first. And some of my favorites are “Lethal Weapon”,

LethalWeapon


“Die Hard”,

die_hard


and “Dirty Harry”!

dirty_harry


They all have great characters – Detective’s Murtaugh, Riggs, McClane, Callahan, and some action packed sequences! These are guy’s guys! The good guys who sometimes do bad things for the greater good! For them it is not about being “politically correct” or kissing up, even if it would further their career!

Now, what if your dad had a disAbility? How do you think he would feel like if there was a movie about a good guy but not one to be messed with and had a disAbility just like him? Someone he could relate to and someone who could “be representin’ those with a disAbility” – showing how those with a disAbility are NOT like the stereotypes most movies portray! And how empowering would it be if the writer, director (yours truly), and the actor in that action movie all had the same or similar disAbility as that character? That would be real – even Hollywood real!

That is who Detective London is in my feature film project, “London Time”! He is the Detective Murtaugh, Riggs, McClane, and/or Callahan in a wheelchair! MUCH more than an Ironside just sitting in a wheelchair solving crimes! Detective London is a 21st century homicide detective who is also a paraplegic using a wheelchair. He also is one who says exactly what he thinks and feels regardless of what others think! This is most obvious when it comes to the news media whenever he gives a press conference or is ambushed by reporters like a bunch of paparazzi on celebrities at LAX. And he also speaks his mind when it comes to forensic science, ever since the fame of television shows like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigations” he feels it portrays that only high tech investigations using all the latest technology can solve all the world’s crimes, when he believes it is his street investigations, interrogations, and gut check instincts that catches criminals.

Detective London is a lot more than talk as he is also fully in charge wherever he goes and is full of action when necessary, such as when he is interrogating a suspect, involved in a car chase, and in a huge gun fight all of which can be found within the “London Time” screenplay!

But London is more than just a homicide detective. He is a very interesting man who adapts to situations when necessary and will adapt them to his will when possible. He is fighting his own demons as a widower and a father of a young daughter who was killed a few years earlier, which he is often reminded of nearly every night, he is good looking and women do notice him – beyond just being a wheelchair, he occasionally cares about others – mostly victims but also family and friends, even though those are limited, and as we find out in as the story evolves he is also a romantic, all of which makes a complex and interesting character. You can learn more about Detective London, Marci Waters, and Detective Richmond at the website “London Time” page at: http://AbilitiesUnited.com/londontime.html

I make this promise to all dads and especially those with a disAbility, and for the many who will acquire a disAbility in the future due to an accident, illness or as time goes on and they age, I WILL PRODUCE “London Time” with a professional independent production budget (of at least $5 million) and secure professional distribution contracts so that the movie has inclusion in the marketplace with the same fair and equal marketing and exhibition that all other professional independent movies have, and therefore give the audience the same respect watching it rather than having to search for movie that is given a direct-to-dvd treatment.

And I promise to keep the Detective London character, portrayal, and representation true to the descriptions given here and you will finally have that action hero who works for the greater good AND is also one who isn’t like everybody else, who has his own limitations and challenges and yet works with them and around them to save the day, get the girl, and be the every man’s hero!

And with the proper industry support, it is possible that as soon as next Father’s Day you could buy your dad movie tickets to see this incredible and authentic representation of a great character who happens to have a disAbility and will be heralded by guys with or without a disAbility will make them feel like they can be a hero too! And how cool will you be if you bought you father a “London Time” Blu-Ray or DVD for his birthday or Christmas?

I am trying to create a “London Time” movie poster with Photoshop to use for promotional purposes. As soon as I get a basic one done I will update everyone and post it as a new blog entry. Meanwhile, visit http://AbilitiesUnited.com to see updates on what is going on as well as links to the Facebook page, the new “Turning Point” in American cinema page, the Authentic Representation in Hollywood page, make comments, and stay up to date on the latest in the “London Time” progress toward being produced!

