This is the page in which I will comment and keep you up to date with relevant news from James Cameron's film "Avatar" that is in production now! Here I want to explain why something that most of Hollywood, and because of that - society on a whole - doesn't feel is a big deal. Well certainly not big enough to give a fair and equal opportunity to those with a disAbility wishing to provide an authentic voice and representation. This usually is manifest in ignoring and dismissing those who just have the same desire that is inside of them as it is for able bodied individuals. But we cannot express them thanks to the Hollywood barriers of attitude, stereotypes and blatant discrimination based only on having a disAbility! This is documented in the only report Hollywood has ever done. It was commissioned and then published by SAG in May 2005.
I mention all of this here because James Cameron's "Avatar" is a prime example. And while there is a bit of advancement in the non-stereotypical character he created as a paraplegic it is largely the epitome of what those with a disAbility have been trying to overcome for ages!
This movie is expected to be released in 2009 - originally in May to kickoff the Summer Blockbuster season but the studios have postponed most of the tent-pole releases and this has been pushed off to Christmas 2009. I get limited information and it is all from reputable sources such as the imdb.com, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, etc. This will have a huge impact on so many - the 54+ million Americans with a disAbility, their family, friends and colleagues, health professionals that serve the disAbled community, those who are trying to work, as well as dream of working in the industry of motion picture and television, future generations with a disAbility, and even James Cameron and his actor, Sam Worthington will be affected. Although I think it will affect Sam more than James, it is significant as you will see.
Let me repeat here and then expound on that which is on the News summary page. James Cameron's new movie that is in production right now, is called, "Avatar" and according to the imdb.com has this description for the plot summary:
Cameron wrote this script and I have to commend him on having not only the featured character being a paraplegic but also for it being non-stereotypical - based on this featured character is in a Sci-fi, Futuristic, Action film! Again there is limited information and the real test of it being non-stereotypical we wil probably have to wait until it is released to know for sure! A blockbuster as everything James Cameron does is done on a grand scale! The estimated budget for this film is $200 million! And as his work is on a grand scale so are his successes. In this particular film he tells the media that the technology he is using (digital 3-D) to make this film will "blow you to the back wall of the theatre"!
That is the news – not much but Cameron was working on this for several years and with a hush-hush clause, actively engaging cast and crew for 12 months prior to the announcement in February 2007. He began principal photography in April 2007.
Not many know about it – YET – and in fact I have spoken to a few actors with a disAbility - SAG members - and when I told them of this Cameron project they were outraged that they did not know anything about it. Which begs to ask a few questions.
* Did Cameron audition any actors with a disAbility?
* If he did was it accessible and provided a fair and equal evaluation of the auditioned actors?
I must say that in no way am I questioning James Cameron's character, as I believe he is a very good person, but this must be asked because it is a serious and common barrier that is real as reported in the 2005 SAG report on Performers with a Disability. Actors with a disAbility are the hardest working as they deal daily all the same "struggles" actors face but also with the attitudes of Hollywood. If they are even given an opportunity to audition - they have to get to it - and if not they do not want to ask for help because that is percieved by those in Hollywood as a "sign" of weakness that they will not be able to perform when in production and therefore will be discounted at this point if not already done so as then they hope to get a fair evaluation as most doing the auditions have already made up their mind before the actor even hits the mark!
* Is there any “Authentic” element in this film? Does Cameron, the writer and director, or his actor portraying the character have a disAbility? Does Cameron, the writer and director, or his actor portraying the character have a disAbility? Can you think about how many previous films that featured a character with a disAbility were written, directed, or acted by a person with a disAbility? I suppose that able bodied individuals that are well meaning can understand what it is like to live with a disAbility and therefore can, by Hollywood standards, provide an authentic voice and representation?
* Are those of us living everyday of our lives with a disAbility no more significant then a foreign accent? That is the message to those with a disAbility when able bodied actors portray a character with a disAbility. This is no reflection on them as a person or as an actor - they are fantastic at their portrayals - but it is still far from authentic. It is like Al Jolson's in a wheelchair! Very good Al Jolson's mind you, but still Al Jolson's!
