EducationDiversity with a Capital D
April 21, 2017
In the last year, the conversation about diversity in Hollywood has really taken off. The need for content that represents all races has been debated in the trade magazines and made front page news around the world. Hollywood insiders have talked more openly about the gender gap. In all of this discussion, one group I’ve noticed was missing from the Diversity conversation is another D word: Disability.
As a person with a disability myself, I’ve long believed that if more marginalized populations were visible in our entertainment, the life for all members of those groups would improve. Representation is everything. Familiarity breeds acceptance. Last year I took a teaching position with Futures Explored, and my eyes were further opened as to the multiple roles of diverse populations behind the camera.
In the beginning, Futures Explored partnered with Joey Travolta and his company, Inclusion Films, with the goal of increasing employment opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities by helping them to develop the skills and professionalism to work on film sets. They began with a 2-week film camp each summer at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California. Based on the success of that program, their partnership expanded to open the two Film and Media Workshops that Futures runs in Livermore and Sacramento and finally, in the creation of Futures Films, a full service video production company.
As an instructor with Futures Explored, I demand a lot from my students, and it can sometimes take us time to get “there.” However, I have personally seen that these young men and women can learn camera skills, sound, grip, producing, directing, as well as what it takes to be a great PA.
My focus as a filmmaker for the last 10 years has been on what is in front of the camera - what is on-screen. However, during the #oscarsowhite campaign of 2015, I became more aware of how diversity behind the camera can generate greater acceptance of the marginalized in the storytelling on screen.
Now, more than ever, I believe that the way to affect proper change in the landscape of representation is to ensure that the creators are as diverse as the characters you’d like to see. Not only do we need to represent diverse and marginalized people on screen, we need to include them in the actual making of films, as well.
Some facts to consider:
- 20% of the American population are comprised of people with disabilities, but only 2% are represented on screen.
- People with disabilities have many wonderful skill sets and the best way to learn this is to employ them.
- A solution to the lack of representation on screen or behind the camera is inclusion.
- The storyline doesn’t need to revolve around a character's disability for the purposes of representation.
- People with disabilities are dynamic and have many interesting characteristics about them.
I would encourage all filmmakers that are interested in representing the diversity that exists within American society to consider the D in diversity and to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities. By including disabled filmmakers in the movie-making process every step along the way, we can ensure a diversity in storytelling and in the process, improve the lives of many marginalized members of society.