Zero Actor Nominees for Academy Awards Have a Known Disability

Two Categories to Watch: Visual Effects and Full-Length Documentary Nominations Include People with Autism

Academy Award Oscar Statuettes

Photo by Toby Canham/Getty Images

Los Angeles, Calif. –As Hollywood gets ready to celebrate the Oscars this weekend, a glaring omission of nominees is evident. No known actor with a disability was nominated for an Academy Award. By not including authentic disability in the diversity conversation, Hollywood leaves out the largest minority in the U.S.

“Hollywood has to catch up with its audience,” RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said. “Diversity must really mean diversity – and that includes the one-in-five Americans who has a disability. Disability needs to be a part of every conversation on diversity. When films and television shows lack the inclusion of disability in their diversity efforts, Hollywood is disenfranchising the one-in-five Americans who have a disability.”

However, there are two examples of importance in this arena. Behind the scenes, Marvel’s Doctor Strange has been nominated in the category of visual effects. Two of the individuals who contributed to this cinematic technology, Jacob Fenster and Noah Schneider, have autism and currently work at Exceptional Minds Studios in Sherman Oaks, California. Marvel Studios is planning to partner on 15 more movies with Exceptional Minds, a nonprofit vocational school and working studio that prepares young adults on the autism spectrum for careers in digital animation and visual effects.

Additionally, Life, Animated was nominated for the full-length documentary category. The film shows how Owen, a young man with Autism who was unable to speak as a child, and his father are able to connect using Disney animated films.

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Fighting Stigmas and Expanding Opportunities for People with Disabilities Through Hollywood

At RespectAbility, a national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and expanding opportunities for people with disabilities, we have been working with several partners within the entertainment industry on the full inclusion of people with disabilities – in front and behind the camera. On Feb. 8, we held a webinar with several partners as part of the process of creating a Community of Practice to work on the closely connected issues of disability, diversity, inclusion, poverty and media.

The webinar is being followed up with in-person meetings for interested parties based in Los Angeles and New York City. We are looking for partners to help move the needle on two core important issues: inclusion and diversity in Hollywood and employment of people with disabilities.

Our most recent events were held on on Feb. 21, 2017 in Los Angeles. Throughout the day, we hosted meetings of leaders in philanthropy, workforce development and entertainment industry who care about diversity, inclusion and employment in Hollywood for people with disabilities. There is a great potential to gather committed stakeholders to join together to form a Community of Practice to work on the closely connected issues of disability, diversity, inclusion, poverty and media. We hope this gathering will inaugurate a Community of Practice composed of key stakeholders to move the needle on two core important issues: inclusion and diversity in Hollywood and employment of people with disabilities.

Please contact our Communications Director at laurena@respectabilityusa.org for more information.

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Super Bowl Ads for Coca-Cola, Airbnb and Google Home Leave out People with Disabilities

Rockville, Md., Feb. 6 – While many commercials during last night’s Super Bowl focused on diversity and inclusion, the majority did not include people with disabilities.

Coca-Cola reran an ad from the 2014 Super Bowl. “It’s Beautiful” features people of different backgrounds singing “America, The Beautiful” in different languages.

Likewise, Airbnb’s “We Accept” also showcased people of a variety of backgrounds. The ad is set to music with text laid over close-ups of people’s faces that read: “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.” The ad ended with the hashtag #WeAccept, which went viral by halftime.

Google’s “Google Home” commercial included multiple minority groups by showing homes with rainbow pride flags and mezuzahs and people from all races cooking, eating, dancing and enjoying life.

Yet all three of these ads, which promoted inclusion of diverse people, failed to include people with disabilities, which is the largest minority in America, with almost one-in-five Americans having a disability. The disability community often is forgotten in diversity conversations in Hollywood and elsewhere.

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WEBINAR: Hollywood, Media & Disability

Fighting Stigmas and Expanding Opportunities for People with Disabilities

Read the webinar transcript (COMING SOON)
Download the accessible PowerPoint
Watch the webinar on YouTube with live embedded captions

Featuring
Jenni Gold, editor, screenwriter, director and founder of Gold Pictures, Inc.
John Tucker, cast member of Emmy-award winning Born This Way and rap artist
Gail Williamson, talent agent and head of the Diversity Department at Kazarian/Measures/Ruskin & Associates

Moderated By Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President of RespectAbility

We at RespectAbility, a national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and expanding opportunities for people with disabilities, have been working with several partners within the entertainment industry on the full inclusion of people with disabilities – in front and behind the camera. The webinar was part of the process of creating a Community of Practice to work on the closely connected issues of disability, diversity, inclusion, poverty and media.

The webinar is being followed up with in-person meetings for interested parties based in Los Angeles and New York City. We are looking for partners to help move the needle on two core important issues: inclusion and diversity in Hollywood and employment of people with disabilities. Please contact our Communications Director at laurena@respectabilityusa.org for more information.

Free live captioning provided.

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Four Oscar Nominations for Best Picture Go to Films with Disability Connections

Academy Award Oscar Statuettes

Photo by Toby Canham/Getty Images

Rockville, Md, Jan. 24 – Of the nine films nominated for Best Picture, four have themes or sub-plots related to disability.