* Do you think the authentic element is only applicable to race and gender so that we do not have Caucasian actors cast in African-American roles, men in women, and visa versa? This of course does not apply to comedic stories where the audience is in on it, ie: “Soul Man”, “White Chicks”, “Mrs. Doubtfire”, “Tootsie”, and others. I am speaking of real dramatic roles and plots.
* Is a significant disAbility, like paralysis, not as significant as a person’s race? I want to add that there are some roles, characters with a disAbility that are not going to be realistically acted by a perosn with the same or similar disAbility. A good example of this is "Rainman" with the character who is autistic and to the point he cannot take care of himself. Dustin Hoffman did a great job and I know as my oldest nephew is a person with autism and I have first hand experience knowing there are certain limitations that would make it nearly impossible. But those who have the Abilities to act in roles that have characters with the same or similar disAbility as them shouild be given the significance that is due to them and given a fair and equal opportunity.
* Are we not supposed to ask these questions?
* Would Hollywood prefer that this never become an issue and have to deal with it?
That is the message ringing loud and clear from Hollywood and Cameron is unfortunately perpetuating it.
Do not get me wrong because I have huge respect and admiration of James Cameron as I think he is a great storyteller on film. I do not intentionally want to use him and his project as an example but it already is and I hope that this will become another acclaimed significance to his career rather than a stain or blotch – but that means we have to talk before the release – before the end of the production. I have made attempts to get in contact with him but I have not gotten any response.
I have dedicated this entire page to this subject and I do so because of the enormous significance of the project – a Hollywood tent pole by a very brilliant and creative filmmaking god in Hollywood. So it will get some attention and I am here to be sure it is cast (no pun intended) before it is already in theatres and too late!
I do not expect Cameron to change casting at this point - he has a $200 million budget but still cannot re-cast that position and then re-shoot all the scenes that include this character and are in the can. I am a writer and director, but also as a producer have a very good business sense and know how that would be too much at this point. So what I proposed to Mr. Cameron is at this point - to first open a positive and creative dialogue with us and then answer the questions that I posed above. If James did not know how significant this was AND takes some action to support us in our mission - then I would be more then happy to endorse and support him, his current film, "Avatar", and the actor, Sam Worthington who is caught in the middle of this!
What kind of support could James Cameron give us in the mission of authentic voices and representation of those with a disAbility - that would be sufficent to endorse and support the practice of Hollywood against those with a disAbility such as the casting of able bodied actors, using screenplays written by able bodied authors, and helmed by able bodied directors? Easy, by supporting a film that is the opposite of all of that - one that is written and directed by a person with a disAbility and cast using a actor with the same or similar disAbility as the charcter. We are ready for just that. I have already written a couple of feature length screenplays - a dozen short stories to be adapted - and as the director will hire a actor with the same or similar disAbility. "London Time" is the one I am pushing to be produced first. And James Cameron only has to make a nod at a Hollywood gathering and it would be produced! I proposed Mr. Cameron this idea that he becomes our Executive Producer and help us secure the production budget and distribution support that it deserves.
I believe that if this were to happen, that we all could then at the least support him and "Avatar" and I will endorse it as is providing that Mr. Cameron then will support the authentic vocies and representation of those with a disAbility from here on out!
Hollywood has a history of ignoring and dismissing the authentic voice and representation of those among the LARGEST and FASTEST growing minority subgroup in America - the 54+ million with a disAbility!
Unfortunately this at best Hollywood has included 2 of the 3 elements Abilities United Productions has on all of our film and television projects. The first is “Content Specific” which as I describe on the About Us page basically means of course that it features a character with a disAbility. The second half of this element is the one often dismissed by Hollywood and that is of being non-stereotypical story and character with a disAbility. I honestly feel that is because they are written and directed by able bodied individuals who try and think what it might be like. In some cases it comes from biographies, such as the one helmed by able bodied director Oliver Stone and wonderfully portrayed by able bodied actor, Tom Cruise, is based on the real life of Ron Kovic who wrote the script with Oliver Stone and therefore has a fraction of authenticity to "Born on the Fourth of July." And the only other exception that I know of is "The Waterdance" which was written and co-directed by Neal Jimenez is based on his personal experiences after a 1984 accident paralyzed him.
