Although there is little news out of Hollywood on those with a disAbility - that is GOING to CHANGE! And we are focusing on that right here! For some on going discussions where your comments are welcome - visit the blog
Keep in mind that the disAbility focus for Abilities United Productions is those using a wheelchair, since that is the authentic voice provided here through my own personal experiences as a paraplegic. This will change to include many other authentic voices from those with all types of disAbilities in the future. So for now, the News is going to focus on those with the same or similar disAbility as our work here. There are notable exceptions, such as Marlee Matlin and Heather Mills on "Dancing with the Stars." So for now read Hollywood News about paraplegics and other wheelchair users. Here is a list of those that we are speaking about. Click on anyone of them to jump ahead and read about it!
Inclusion in the Arts and Media for People with Disabilities (IAMPWD)
Oprah's "The BIG Give"
"Dancing with the Stars"
James Cameron's "Avatar"
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
On Going and Recent Television
New Exciting Info for fans of "Friday Night Lights"
"Dancing with the Stars"
“Inclusion in the Arts and Media for People with Disabilities (IAMPWD)”
I am excited about this announcement that happened on October 6, 2008. Three simultaneous press conferences held in LA, NY and DC – to coincide with “National Disability Employment Awareness Month” announced a historic movement in the entertainment industry by The Performers with Disabilities (PWD) Tri-Union Committee of SAG, AFTRA, and AEA. The “Inclusion in the Arts and Media for People with Disabilities (IAMPWD)” is a major campaign of disability rights to increase the visibility and equal employment opportunities for actors, broadcasters and sound recording artists with disabilities throughout the entertainment and news media.
This marks an occassion I, and I know a lot of others have been waiting for a long time coming. Like the Beatles song, "Come Together" we are now doing just that. This 3 year campaign is dedicated to
outreach the entertainment and media industries, the general public, political and legislative leaders, and to the national and global civil rights, labor, and community allies in an effort to urge the entertainment industry to open up equal opportunities for disabled performers. To learn more visit www.IAMPWD.org.
I highlighted the entertainment industry because that is where this starts and will end. I hope it will not take more drastic measures in the middle of this revolution of equal access, representation, and opportunity in the entertainment industry for those with a disability, such at involving the "political and legislative leaders" to institute a program similar to Affirmative Action for the disabled in the entertainment industry.
I know that sounds a bit like a threat and all I can say is that I am so tired of being ignored! Under-represented and stereotyped in movies and television. Just my "Perspectives of a Paraplegic!"
Still let's focus on what we can do to make this change in Hollywood together. I am so grateful to SAG, AFTRA, AEA, and all the actors who fought to make the Tri-Unuion PWD Committee and to put it into action with this “Inclusion in the Arts and Media for People with Disabilities (IAMPWD)” campaign. The SAG report published in 2005 didn't seem to make any difference to the studios despite the findings that showed just how discriminatory the industry was.
But this is a campaign of people and action as we can now "Come Together" (in the more effective Aerosmith version) and hopefully get some face time. All I need is a few minutes and I can and will show you a potential gold mine of opportunity. If it is produced with certain elements and incorporates specific marketing strategies. Well coincidently I just happen to have all of that after 13+ years of research and work!
So let's get to work!
Oprah's "BIG Give"
Ten contestants are challenged to give away to those who are in need. Each week the contestants were given a specific goal to give and are judged by three people who are known for their charity work.
I am not sure how the contestants were choosen but it does look like a cross section of America with representatives from different races and gender and finally some recognition of a very significant segment of our society - a person with a disAbility! Carlana Stone is a paraplegic and an amazing person and incredible woman. I strongly recommend that you visit her website at www.carlanastone.com
While the show aired it was influencing people all over the country to Give BIG for others in their neighborhood who are in need. This is a great example of how entertainment, movies and television influence our culture and society. I added an entry to on my blog to speak directly to that influence entertainment has. And with the inclusion of a person with a disAbility it goes a long way to breaking not only Hollywood but ultimately the general public's stereotypes of those with a disAbility! Thanks Oprah this has been a "Big Give" even more that you know!
"Dancing with the Stars"
The season that began on March 17, 2008 also on ABC starred a Performer with a disAbility (PWD) - a real star with a disAbility as one of the contestants - the wonderful and talented, Marlee Matlin. I look forward to watching and not only because of Marlee but there is a lot of star contestants that I like.
Unfortunately early on there was a bit of controversy with the use or as some would say exploitation of someone with a disAbility. Marlee, in case you don't know is deaf and the issue of hearing the music to dance to and Marlee's contention that she can feel the rhythm and beat to keep time and dance. I think this is a perfect example of letting the person with the disability decide what they can and cannot do. Curiosity is fine to ask a couple of questions. But once that performer, or person with a disability explains it, that should be the end of the conversation. If things change the person with the disability should, and if not afraid of retribution, such as losing a job, to be able to say what has changed and why there is need for a change. In the end I look at the positive side of all of this - people are talking about it! This is essential to finally be brought out of abscurity that the entertianment industry has kept those with a disAbility ignored except for the one or two token lines of dialogue or more commonly the completely non-speaking background roles.