For example, Manchester by the Sea includes themes of mental health, alcoholism and drug use. Likewise, Moonlight includes story lines surrounding drug addiction. Arrival, a science-fiction film, includes a child who dies from cancer.

Fences, a film that has received multiple accolades for its racially diverse themes, also includes a disability storyline. Lead character Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington)’s older brother Gabe Maxson (Mykelti Williamson) sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during World War II. Children in the neighborhood often torment Gabe. When Troy bails Gabe out of jail for disturbing the peace, Troy unknowingly signs a paper that routes half of Gabe’s pension to a psychiatric hospital, forcing Gabe to be institutionalized.

Williamson does not have a disability himself, which is quite common when it comes to casting actors portraying people with disabilities. The Ruderman White Paper on Disability in Television found that non-disabled actors on television play more than 95 percent of characters with disabilities.

When asked by the Los Angeles Times about playing the role of someone with a TBI, Williamson acknowledged the many variables and “different levels of injury and effect” of someone with a TBI.

In the full-length documentary category, Life, Animated, a film about Owen, a boy with Autism, was nominated. The film shows how Owen, a young man who was unable to speak as a child, and his father are able to connect using Disney animated films.

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Disability Group Challenges Meryl Streep to Walk the Walk in Breaking Down Stigmas & Bullying

Meryl Streep standing behind a microphone smiling. She is wearing a black dress with many colorful, light-reflecting jewels.

Meryl Streep delivering her Golden Globes acceptance speech

Washington, Jan. 9 – RespectAbility, a national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and expanding opportunities for people with disabilities, thanks Golden Globe lifetime achievement award-winner Meryl Streep for talking about the importance of not making fun of people with disabilities.

“Disrespect invites disrespect; violence incites violence,” the winner of the Cecil B. DeMille Award said during her acceptance speech. “And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

President-elect Donald Trump fired back via Twitter, calling Streep “over-rated” and “Hillary flunky who lost big.”

RespectAbility, while grateful to Streep for “talking the talk,” challenges her to “walk the walk.”

“Now I hope that Meryl Steep will use her power and influence to ensure that television and movies include people with disabilities with accurate and positive portrayals,” RespectAbility’s President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said. “Think about it – according to the U.S. Census, almost 1-in-5 of us has a disability. Yet according to GLAAD, fewer than two percent of scripted television characters have disabilities. For all the hundreds of shows on television, we are talking just 15 characters!”

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Media Access Awards Honors Speechless, Born This Way for Normalizing Disability

Speechless' Cedric Yarbrough, Scott Silveri, Melvin Mar and Micah Fowler smiling and posing with Silveri and Mar's award

Speechless’ Cedric Yarbrough, Scott Silveri, Melvin Mar and Micah Fowler (Photo Credit: Michael Hansel)

Los Angeles – As Hollywood came together to celebrate people with disabilities, media creators recognized the importance of accurate representation of the largest minority in the U.S.

Scott Silveri’s new hit show on ABC, Speechless, which features a young man with cerebral palsy (Micah Fowler), won three awards including two for Silveri (Writers Guild of America West Evan Somers Memorial Award and SAG-AFTRA Disability Awareness Award along with director/producer Jake Kasdan and producer Melvin Mar).

Danny Woodburn smiling and pointing

Danny Woodburn (Photo Credit: Michael Hansel)

The honors were presented at the Media Access Awards, an event promoting disability and its depictions in film, television, and new media. In attendance were key entertainment leaders with ties to disabilities. It was emceed by actor/comedian Danny Woodburn who also was awarded the Norman Lear – Geri Jewell Lifetime Achievement Award for both his acting career and his disability advocacy work.

Casting Director Susie Farris, who cast Fowler, was awarded with the Casting Society of America Award. She spoke about the importance of Fowler’s character not being an inspiration. Speechless now reaches seven million people.

Silveri, who grew up in a family intimate with disability issues with a brother who has cerebral palsy, talked about not even thinking about including people with disabilities in his work for many years. When he came up with the idea of Speechless, he said he found networks willing and interested. Silveri thanked disability advocates who have been working for years to open the doors for him. “If we’re going to be storytellers,” Silver said, “then we have to include disability.”

Speaking of “white able-bodied male jerks” who write for Hollywood, Silveri said many don’t get the importance of inclusion of people with disabilities but they are not trying to be wrong.

A&E's Drew Tappon & Born This Way Executive Producer Jonathan Murray posed with Murray's award

A&E’s Drew Tappon & Born This Way Executive Producer Jonathan Murray (Photo Credit: Michael Hansel)

Another major winner was creator and executive producer of A&E Networks’ Born This Way Jonathan Murray, who said people with disabilities “have been placed on the sidelines and the margins of primetime television.”

“With Born This Way airing on A&E, that is no longer the case,” Murray added.

His newest show, Emmy-winning Born This Way, features seven individuals with Down syndrome. During its first season, the show increased its viewership by more than 80 percent, which Murray says proves that shows featuring people with disabilities “is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good business.”