The second part of the "Content-Specific" element is related then to the second element of being "Authentic." Which I will speak about more below as it is often the element missing. But the one element that is a constant is the third element of being “Universally Appealing.” Of course "Born on the Fourth of July" obviously fits into this element as it made over 10 times it's proposed budget (according to imdb.com). And this is the bottom line in Hollywood because show business is a business and if you cannot show universal appeal, a factor in box office sales then nobody will talk to you.
Unfortunately both "Born on the Fourth of July" and "The Waterdance" despite being somewhat authentic and universally appealing - they both define the stereotypes of characters and stories that feature characters with a disAbility. When we look back at all of them the majority of these films either are all about the disAbility, surrounded by a political agenda, or predictably inspirational. While there is nothing wrong with that for these films it seems that is all Hollywood thinks of when a character with a disAbility shows up in a pitch, a spec or a fully written screenplay! These cannot be done over and over again - that will not work! So why can't Hollywood look outside the box?
That is what I propose and have already created. On top of that I provide the often missing element of being "Authentic" as a paraplegic writer and director!
The "Authentic" element is missing and is evident even when you have a partial "Content-Specific" and "Universally Appealing" film. Although “2 out of 3 Ain’t Bad” in the Meatloaf song - it is merely okay here and that is only when you consider Hollywood’s history – and especially the recent history with very few films that have a featured a starring or supporting character with a disAbility. But that should not be acceptable in today’s American Cinema and especially in today’s society within the climate of the 21st Century where everyone has the opportunity for an authentic voice and representation. Everyone but those with a disAbility!
The second element of Authenticity is lacking in "Avatar" & nearly every single movie produced and distributed by Hollywood with the noted exceptions above. In the only study done about those with a disAbility in Hollywood, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) report was published in May 2005 detailing one of the barriers for actors with a disAbility was that many with the casting power believe - incorrectly I may add - that those with a disAbility can only be hired for roles that are specifically written as a character with a disAbility. Yet think back to all of the films you have seen that featured a character with a disAbility. Nearly all are stereotypically about the disAbility, surrounded by a political agenda or predictably inspirational - and if that wasn't enough - nearly ALL OF THEM cast with able bodied actors! Double standard or Double Discrimination?
Most of them were fantastic actors - but not AUTHENTIC. This Hollywood attitude is saying that those with a disAbility are as significant as an Irish, Bronx, or Southern accent and nothing that cannot be portrayed easily and accurately by an able bodied actor! My paralysis is a bit more significant - it is more than that - I drag the bottom half of my body around everywhere - everyday - with no days off - no days I can get up and walk to my trailer or the craft table or to be able to navigate over cables, door thresholds that are raised without thinking about HOW first! I wake up every morning with my wheelchair staring at me from next to my bed! I deal with societies attitudes towards me - I deal with the misconceptions - with being talked down to like a child - rarely as a romantic person, a sexual being from the opposite sex, like a person who cannot live a whole life as an able bodied person can - as 2nd or 3rd class citizens with really good parking! And nothing more. I see it in many - not all - but many people’s eyes everyday. Do you really think that even if you broke your leg and had to use a wheelchair for 6 months that you know what it is that I deal with everyday? As I said there are some very fine actors that have done a wonderful job - but even with a person with a disAbility on the set, coaching them it is not the same and I know that just by their dedication and coming awfully close, as close as any able bodied person can - that those able bodied actors will be the first to tell you I am telling you the truth!
OK back to the fact that the SAG report pointed out how casting powers believe that actors with a disAbility can only be hired for roles specifically written as characters with a disAbility. Yet they are all cast using able bodied actors is like a double standard - actually it is DOUBLE DISCRIMINATION. In most cases Hollywood will justify it as they have to have a name recognized talent to bring in box office sales! I propose that they be cast in strong co-starring roles and that is what I write and will direct with my films. BUT James Cameron is using a relatively unknown actor. So where is the justification here? Is it that he was the best auditioned actor? Did any actors with a disAbility be offered an open, accessible and equal evaluated audition to be even considered?