Thanks for joining in and supporting this mission and helping me provide an authentic voice, vision, and representation in movies and television!

Two Great Examples This Week

This past week (June 13-19, 2010) in the news we have seen a couple great examples of people with a disAbility not only be recognized but accepted and included as equals in their field. The first I want to highlight is that of Zach Anner who has auditioned for a television show on Oprah’s up coming network. He is a 25 year old man living in Austin, Texas and with cerebral palsy. I first saw his story on ABC News website at: http://abcnews.go.com/WN/Broadcast/conversation-zach-anner-oprahs-star/story?id=10929884

Zach - ABC News

At the time of this story Zach had a commanding lead of a million more votes over the nearest competitor of the many other hopefuls who set up an audition video of their own on the website Oprah set up for this contest. BUT that is no longer the case and his nearest competitor is getting very close!

SO PLEASE VISIT OPRAH’S NEW SITE AND VOTE FOR ZACH!

Here is Zach’s submission on her site: http://myown.oprah.com/audition/index.html?request=video_details&response_id=5615&promo_id=1

I strongly recommend you visit the site and vote for Zach! But regardless if you vote or not – I also suggest you watch his video submission. It is hilarious! Some of it is him punching a little fun at some of things that are challenging for him due to his specific disAbility, and some is just general humor like his fashion show idea! In reality, he proposes to do a travel show in which it isn’t all a polished perfect vacation trip as most travel shows portray! Instead showing real people going on travel vacations where some troubles, if not a lot of troubles are bound to happen as they usually do. But also showing how they overcome them and still have a great vacation!

10 years ago I developed “Independent Travels” a television series that explores the accessible places and activities of travelers with disAbilities. A couple of times I nearly had it produced – the last time was back in 2004 when I had an established production company with their own small but professional studio in Phoenix, AZ, real interested in my presentation (a hard copy in a binder and an electronic on in a Power Point Presentation on a CD) and although we were still in discussions on a couple of show formats (have a host or two introduce segments of travelers on their travels – or – having the host(s) actually going on the travels) that I had not yet decided on, we were about to begin on a regional level when they backed out at the last minute in order to spend all their available funds on the purchase of the largest studio in Phoenix, complete with lots and sound stages! It was a bummer and I went back to focusing on my first passion – storytelling as screenwriter and director of feature films! But even since then I have gotten a lot of contact from other people with various disAbilities wanting and/or attempting to do the same, a travel show featuring travelers with a disAbility!  A distant second in frequency to those with a disAbility wanting to their “life’s story” (do not get me started on this – not only is it so common but it is ALSO Hollywood’s excuse for being authentic because even though it isn’t written, directed, or performed by those with a disAbility – it is based on a real person! Look and see for yourself that over half of the limited movies that featured a person with a disAbility are based on a person’s real life story.)

Zach - Oprah Audition

But this is not about my experiences with this topic, but the fact that travel and entertainment are two of the main categories (according to Packaged Facts) the disAbled consumer market focuses their significant $220 billion of discretionary spending power (based on 2001 numbers) – and combining the two – travel with television – is a brilliant business model and one that needs to be given a fair chance to succeed! And Zach is the next one of us attempting it – so I ask all of you to VOTE FOR ZACH and encourage everyone you know to VOTE FOR ZACH!  

The second great example in the news this past week is high school graduate, Eric Durquette, who was an honor student, a musician, was the class Salutatorian giving a speech at graduation, and also lives with autism.

Eric-Autistic-HS-Salutatorian-2

Here is the ABC News report that showed a video of Eric’s speech which you can watch from their page on the following link:

http://abcnews.go.com/WN/Broadcast/student-autism-class-salutatorian-delivers-high-school-graduation/story?id=10933858

It was great example of what can be done when you and those who love you believe in you as he accomplished a lot with the added challenges that he has to live with because of autism. He gave credit to his parents and also to his teachers and fellow classmates whom he said, “went out of their way to always make me feel wanted.” He made a very funny and yet also very serious commentary on the “experts” who told his parents when he was very young and diagnosed with autism, that he should spend his life in an institution, and here he was at 18 years of age, “humble and proud” to be the class Salutatorian and has been “accepted at every institution of higher learning” that he had I applied for!