Awarded with the Producers Guild of America George Sunga Award, Murray has been promoting the importance of including all minorities in his various television series such as The Real World, The Challenge and Project Runway.

The Media Access Awards aim to recognize depictions of disability that are accurate, inclusive and multi-faceted. The ceremony honors industry professionals who have advanced disability-related narrative in fields including writing, producing, casting, performance and directing.

Born This Way's Jonathan Murray and Speechless' Jonathan Murray posing and smiling

Born This Way’s Jonathan Murray and Speechless’ Jonathan Murray (Photo Credit: Lauren Appelbaum)

By promoting success stories of people with disabilities, both Speechless and Born This Way help to change negative perceptions of people with disabilities, especially among employers.

“Each year 300,000 young people with disabilities reach the age to enter the workforce,” Murray said. “However, despite polls showing that most of these young people want to work, they often hit a roadblock because of negative stigmas. So it is wonderful that views of Born This Way see young adults in our series contributing to their workplaces, and, in one case, starting her own business. It is also wonderful that our viewers see our cast as individuals, each with distinct personalities and dreams.”

Deborah Calla standing behind podium and Allen Rucker seated in wheelchair on stage

Media Access Awards Chairs Deborah Calla and Allen Rucker (Photo Credit: Lauren Appelbaum)

Deborah Calla and Allen Rucker chaired the awards ceremony. Co-chairs included Ray Bradford, Pam Dixon, Jenni Gold, Sam Maddox, Paul Miller, Adam Moore, Kim Myers and George Sunga. Other winners included actress Jamie Brewer (SAG-AFTRA Harold Russell Award), who has Down syndrome, and MacGregor Arney (Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Scholarship), an upcoming young actor with cerebral palsy.

Zach Weinstein, who presented Arney with his award, summed up one purpose of the awards ceremony. Talking about his 13-day-old son, he said he is happy to known he will grow up in a world “where disability is going to be normalized.”

Said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility, “It is time for people with disabilities to be seen in Hollywood both in front of and behind the camera. We have so much to contribute to storytelling, entertainment and success.” RespectAbility is a nonprofit working to end stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities.

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Season Finale of Diverse and Fabulous Emmy-Winner #BornThisWay Airs Tonight

A&E Renews Series for Third Season

Text: The Emmy-Award winning series returns: Born This Way with images of the castWashington, Sept. 27 – Following its Emmy win for outstanding unstructured reality show, Born This Way has been renewed by A&E for a third season. This is the first time a series starring a cast with disabilities has won an Emmy Award.

Produced by Bunim/Murray Productions, Born This Way, an unscripted reality show on A&E, follows the lives of seven young adults with Down syndrome along with their family and friends in Southern California. Because its focus is on showing their everyday lives, including employment, efforts for independent housing, loves and more, Born this Way breaks down stigmas surrounding disability.

Show creator and Executive Producer Jonathan Murray, the innovator behind the first-ever reality-show, The Real World, and many other hit shows including Keeping Up with the Kardashians, credits the show’s positive message and groundbreaking vision of diversity on screen with the show’s success.

“In thinking about the show, we wanted to focus on the ability within the disability and I think that is what is exciting to see,” said Murray. “We are also very proud of the fact that our cast is very diverse. Born This Way is not only the first show to win an Emmy that stars people with disabilities – it also has a cast that includes people who are African AmericanHispanic and Asian. This is a breakthrough for those minority communities as well.”

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Born This Way #BTWChat: September 27

Join our ninth Twitter chat on September 27 at 9/8c!

Text: #BornThisWay Twitter Chat: #BTWchat, Tuesdays 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET. Then join us for livetweeting each episode of the second season immediately following the chat.

Hosted by Lauren Appelbaum and Cara Liebowitz of RespectAbility, this Twitter chat will take a look at ideas explored in Born This Way by the young adults with Down syndrome and their parents. Following this chat, join us in live tweeting each episode of the second season, airing on A&E at 10/9c.

Born This Way provides an intimate look at a diverse group of young men and women with Down syndrome as they pursue their passions and lifelong dreams, explore friendships, romantic relationships and work, all while defying society’s expectations. The series also gives voice to the parents, allowing them to talk about the joy their son or daughter brings to their family, and the challenges they face in helping them live as independently as possible.

In the season two finale, Megan learns the hard way that taking care of a baby is not anything like she imagined it would be, Rachel finds romance on the road to fitness and Steven finally faces up to his feelings about Megan.

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Born This Way #BTWChat: September 20

Join our eighth Twitter chat on September 20 at 9/8c!

Text: #BornThisWay Twitter Chat: #BTWchat, Tuesdays 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET. Then join us for livetweeting each episode of the second season immediately following the chat.

Hosted by Lauren Appelbaum and Cara Liebowitz of RespectAbility, this Twitter chat will take a look at ideas explored in Born This Way by the young adults with Down syndrome and their parents. Following this chat, join us in live tweeting each episode of the second season, airing on A&E at 10/9c.

During tonight’s #BTWchat, we take a look at achieving dreams! The first part focuses on Cristina’s dance competition & John’s new rap star successes. The second part focuses on Megan’s love life triangle with Brendan and Steven.
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