As I mentioned above, I have written to Cameron but gotten no response yet. I will give it some time. He is in production and is in Hawaii doing the principal photography for "Avatar" but if after some time, I have not heard anything from him or his production company Lightstorm Entertainment we will have to begin to take this to the next level.
We will have to organize a few of those - of you - to write and call him and his company - and the distribution company 20th Century Fox and ask them WHY? And are those with a disAbility really not that significant? The time for a change is well overdue and I have been working for the past 12 years to come up with a commercially viable solution! But so far nobody in Hollywood will take my call, respond to my letters, faxes and emails!
So if Hollywood will not give me a moment of attention about this solution - we will have to bring the attention to Hollywood! Let's see their response when I turn the camera on them - maybe doing a documentary film much like and in the style of "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" - bring together the entertainment news media, disability rights advocates, organizations and support groups! I will need all of you to help me - back me up and Hollywood might see the storm is coming! Or they will find themselves in the middle of this storm - so I trust that they will pay attention to my proposed solution - one way or another!
So I will position, Abilities United Productions so that all of Hollywood will know if you want an authentic character, voice and representation of those with a disability - see Larry at Abilities United Productions!
So I ask all of you to hang in there! The "turning point" for characters and people with a disAbility in Hollywood and on both sides of the camera is coming - it just depends on how Hollywood wants to make it happen! Stay tuned! And comment if you want on my blog page - show your support or if you disagree with this. I know many of you are worried that taking such a stand will limit the already limited opportunities you have in Hollywood - and I know that is exactly what I am risking going up against them right now! But I feel that the benefits of this will be recognized in Hollywood and then they will work with us - even if just to give a chance and see if what I am saying is true - if I can make happen what they have not which includes the authentic voice and representation of a commerically successful movie that also breaks the Hollywood stereotypes and ends the blatant discrimination - double discirimnation then everyone will win! So I will risk it and I know even if you do not wish to risk it - that you are here supporting this cause. Still I ask those brave enough to sit, stand, roll next to me and let the force of our numbers - being the largest and fastest growing minority be heard and seen! Hollywood will pay attention - it is just a matter of when! TOGETHER WE WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
First let me say that I am placing this update here at the bottom of this page and without any fanfare or banners to direct visitors here as to show the same significance I feel I have recieved from Mr. Cameron and his company, LightStorm Entertainment and the same significance I feel they are placing on the authentic voices, authentic representation, the stereotypes and the discrimination of those with a disAbility. If this should ever change - and I surely do hope it will - I will gladly move this update up and even better to re-write this entire page with their support of our Mission and our validation as worthy individuals in society by representing ourselves.
Okay so here we go with the update: I contacted LightStorm Entertainment by phone on Feb 8, 2008 to follow up on the many letters I have sent and faxed. I spoke the person who answered the phone and only identified himself by first name only and after I had asked twice at the end of the conversation. At any rate he did not seem like a receptionist but his position was not revealed and I could not find his first name listed in any of the LightStorm contact info on the web or imdb.com. I still will presume that he is a staff member and want to make it clear that the conversations I am relating between him and I are not that of James Cameron or LightStorm Entertainment. They are entirely of this person whom I will refer to as staff member.
When I told him who I was and that I was following up on my previous letters he said he never saw any of them. I asked if there was an email addy to send them he asked if I would re-fax them and he would be on the lookout for them. I told him I would right away and I sent the last two letters with a cover letter addressed directly to him and asking him to please read the entire letters especially since the Jan 8, 2008 one is 5 pages long and starts out with the presumption that the previous letters were read but that most of the background was reiterated throughout the letter along with additional info to be found on the website. I closed with asking him to please consider the importance and read through the entire letter even though there is a little of my frustration at the industry expressed in a couple areas of the letter and to also visit the website. Then bring this all to Mr. Cameron's attention and then get back to me asap!