The quotes that I loved the most where ones that all of us with a disAbility feel and I think is great universal advice as Eric said, “Do not allow yourself or others to be defined by your limitations but rather [by your] abilities.” I think it is very important that he included and in fact began with “do not allow yourself” as a key – too often we focus or define ourselves by our limitations and regardless of why we may do that – free yourself and focus on what you can do and what you do well, and what you love to do regardless of how well you do it! And do not allow others to define you by your challenges or limitations. Every human has some kind of limitations and those of us with a disAbility it is more dramatic and/or more noticeable. I have to completely agree with Eric who also said to “Never underestimate your self.”    

It was also great to see his classmates at the graduation so supportive and accepting. Now if we can only get Hollywood to be the same in their acceptance and inclusion of those of us with a disAbility in the creative roles, the non-stereotypical images, and the fair and equal opportunity to prove we can and should have our own voice, vision, performance, and our own heroes, with this overall authentic representation in movies and television! We can do it – if only they would accept us as these high school students and the nearly 3 million voters for Zach on Oprah’s site! American society, our classmates and co-workers, family and friends all accept us and want to see us do and be all we can be – so the last frontier of acceptance and inclusion for those with a disAbility seems to be Hollywood!

Passion For Images of…

The movie and television images of people and issues play a huge part in our culture and can be good or bad as we are often reminded of when people comment on a film or show. And as the saying goes, you can satisfy some of the people all of the time, or all of the people some of the time, but you can never satisfy all of the people all of the time! In the motion picture and television industry the reality is that nearly everything has some form or some degree of controversy that is bound to be associated with every movie or television program. But some are so outrageous and so obvious and yet at the same time so accepted that it is nearly unbelievable! And so it is when it comes to talking about diversity, minorities, repressed voices – nearly always those subjects will include race, gender, sexual orientation, and sometimes age. But what is often dismissed, ignored, or just openly rejected is those with a disAbility.

This Is FACT!

And throughout this blog, my website, Facebook, Twitter, comments on articles from other websites, I talk about all the ways, all the reasons, results, and what should be in an industry and society that believes in fair and equal opportunities and representation for all. Of course not all disAbilities can represent themselves as writers, directors, or actors, but many can and still according to Hollywood we are all in the same category – if disAbled they consider that unable – and those of us with a disAbility have to accept whatever portrayals they give us. “Glee” is the perfect example of this, especially for paraplegics like myself. Here we get a paraplegic character and according to some Hollywood reactions we should be happy and not complain about it. We are included in an ensemble cast of nothing but diverse characters – yippie! And what this is saying is that here is a character about a person with a disAbility but a person with a disAbility cannot portray him. They do not have the talent or the ability. I wonder if any of their other diverse characters had this same problem? As soon as there were enough protests about this “Al Jolson in a wheelchair” portrayal, the producers did their best to play it off saying that they did not find any actors who were paraplegics who could act, dance, and sing as well as able bodied actor Kevin McHale. And then all of a sudden they found Zack Weinstein, an actor who does have the talent and ability and is a paraplegic – in real life, but was only offered a guest role on one episode! That should calm down and end the protests from the disAbled community! Yeah, right! Instead they should bring Zach’s character in full time and then have the Artie character’s parent get a job out of state where they have to move. Then keep the real actor who is also a real paraplegic portray and represent those with a real disAbility!

