×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Hollywood’s Invisible Minority: People With Disabilities Eager to Show Their Abilities

Oscar nominations will be announced Jan. 24, and it’s likely the contenders will include black artists, and possibly some Latino/Hispanics and Asians. But there will be little to no representation for a major under-represented group — people with disabilities, or PWD.

According to the Census Bureau, there are 57 million Americans with disabilities, or 19% of the population. TV hiring is about 2.4%. The film industry is worse, at 0.9%.

Scott Silveri is the creator of ABC’s freshman series “Speechless,” which stars Micah Fowler, who has cerebral palsy. Silveri tells Variety that Hollywood execs are not resistant to hiring: “Nobody is building walls. But disabilities are not getting enough attention. It’s as simple as that. When you consider the number of people with disabilities, you’d think this would be more of a conversation in town.”

Silveri was an honoree at November’s Media Access Awards, which honors industry hiring for PWD. Silveri said that he represented one of the many white, male, able-bodied people in a hiring position, and he exhorted the crowd, “Be loud! Shame us! Unfortunately, that’s what it takes to get our attention.”

One possible reason for the under-hiring is that the phrase “people with disabilities” encompasses so many different kinds of individuals. And to many, “disability” means helpless. Which means it’s hard to imagine what job they could fill.

In truth, they can fill many jobs, in front of or behind the camera. The Access Awards audience included amputees, deaf and/or blind people, individuals with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, plus intellectual disabilities such as severe dyslexia, autism, and stuttering. Each of these comes in a wide spectrum: There are many degrees of blindness and Down syndrome, for example.

All are highly employable, says Deborah Calla, chair of the Producers Guild of America’s diversity committee. She rattles off the names of several PWD who are employed in the industry. The good news is that somebody gave them a chance. The bad news is that these people are the exception.

When a PWD is depicted, it’s usually an able-bodied person who plays the role. Gail Williamson heads the diversity department at Kazarian/Measures/Ruskin & Associates talent agency. She says her clients are happy to play any part. But they also hope for roles in which the disability is not the focus: They’d love to play a lawyer, cop, or waiter who just happens to be a PWD.

At the Media Access Awards, actor Danny Woodburn said much of the #OscarsSoWhite movement “has been about ignorance. And there was blatant exclusion in the media about people with disabilities.”

There are many other groups that are under-represented, both behind and in front of the cameras. Advocates are not talking about quotas, they’re talking about representing the real world.

And it’s good business. “Speechless,” for example, is a hit, with a full-season order. Calla cites A&E’s reality series “Born This Way,” which centers on individuals with Down syndrome. The show won an Emmy this year and has been renewed.

Williamson says her department is unique among talent agencies. “I hope that someday the department goes away because it’s not needed. The goal is to get anyone with any difference included in every agency.” And on every cast and crew.

(Photo: “Speechless” team Micah Fowler (in foreground), Cedric Yarbrough, Scott Silveri, Melvin Mar)

More Film

  • “Facing It,” an eight-minute 30 second

    U.K. Short 'Facing It' Takes Top Prize at 2019 VIEW Awards

    “Facing It,” a claymation/live-action film about how relationships mold people, has won the 2019 VIEW Conference Award for best short film. The film was written and directed by Sam Gainsborough and co-written by Louisa Wood and produced at the National Film and Television School’s Beaconsfield Studio in Beaconsfield, U.K. The VIEW Awards are an offshoot [...]

  • THE CINEMA' 'FRAILTY AT LAEMMLE' FILM

    Laemmle Theatres Arthouse Chain No Longer Seeking Buyer

    Los Angeles-based arthouse chain Laemmle Theatres has stopped seeking a buyer, four months after putting itself on the sales block amid slow sales. Greg Laemmle, president of the 81-year-old exhibitor, announced the development Thursday. He told Variety that discussions with an unidentified buyer had reached an advanced stage but fell apart and that there has [...]

  • Morgan Freeman Lori McCreary Gary Lucchesi

    Film News Roundup: Morgan Freeman's Revelations Teams With Gary Lucchesi for Production Venture

    In today’s film news roundup, Morgan Freeman, Lori McCreary and Gary Lucchesi are teaming up; Zolee Griggs, Sara Rue and Ed Quinn are cast; and “Clementine” finds a home. JOINT VENTURE Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary’s Revelations Entertainment is teaming with former Lakeshore Entertainment president Gary Lucchesi for a joint production venture. Lucchesi will develop [...]

  • 'When Lambs Become Lions' Review: A

    Film Review: 'When Lambs Become Lions'

    “For us, ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants,” says Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta in a televised statement, shortly before several vast hauls of severed elephant tusks — ornately piled like sacred shrines — is ceremoniously set ablaze. It’s a confiscated collection that, Kenyatta tells his audience, is worth $150 million, literally going [...]

  • Shannon Hoon

    Live Nation Productions Boards Danny Clinch-Helmed Blind Melon Doc 'All I Can Say'

    Live Nation Productions and Double E Entertainment have signed on as executive producers of “All I Can Say,” the documentary film featuring footage shot entirely by the late Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon. The film’s title is taken from the opening lines of Blind Melon’s instantly recognizable 1993 smash, “No Rain.” Culled from Hoon’s archives, the [...]

  • Tom Hanks stars as Mister Rogers

    How Mr. Rogers Influenced the Pacing of 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood'

    Fred Rogers was an icon to many. Everyone who met him and knew him says, “He really was like that.” He spoke in a soft voice and he was kind. He believed in doing good to others. He spoke to children in “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” in a soft voice, helping them to process complicated emotions [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content