When a friend told director, writer and actor Missy Malek about a real-life group of disabled drug dealers operating in London, Malek instantly knew she had the makings of a film.
“The second I heard it, I was like, ‘Yes, yes, amazing. Done,” she says. “I know this word is so overused, but it is empowering, the concept of disabled gangsters. Every portrayal of disabled people is always so patronising in the media. And this was the first time a story about disabled people had been put to me that wasn’t patronising.”
The result is “We’re Too Good For This,” a 12-minute short reminiscent of Joe Cornish’s “Attack the Block,” which premieres at the BFI London Film Festival on Saturday. It tells the story of four young people – Scott (Keron Day), Fatima (Asnath Iosala), Anthony (Asa Hems) and Julian (Jayden Reid) – who take revenge on a vindictive small-time drug dealer by stealing his stash and quickly find themselves face to face with a murderous kingpin (played by Adam Deacon). Each of the quartet also happens to be deaf or disabled.
“I think it’s so important that we still reference disability but it’s not the whole plotline,” says Day, who has cerebral palsy. “There’s a whole other story going on, so that’s what drew me [when] reading the script and why I wanted to get involved.”
Iosala, a dancer turned actor, says she felt the same way. “I was interested in this story because of the drugs storyline but also [being] a Muslim. And also you don’t see stories like this,” she says via a British Sign Language interpreter. “[In the film] I’m involved with a gang, there’s the police, I’m deaf. There’s so many different layers. I just couldn’t even describe anything that I’d seen like this before.”
The film, which was shot over four days across North London, was inspired by “Stand By Me” and “Stranger Things,” says Malek. “I wanted to encapsulate that youthful element of three young teenagers setting out on this big scary exciting adventure.” One place she did not look for inspiration was other films about deafness or disability. Instead, the cast had plenty of input into their characters. “At the end of the day, we’re the experts in our own disability,” says Day.
But the process from pre-production to publicity was an education in how the world shuts out deaf and disabled people from the industry. “It was challenging to find a wheelchair accessible location to film,” says Malek. “And a lot of times, you know, when we even do interviews, the funding sometimes isn’t there for the interpreters.”
“We’re Too Good For This” comes at a time of renewed focus on representation of the deaf and disabled community in films and television, partly due to screenwriter Jack Thorne’s passionate speech at the Edinburgh TV Festival in August, in which he said: “TV has failed disabled people. Utterly and totally.”
Day, who says he has watched Thorne’s speech at least four times, agrees. Representation of deaf and disabled people on screen is “poor,” he says, pointing to a recent interview with “Succession’s” Brian Cox, in which the actor said authentic casting is “wrong, because it’s acting, it’s a piece of craft.”
“I appreciate that point of view but we’re also missing out on authentic disabled people winning Oscars for playing themselves when a non-disabled person plays a caricature of a disabled or deaf experience and is rewarded for it,” says Day, who recounts being told by a school drama teacher “that I can’t act and that I shouldn’t bother because I’m never going to work in the industry anyway.”
Day is now represented Mark Jermin Management.
Iosala also hopes casting directors will reconsider hiring non-deaf actors for deaf roles. “For deaf actors like me, it’s hard to find opportunities,” she says. “We’re really having to dig for these opportunities, and then when you see a non deaf person getting the opportunity instead, it’s really heartbreaking.”
Malek, who has previously had roles in “Now You See Me 2” and “Anatomy of a Scandal,” is already in talks to turn “We’re Too Good For This” into a television series. “That’s how I always saw it,” says the Oxford University graduate. “Half an hour episodes, maybe six or eight.”
The short has certainly garnered plenty of fans already. “It’s been a 100% hit rate in terms of positivity,” says Day of the messages he has received online about the film. “Diversity without disability isn’t diversity. For the disabled community, it’s so nice to not just see one tokenistic disabled character but to have four deaf and disabled characters in it. It just normalizes it further.”