NOTE: the Writers strike was just about at the end of its 3 month length and expected to end as the leaders had gotten a tentative deal done with the majors and was presented for a vote to the WGA members! This was great news as a lot of Hollywood came to a screeching halt during the strike. I hoped it would help open up dialogue with Cameron and others.
Called 2/20/08 at 2:40pm MST and spoke to same staff member again. I asked if he got a chance to read my letters and visit my website and he said he had not because he had been very busy. I am grateful that he did spend the following 20-30 minutes on the phone with me only being interupted twice with incoming calls where he put me on hold and then came back.
A couple of points of the conversation: He was concerned if I was planning to protest the upcoming film and when I said I was more interested in mutual support despite the use of an able bodied actor in the role of a paraplegic. He said that the role in "Avatar" is one when the character is only a paraplegic for a short time. He also said that he didn't think this was an issue even it the character was paralyzed throughout the movie. He thought this battle of authentic representation was fought a long time ago and the standard is what it is. Also that there isn't a problem with people representing those with a disAbility. When I mentioned "London Time" and the the lead role of police detective London who was a paraplegic he countered with asking me if it was necessary for a police detective to represent a police detective character! Of course I said no and pointed out the fact the he is placing the significance of having a severe disAbility, like paralysis as the same as a person's profession! We basically ended the conversation apparently not influencing either's position. But I did ask if he thought that he, as an able bodied person could know what it is that I go through on a daily basis. When he answered no I followed up with one last question and that was so how do you think you or any able bodied person can be my voice and representative in movies and television. He had no answer!
I did as much researchas I could on the hush hush production of "Avatar" on the internet. One site had given his review of a very early copy of the script. Some of what he mentioned relating to the character of Jake was also mentioned on other sites. But the basic idea is that Jake is an ex-military man who was injuried during his service. But then these creatures are kind of like robots called "avatars" where a human can operate them using their conscience mind. They are these 10 foot blue robotic like creatures with the face of the human who is operating them from a remote location. Aha! If this is the case then the character of Jake is sitting in his wheelchair at home or an office and communicating and interacting as this avatar throughout the movie. I also heard from some website and comments from those who knew a little of the production that these actors who are portraying an avatar were pinned up with the same type of suit that Peter Jackson used to make the computer images of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and Kong in King Kong with actor Andy Serkis.
So if that is true, then the reverse should also be true and the use of an actor who is also paralyzed could authentically portray this Jake character and have a double or stunt actor get suited up and be the "Avatar." I mean if you can CGI the body of the robot and insert the face of an able bodied actor - can you not film the face of the actor with a disAbility and insert it to? Sure you would have to combine that with the movements of the double or stunt actor but -- what is the diffrence? And besides since the character remains paralyzed should not an acotr with the same or similar disAbility be cast or at the very least considered?
I sent another fax, a 2 page letter - no cover letter - on 2/25/08 directly addressed to the staff member I spoke to previously. I thanked him for speaking with me and his candor and also mentioned that because of what I have been through so far and that the Hollywooed reception has been a lot less then inviting - that I may be bringing a serious focus that can include protests. That of course by the mere magnitude of James Cameron and his movies that "Avatar" would be a focal point. And that if he thought that a character who is paralyzed only for a short time during the movie was not going to garner much attention - I recommended that he call Clint Eastwood and ask about "Million Dollar Baby"! I also pointed out that it was different and that those did not have someone like myself working hard to work in the industry with a disAbility at the forefront of the disAbility rights and advocates who made some noise over Eastwood's portrayal of a paralyzed person.
I concluded that letter with the honest desire to not have to focus on the problems imposed on those with a disAbility by the industry and rather work at the solution as I have created - but if Mr. Cameron or another producer from within the "club" didn't come to support this then I will be forced to waste my time and efforts with bringing the attention to Hollywood and strongly requested that he bring all of this to Mr. Cameron's attention one last time!! If there is no response - well that is a response too!
Today is March 12, 2008 and I have not heard back from anyone at LightStorm Entertainment!