I could write a character who was a paraplegic to add into any current television show – and it doesn’t have to be one that is all about diverse characters, filled with stereotypes and teenage angst that all of a sudden brake out in song and dance! AND I would love to do it – rather than talk about it! I mean I love talking about my characters and my screenplays and my short stories that I am adapting into screenplays – and I would love even more to direct and produce them for the big or small screen because I am really sick and tired of talking about how Hollywood treated and continues to treat us! So the next step is getting the people I need added to produce “London Time” and prove all that I talk about. An it is way past time – not only is film project completely developed but look at the website, this blog, Facebook, etc., and you can see that I am more than prepared – and in fact more prepared then an overwhelming majority of other indie filmmakers out there looking for production funding, Hollywood stars, distribution contracts, etc.!

disAbility = Charity?

Whenever I search for anything disAbility related it is amazing to me how many organizations are set up as charities! They are there to help find a cure for the disAbility, or if you can prove you do not have any money or resources some are set up to help with equipment or modifications to live with the disAbility. The overwhelming majority of these are charities and not-for-profit organizations – so looking for companies or organizations set up for profit, part of the American entrepreneurial spirit that in some way represents those with a disAbility is hard to find. Another reason, along with those that follow in the next subsection, why having Abilities United Productions and my films represent paraplegics and others with a disAbility is inspirational in itself, not to mention, just the right thing to do!   

Civil Rights – disAbility Rights

From the Equal Employment Opportunity Act to the Americans with Disabilities Act, to those that are just accepted good etiquette, common sense, polite gestures all aimed to help those with a disAbility maintain some dignity, have some equality, and made to feel like we are important in life, as human beings, regardless of our personal challenges BUT even with all the charities and organizations mentioned above and these civil rights we have been included in,  THE ONE THAT WOULD HAVE THE BIGGEST IMPACT in the lives of those living with a disAbility and be truly inclusive are non-stereotypical images, authentic portrayals and representation in movies and television, that unfortunately, Hollywood ignores or dismisses completely…for now!

Seriously, just think about it for a minute. What would it be like for a kid or a teenager or even an adult with a disAbility – and for simplistic sake, let’s say a paraplegic, a wheelchair user – to be able to see a paraplegic character in a leading role, who is not stereotypical, is kind of a hero, a really good, or rather a really good at his job but also a real bad ass type of police detective, a “Dirty Harry”, or a “Die Hard” John McLane type character who happens to use a wheelchair?

Can you imagine what that will be like for those who really use a wheelchair? Who are really paraplegics? Now just for minute, forget common Hollywood casting of only using an able bodied actor who has no idea what life as a paraplegic is really like – and think what it would mean to those that are paraplegics or using a wheelchair for their mobility – if that fictional hero police detective – was portrayed by someone who is just like them, an actor who is a paraplegic? Unless you are a paraplegic or have a loved one who is a paraplegic or using a wheelchair – you have no idea how significant, how important that would be – how empowering it would be to see that on the big screen!

That is Detective London in my “London Time” !

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And although I am a paraplegic, I am not an actor, but I am the writer and director, and one of the producers who will hire a paraplegic actor for that role of Detective London! Can you imagine what that would be like for the 6 million paraplegic/wheelchair users in America? It would even have an impact on many of the remaining 50+ million Americans with a disAbility! Or since American movies do have a global impact, what about the additional 600 million people world wide with a disAbility?

THAT IS WHY I do what I do, talk about what I talk about and why I will revolutionize Hollywood practices of portraying and representing those with a disAbility who can represent themselves! And right now I am contacting those who I think will be key personnel needed to produce this first feature film, “London Time”. Who’s with me? I will let you know as I get them. I have contacted some influential people in Hollywood – I wonder if I should let you know who – and what they say when I hear from them? Do you want to know?

Should it be public knowledge especially since this is such a difficult topic for Hollywood and those of us trying to get this fair and equal representation in movies and television? And although that may not be the nice thing to do – mention who I have and am contacting and waiting for an answer or who has rejected my “London Time” project – but then again is the common Hollywood practices against those with a disAbility really the nice thing to do?