All in all, Including the previous season of "Dancing with the Stars" that included Heather Mills, I commend and thank the ABC network for their programs that support inclusion of those with a disAbility. This is just the beginning and I will do whatever I can to make sure of it!
James Cameron's "Avatar"
The first Headline I want to talk about is James Cameron's new movie that is in production right now. It is called, "Avatar" and the imdb.com has this description for the plot summary:
In the future, Jake, a paraplegic war veteran, is brought to another planet, Pandora, which is inhabited by the Na'vi, a humanoid race with their own language and culture. Those from Earth find themselves at odds with each other and the local culture.
It is in production now and expected to be finished and released in 2009. 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 - this featured character is in a Sci-fi, Futuristic, Action film! 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 revolutionary 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 and when I told them of this Cameron project were outraged that they were not informed.
* Did Cameron audition any actors with a disAbility? Especially in view that he did not cast an name recognizable talent - which is the typical excuse most of Hollywood gives when casting an able bodied actor in the role of a character with a disAbility. Instead a relatively unknown Aussie actor Sam Worthington.
* 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 his character, as I believe he is a very good person, but 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 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 asthen 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? 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 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?
* 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 an entire page to this and that is 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! So click here to go my “Cameron - Avatar” page for further commentary and to the blog if you wish to comment!
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Another foreign film that Hollywood adorns with accolades and awards that feature a character with a disAbility because they do not do it themselves! But just like the previous one which was awarded with the "Best Foreign Language Film" Oscar in 2005 from Spain, "The Sea Inside" it is a biopic and that is as authentic as it gets! The actors, directors and writers(screenplay) are not persons with a disAbility. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is based on the life of editor-in-cheif of the French division of Elle magazine who suddenly had a massive stroke that cause complete paralysis of his body in a condition called "locked in syndrome." The only control he had was his left eye in which he used to "blink" when he is given the correct letter to communicate his memoir.
While I do not intend to dismiss or belittle the paralysis exsitence he had survived with for the last two years of his life, I must say that this seems to be the definition of a film with a character with a disAbility and that it has to "transdend the human condition" to be worthy to be a movie. Who gets to set the definitions of a worth drama that features a character with a disAbility? Do they all have to be like this? Are all people with a disAbility measured by how they transcend the human condition or how they make it a reminder to all those around them that they have to be grateful for what they have and that we all hav more then we see until it is taken away and it could be taken away in tragic terms? And that if a person with a disAbility does not do that for those around them then they really have no purpose in society? That is the message that is given when this is the only films that are made or celebrated as being so great of a contribution to audiences and the cinema.
Unfortunately I have not seen this film and so I cannot give you an honest review. I will see it as soon as I can but in the meantime all I can do is discuss other reviews and give my opinion on the Hollywood reaction to it. Again, just like it was with "The Sea Inside" reviewers are falling all over themselves to give us the same stereotypical quotes - "heart-warming", "transendent", "metaphor for the human condition", "poginant", "moving", "inspirational" and anymore and I will vomit!
As of this writing - mid-January 2008, The film has won the GOlden Globe for best foreign language film. The Directors Guild of America (DGA) has nominated, Julian Schnable for its best director award and the Producers Guild of America (PGA) has just announced that "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" as a nominee in its Best Feature Film category! But that looks like the best it will get as the Oscars say the film is ineligible for their Best Foreign Language film because even though it is all in French, it is a American produced film. More on that in a moment.
I must first make a quick comment on the reviews of the first half og the film's direction by Schnable is from the point-of-view (POV) of the main character and so we see what he sees which because the right eye is closed the right part of the screen is out of focus and so we get a feel for the characters' mindset. Not taking anything away from Schnable as he is known for his artistic creation in his painting and then his filmmaking - but I wrote a very similar description in a short story/film screenplay where you did only get the POV from my main character from his morning get together ritual with his colleagues at the coffee shop to waiting on a bus where a young black man talk about his race being denied to sit in the front of the bus until Rosa Parks. My main character then explains at least they had a seat and how he had to wait for a specific bus that can take him. Which is noted big time when a bus arrives and as the young black man asks if he is coming aboard he must tell him that although it is going where he needs to go - he is not allowed on that bus and will have to wait for the next! The second half of this story is then shown through the POV of his colleagues and the audience then understands the first half! I did a very similar one with "Glacial Breeze" in which we do not always get the main characters' POV but we see what those around them see and that is the main charcter form the waist up - until the end when it is revealed the two main characters, a man and a woman are using wheelchairs for thier mobility and whose lives kind of mirrored each others when it came to the opposite sex. Seems as if the able bodied Schnable (sorry I was looking for somewhere that I could use that Schnable able bodied reference!) beat me to the artistic expression of the POV he has no freakin' idea is really like.
