Even with all the talk of diversity/inclusion, Hollywood still overlooks people with disabilities, but 2017 offers reasons for hope — both on the awards front and at the box office.
In the Oscar race are such films as “Downsizing,” “Logan,” “The Shape of Water” and “Wonderstruck” as well as “Wonder,” starring Julia Roberts, and “Stronger” with Jake Gyllenhaal. All feature strong depictions of people with disabilities, or PWDs.
The latter two contenders were produced by David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman of Mandeville Films. Last month, “Wonder” surpassed B.O. expectations with a $27.5 million opening weekend and it has now passed $100 million. The Lionsgate release centers on a boy with facial differences (Jacob Tremblay); “Stronger” is about the real-life adjustments of Jeff Bauman after the Boston Marathon bombings.
Lieberman and Hoberman say it wasn’t a game plan to release three films about outsiders in one year — they also produced the year’s biggest earner, “Beauty and the Beast” — but they learned a lot while making those films.
They also were touched by attending the Media Access Awards on Nov. 17 (the day “Wonder” opened), when they were presented with the key Producers Guild of America award for their work.
The Media Access Awards, a joint effort of various Hollywood guilds, salute companies and individuals for Hollywood’s (rare) positive work. Lieberman says the awards were “really emotional and inspiring.”
Hoberman adds, “Getting that award was very powerful for Todd and me. We’ve had our eyes opened.” The two vow to use PWDs in future works, both behind the camera or in front of it. They also are inspired to help raise awareness within the industry: “This reflects life and the world as it is,” says Hoberman.
Since it launched in 1995, Mandeville has produced varied film and TV works, from “The Fighter” to the Sandra Bullock’s “The Proposal.” Getting a movie made is never easy, but Lieberman says “Stronger” and “Wonder” were a special challenge.
“There was resistance to both of those movies; they’re not conventional studio fare,” they say. But the talent involved helped both films get made. And the positive reaction to both, and the B.O. for “Wonder,” offer proof that there is an audience (and possibly Oscar attention) for these topics.
The producers agree that Hollywood is not building a wall to shut out PWDs; as Lieberman says, “People aren’t adverse — they just don’t think about it.”
The U.S. Census says 12.6% (39.9 million people) are living “with an apparent disability.” Some estimates put the total as high as 20%. Numbers vary because the term disabilities covers a broad spectrum of physical and mental conditions. It’s complicated because there are degrees in each: The public is beginning to understand “autism spectrum,” but there are also spectrums for deafness and blindness, for example.
Representation in films and TV is pathetically low. According to GLAAD, the number of regular characters with disabilities last year on TV series was 1.7%. Movie representation is even worse.
At the Media Access Awards, Haben Girma, the first deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law School, stressed the importance of Hollywood’s depiction of PWDs, “which show us as we are, and how people perceive us.”
Are you listening, Hollywood?