EITHER WAY – history will soon record a significant “turning point” in American cinema for those with a disAbility on both sides of the camera is ON ITS WAY and I will not accept anything less – even with tremendous odds going against me. I have it developed and prepared to make a huge impact. Let’s stop talking and start doing!   

Vampires on Social Security Disability

Did you know Vampires have more representation on TV and in movies then I do?! Seriously, 20% of Americans have a disAbility that affects as least one major life activity – How many Americans are Vampires? Go ahead & count all of the gothic kids if you want and I bet you still don’t get any where near the 56+ million Americans with a disAbility! I was watching my LA Lakers do their thing (whip up on those little lucky to be there leprechauns from Boston) YEAH, Game 1 in the NBA Finals and I see a commercial for a new ABC drama coming on this Fall – called “The Gates”. Please – at the risk of upsetting my nieces – whom I love dearly – and I know they love the vampire stories, well at least the Twilight Series – but don’t you think we have enough vampire television shows and movies? Come on, they are flooding the market with them and before long they will become the new “TV medical dramas”! I got so sick of medical dramas about 6-7 years ago – I have only seen 2 or 3 episodes of Private Practice in all that time! Seriously, I get ill just seeing commercials for upcoming episodes of any current medical dramas and I cannot do it anymore! Opps, wait! That is not entirely true. I recently became a fan of the Fox show “House”! My aversions to medical shows and the fact that I had the opposite problem Hugh Laurie said he runs into with most American fans when they hear him speak out of character and with his native British accent – I have been such a fan of British comedies and dramas for such a long time – that I felt it was weird hearing him with an American accent! But the show has such great writing, acting and directing that when I finally overcame my aversions and watched a couple of episodes – I was and am now hooked! Oh and that gorgeous Olivia Wilde – mmmm, somebody get me a date with her will you? Oh wait is she married? Probably married or has a boyfriend! But still, wow!

Okay back to the Vampire fascination! Now they are going to do the same thing they did with medical shows with vampire stories! All coming from ancient mythology and becoming famous through Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel over a hundred years ago, this monster has grown and developed over the years into a complete culture. And I am not completely against it – I loved Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version of “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” with Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, and Keanu Reeves is beautifully shot, costumed, acting, directing, sets, and staying true to the novel.

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But also who couldn’t help but be entertained by “Interview with the Vampire” with Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt? And because I love Kate Beckinsale, the “Underworld” and its first sequel, were fun!

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Maybe it is just the television versions of the vampires, starting with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and going through the current series, “The Vampire Diaries”!

Still today, I think the vampire stories are being adapted into every aspect of life and this “The Gates” have to be proof of that! Soccer mom vampires? But really a mythical character that has spawned so many stories and additional characters that now vampires – who are not even real people – are portrayed and represented on television and movies 50+ times more then the largest and fastest growing minority in America! What is happening? You know I could write an interesting, honest, and authentic paraplegic character to be added to nearly every television drama or sitcom on today! Oh, that’s ,y in, huh? A Vampire paraplegic getting Social Security Disability and because s/he cannot live on the small amount every month – goes on a serial home invasion crime spree and when is surprised by the home owners – sucks their blood and turns them into Vampires too?

Maybe I am over reacting – I hear from a really good friend that “True Blood” on HBO is really good. So it is probably just that I am upset that instead of getting a television show with an authentically portrayed paraplegic – not even a whole show – or even a featured character – just one that is part of an ensemble cast or recurring supporting character that is a paraplegic or a person with another disAbility – authentically represented, but instead we get a new hour long drama show about a suburb of Vampires! What is next, “Desperate Vampire Housewives” or “The Real Vampire Wives of Orange County/New York/or New Jersey”? Oh, wait, I got it – a Hollywood dream – a medical drama with vampires as the doctors – “Grey’s Vampire Anatomy Diaries” – Oh, and the hospital administrator is a paraplegic and closet vampire! That is a MAJOR HIT – Can you say Emmy?!

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Authentic Paraplegic Filmmaker