Kayla Cromer, the star of the upcoming Freeform comedy “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,” disclosed that she is on the autism spectrum during her remarks at the Freeform Summit press event held Wednesday night in Hollywood.
Cromer said the summit was the ideal place for her to speak candidly about dealing with a hidden disability. The subject of presenting diversity on screen was a central topic of the panels and conversations throughout the night.
“I have learned to trust the journey and this event is the perfect place for me to come out publicly for the first time that I’m actually on the autism spectrum,” Cromer said.
Cromer’s character Matilda on “Everything’s Gonna be Okay” also struggles with autism, which the young actress said she thinks helped her land the part despite self-submitting without an agent.
“I never thought I was even funny before playing Matilda,” Cromer said. “But my acting coach convinced me by saying, ‘Kayla, I think you’re capable of comedy because frankly, your quirks resemble those of Sheldon Cooper.'”
Cromer’s announcement served as a perfect segue into the rest of the panel’s conversation. Throughout the night, panelists, including YouTube personality Patrick Starr, known for his drag makeup and costumes, and trans supermodel Gena Rocero, pushed for more on (and off) screen representation, efforts for which Freeform is known.
“It’s not enough to just have a white cast,” said Joanna Johnson, a head writer for the Freeform show “Good Trouble.” “We were hiring writers [for the show] and I was just like ‘I’m not gonna hire another white writer, I’m just not gonna do it.’ ”
Johnson, who is also an actress known for her long run on CBS’s daytime soap “The Bold and the Beautiful,” was also upfront about how white writers, herself included, are unequipped to write believable stories told from an African-American perspective.
“If you don’t have these people behind the cameras who are representing then how are you writing these stories authentically?” Johnson said. “Writers of color can write white characters because they live in a white world. I don’t think white writers can write characters of color very well because they don’t live in that world.”
Rocero said the same goes for trans characters, who are typically only depicted on stage during the throes of their transition. “I’m not doing Trans 101, girl,” she joked.
She continued: “The story that you see about a trans person is all about the questions, ‘When did you transition? When did you know? When did you come out?’ That’s important and that’s a part of the journey but that’s beyond. I have lived experiences, I have passion.”
Rocero went on to give knowing looks at the network executives in the audience, pushing them to write more nuanced stories for trans characters. “For agents and producers and anyone in the room, just think of any single thing you can think of and put a trans person there from their perspective,” she said. “We have experience in fashion, in quality love, of travel, going on road trips — anything.”
She also noted the importance of hiring more diverse crews, a priority she began taking more seriously when working on a documentary about the history of transgender fashion models, Rocero prioritized hiring trans photographers and “glam squad” makeup artists to make the cast feel more comfortable.
“I had to make sure that the crew was made up of people who were from our community,” she said. “One of the models we featured was talking about her story on screen and she said she had never been on set as a transgender model where the whole crew looked like her and could really understand what she was going through. A little effort and intentionality goes a long way.”
Cromer observed that stigmas attached to trans identities can be similar to those attached to disabilities, such as autism. “My goal is to become an advocate and help bring roles to the industry that are made for people with a difference,” Cromer said. “So many characters today are portrayed by people who do not have a difference and honestly people with a difference are fully capable of playing our own type.”
(Pictured: Kayla Cromer)