ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” Apple TV Plus’ “Little Voice” and Netflix’s “Locke & Key” and “Away” are the four television series that have just earned the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Seal of Authentic Representation, Variety has learned exclusively.
Additionally, the foundation is awarding the seal, which is given to those projects that demonstrate a commitment toward authentic representation of people with disabilities by featuring actors with disabilities in a speaking role with at least five lines, to two films: “Sam & Mattie Make a Zombie Movie” and “Run.”
“With each and every authentic casting decision, Hollywood takes another crucial step toward fulfilling its true and long-unrealized potential as a beacon of inclusion and diversity in all its forms,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “The latest recipients of the Seal of Authentic Representation, building off the momentum generated by our previous rounds of honorees, powerfully exhibit the fact that Hollywood increasingly considers disability as an important part of diversity. We are hopeful and eager to see the conversation continue to move in this direction across the entertainment industry.”
“Grey’s Anatomy” earned it for casting Shoshannah Stern, who is Deaf, as Dr. Lauren Riley in Season 16.
“Representation matters profoundly,” said “Grey’s Anatomy” showrunner Krista Vernoff in a statement. “When people see themselves depicted in a way that is authentic, their imagination in terms of what is possible for their own lives expands. If Dr. Riley allowed even one deaf child to imagine for the first time that she could be a doctor, and if Shoshannah Stern’s portrayal inspired even one deaf child to believe that she could be an actress, that’s a beautiful thing.”
“Little Voice” was awarded the seal for casting Kevin Valdez, an actor with autism, as Louie, a character who also has autism.
“I’m proud to know that ‘Little Voice’ is receiving the Ruderman Foundation’s Seal of Authentic Representation and that the world is beginning to give everyone a chance, and for me to be a representative of the disabled community,” Valdez said. “It is an honor for me to have the chance to prove my abilities to the world. I hope that this inspires others to continue to invest in all people so they can showcase their talents to the public. Thanks to everybody who believed in me and advanced my career.”
“Locke & Key” is being celebrated for casting Eric Graise, an actor whose legs were amputated as a child due to missing fibula bones, as well as Coby Bird, an actor with autism. Graise played the role of double-leg amputee Logan Calloway in the graphic novel adaptation while Bird played Rufus Wheldon, a character with an unspecified mental disability.
“Away” is recognized for casting Felicia Patti, a self-advocate intern at the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress, who portrayed Cassie Ramirez, a friend of Alexis’ (Talitha Eliana Bateman) who had Down syndrome.
“We’re so honored that the Ruderman Family Foundation is awarding us their Seal of Authentic Representation for casting Felicia Patti in ‘Away,'” said showrunner Jessica Goldberg. “Felicia brought so much heart and joy to the role Cassie, and even more enthusiasm to the family we had on set. It is our job as storytellers to show the human race as we truly are, in all our diverse complexity. Authentic representation not only reflects a more relatable world, but a more truthful one. Thank you to the Ruderman Family Foundation for shining a light on the lack of characters with disabilities on television, and for acknowledging the wonderful actress, Felicia Patti, in her role as Cassie Ramirez.”
In film, “Sam & Mattie Make a Zombie Movie” follows two teenagers with Down syndrome (Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt) who escape their social isolation in order to make the titular zombie movie, convincing the entire state of Rhode Island to help them do so. “Run” features Kiera Allen, who uses a wheelchair, as Chloe, a homeschooled teenager who suspects her mother is keeping secrets about her and her medical care.
“I walked into ‘Sam & Mattie Make a Zombie Movie’ after over a decade in the film industry, thinking that I would be the one teaching Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt about filmmaking,” said co-director Robert Carnevale. “Little did I know, they would be the ones teaching me the whole time. I mean it, it’s impossible to explain how much I’ve learned from Sam and Mattie, not only about the creative process, but about myself, who I want to work with, and what sort of filmmaker I want to be in the future. I’m so appreciative of the Ruderman Family Foundation awarding this film the Seal of Authentic Representation. I feel like their support and ongoing spotlight on the lack of inclusiveness will make profound changes in the future of the film industry.”
“On behalf of Natalie Qasabian, Sev Ohanian and myself, we’re honored that the film has been presented with the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Seal of Authentic Representation. The decision to cast Kiera was as much about her raw talent as it was about setting a precedent that would open more doors for her and, hopefully, other actors with disabilities waiting in the wings,” said Aneesh Chaganty, writer and director, “Run.”
These six new recipients join a growing group of films and television series recognized by the Ruderman Family Foundation. Most recently, Apple TV Plus’ “See,” NBC’s “This Is Us,” Netflix’s “Atypical” and “The Politician” and the feature film “Spare Room” earned the seal in June. Other honorees include ABC’s “General Hospital” and the feature film “Peanut Butter Falcon.”