Okay the last I want to comment on this is back to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, the Oscars, policy or rules for the Best Foriegn Language film is that two of three elements, which are the writer, director or producer must be from the submitting country and it must be nominated by the official organization in that country, and France chose “Persepolis,” an animated drama set in Iran. Now their isn't a category for Best Film that Features a Character with a disAbility" and I do not want one - but how interesting that the elements of a film must be two out of three to qualify as authentic! So where and when was a Hollywood picture - or for that matter even the foreign ones have any of those elements be from the disabled community when producing a feature film that stars a character with a disAbility to be considered authentic? In fact they cannot even get one out of four if we include the actor as one of the elements! I have asked this on many occassions and it fits here too, Double standard, or Double DIscrimination?
Even with this artistic portrait by Schnable, it is still the stereotypical inspirational story that features a character with a disAbility. When will Hollywood give it up for the authentic, non-stereotypical story and character written and directed by a person with a disAbility who will only cast an actor with the same or similar disAbility as the character? That is the question not only the dedicated and passionate artists in the motion picture industry that have a disAbility want to know but so does the 54+ million Americans with a disAbility, their family & friends, colleagues and in fact the general audiences who demand athenticity in their entertainment - and once they finally get exposed to it - have something to compare the previous attempts at these portrayals - they will want to see in their movies as well. Wake up Hollywood - even the foreign attemtps that you award and somehow feel justifies that fact you do not feature characters with a disAbility are not authentic. The time for a change is NOW!
Seems this is one of the few where critics and audiences' agreed. Although I didn't know anything about this movie until just before it hit theatres and that is what I read as I didn't see any trailers or tv commercials about it. But it sounded good. Well, I dig Zach Braff in "Scrubs" but not a big fan of any of his film work. Amanda Peet, I absolutely adore. She is a beautiful and talented woman and I have loved her in all her roles. And Charles Grodin - I loved him in a couple of my favorite films "Seems Like Old Times" and "Midnight Run" are the ones most know but the one that is my all time favorite Grodin film is "Sunburn"! It starred him, and in her first starring role, Farrah Fawcett-Majors! Along with Art Carney and a druken, nymphomaniac role played by Joan Collins. "The Ex" which was orginally called "Fast Track" when it announced a greenlight from The Weinstein Company also starred Jason Bateman in the role of the paraplegic co-worker and ex boyfriend of Amanda Peet's character who happens to be married to Braff's character and just had a baby. Now I like Jason, and maybe because I have had a crush on his sister, Justine forever - well since "Family Ties"!
But unfortunately none of this wonderful and talented cast could salvage this movie as it tanked at the box and with critics alike. Most reviews said that Jason's character - being non-stereotypical - a fresh view of a paraplegic was the only saving grace of this movie. He did a good job - I've seen him do better so it was obviously the material, written by two first time writer and the ultimate repsonsibility is with the director and I think Jason would've done better given that those two elements were better! So although it upsets me that this was not authentic voice or representation I do not believe even that would have saved this film.
I am sure The Weinstein Company saw it differently, as the cast when reading the script and accepting the offer. But it unfortunately did not work out and I really hope this doesn't set Hollywood off even further then most already are on doing feature films with characters with a disAbility!
I do want to comment on one other related item - 2929 Productions was also part of bringing this to the screen. I would surely like to know if it was them or The Weinstein Company that originally optioned it and did the greenlighting. The reason is that when I lived in Dallas, TX and I read how Marc Cuban and his partner Todd Wagner had started this indie film production company to bring films that would not normally have a chance - to stretch the American Cinema canvass, I was excited and contacted thier coprorate offices and followed thier submission rules from the website for my then recently completed screenplay "London Time" in 2003. I was denied and I wondered why but nobody would give an answer. So my autehntic film about a paraplegic homicide detective did not peak their interest but this did? Oh well I have some satisfaction in knowing instant karma is going to get you! Mark is still a billionare and owns the NBA - Dallas Mavericks so I am sure he isn't hurt by any of this. I will just conclude in saying that I think overall - their mission to stretch the american cinema envelope has failed.
So unfortunately I cannot recommend this film and it has nothing to do with it being the epitome of Hollywood with characters and people with a disAbility. What do I mean people with a disAbility as there were none - exactly the epitome of Hollywood with a charcter with a disAbility!I am going to contact The Weinstein Company again to see if they are interested in "London Time" and working with an authentic story, film, writer, director, actor, production company to produce a film that through all my research and work has a much better chance at success then any other indie films out there and especially any that feature a character with a disAbility. In fact back in October 2007 I did contact Michael Cole at The Weinstein Company and they appear to be just like the rest of the Hollywood machine and ignored my letter and follow up calls. Maybe I should contact Bob and/or Harvey Weinstein and get it straight from the horse's mouth. Will they give me a fair and equal opportunity to present an authentic voice and representation of those with a disAbility? Stay tuned and I will give the answer here when and if I get one!