HEALTH

Foundation says diversity inclusion is needed in the film industry

Jan 29, 2020, 3:36 PM | Updated: Jan 30, 2020, 12:05 pm
danny woodburn disability film diversity inclusion...
Actor and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) member Danny Woodburn takes up a picket sign as members of the SAG/AFTRA/EQUITY Performers with Disabilities Committee join striking Hollywood writers on the picket line outside Warner Brothers (WB) Studios as the labor dispute between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and producers continues on November 19, 2007 in Burbank, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

PARK CITY, Utah – Diversity inclusion is seen in movie theaters and parking lots, in the wheelchair signs signifying spaces for disabled persons.

But diversity inclusion is missing from the big screen and the film industry behind it.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, was created to guarantee that people with disabilities had the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life.  It requires alterations to buildings and the removal of barriers for those needing wheelchairs or other types of assistance to get around.

And while the public sees these improvements everywhere, the disabled population who work, or attempt to find work, still deal with barriers.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 25% of the general population has some type of disability.  Yet more than 70% of disabled persons remain unemployed at a time when America has an unemployment rate that is under 4%,  the lowest general unemployment rate in decades according to the US Department of Labor.

How film can help with diversity inclusion

The Ruderman Family Foundation advocates for the inclusion of people with disabilities. They believe the lack of visibility of disabled people on television and in movies adds to the high unemployment rate of that sector of the population. One way they’re hoping to change that is by partnering with the Sundance Film Festival to promote diversity inclusion.

Danny Woodburn

Actor and disability rights activist, Danny Woodburn, says, “95% of the roles depicting disability are not going to people with a disability.”

“You wouldn’t see a white man playing Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Woodburn, who has dwarfism, is a 30-year veteran actor in television and film. He is perhaps best known as Kramer’s volatile friend Mickey Abbot on the NBC comedy series, Seinfeld.

He says he is still called to auditions in buildings that don’t have elevators.

Woodburn also cites the plight of Ali Stroker, a wheelchair user who just won a Tony for her performance in “Oklahoma.”  There was no wheelchair accessibility backstage before she was cast in the role.  Only audience members had disabled accommodation

Directors and producers hamper diversity inclusion

Jay Ruderman, President of Ruderman Family Foundation

President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, Jay Ruderman, says the challenges are even stronger for disabled actors.  He says that directors and producers see a person with a disability as a person that can’t work long hours, or do the same jobs in film, as can an able-bodied person.

In the February 13, 2019 podcast, All Inclusive, Woodburn tells Ruderman about the day he saw the breakdown for the film “Lord of the Rings.”

 

A breakdown is when the roles come out for a project and they explain what the role is and you know, they get into the specifics of the role. And then agents see these roles and then submit their clients on these roles. So a breakdown came down, the Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. And the breakdown specifically described how tall each actor should be. And at the end of the breakdown, there was a statement saying ‘no little people.’  And that really kind of bothered me because I feel like this mythology about those kinds of stories is born out of the actual interaction with actual little people in our history.

Woodburn says, “Research from the Ruderman Family Foundation shows the disabled community has $125 billion of discretionary money they could put into the entertainment economy.”  He believes once the entertainment industry realizes how much buying power this sector has, they will begin to hire more disabled workers.

“This industry is more impactful of public attitudes and stigma than any other industry,” said Ruderman.  “You see it in the rise of women and people of color being shown in the media.  As well as acceptance of the LGBTQ community through shows like ‘Ellen’ and ‘Will & Grace.’

“Now it’s time for the disabled sector to be seen and accepted through the eyes of Hollywood,” he said.

Social Security may interfere with diversity inclusion

Many people need Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to help pay for medical costs associated with their condition.  But those persons using SSDI cannot earn more than $15,150 per year, or they lose the benefit.  And most cannot pay for housing, bills, grocery and medical costs on less than $26,000 a year.

So, if they earn too much by working, they lose the insurance that keeps them healthy.

Woodburn says some disabled writers must hide their earnings.  They may get paid $25,000 for one big project, which will drop them from SSDI.  But that project may be the only one they have for 3-years.

The message of diversity inclusion is being heard, by some

Meanwhile, Ruderman and his foundation are getting support from top Hollywood stars to improve diversity inclusion in the film industry.  Woodburn cites his friend Bryan Cranston for his decision to play a wheelchair-bound person in the movie “The Upside.”

And while Woodburn understands the producers’ need to have a marquee name to make money, he doesn’t know why Cranston didn’t push for hiring others with disabilities.

Woodburn says he has since elicited a pledge from Cranston that he will insist that five disabled people be hired, as sound editors, writers, or actors, if he plays another character with disabilities.

Some in Hollywood already practice diversity inclusion

Peter Farrelly, of the Farrelly brothers’ fame says it was a “no-brainer” to include disabled characters in their films.  He says “his best friend growing up was a paraplegic and they had two family friends with intellectual disabilities.”

Peter Farrelly

Farrelly says he wants casting directors to get on board.

“When they see a script calling for the role of a girlfriend, it doesn’t say she must be able-bodied,”  he says. “Let’s open it up.  Get people with all sorts of disabilities to audition for the girlfriend.”

The Sundance Film Festival appears to be embracing the movement this year.  One of the darlings of the 2020 Festival is the documentary “Crip Camp.”

Co-director, Jim LeBrecht, was born with spina bifida and uses a motorized wheelchair to get around.  He says, “traditionally, people break into the entertainment industry by tirelessly working 20-hour days, generally as interns.”

Jim LeBrecht

“How does someone who needs insurance do that?  When people with disabilities need medications or consistent medical care, they can’t work as unpaid interns.”

And the Ruderman Family Foundation is now asking actors, directors, producers, and the American public to sign the Disability Inclusion in TV and Movies Pledge.

You can hear the entire conversation with Jay and Danny below on the Money Making Sense podcast.

Further reading:

Disability-rights movement takes spotlight in Sundance documentary

Parking lot confrontation is a reminder that not every disability is visible

Utah GOP settles Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit

Film commission issues hundreds of permits to record in Utah

 

Today’s Top Stories

Health

Utah Naloxone...
Devin Oldroyd

Utah Naloxone and law enforcement reach milestone in preventing overdose deaths

Utah Naloxone reports over 600 lives in Utah have been saved thanks to law enforcement's use of naloxone (Narcan®).
2 days ago
Primary Children's Medical Center has canceled some scheduled surgeries and other procedures this w...
Simone Seikaly

Citing rising RSV cases, Primary Children’s delaying some surgeries

Primary Children's is delaying pre-scheduled and non-emergency procedures that would require an inpatient stay.
2 days ago
Shortages of antivirals and antibiotics compound the stress of this year's early and severe respira...
Brenda Goodman and Raenu Charles, CNN

Shortages of antivirals, antibiotics compound stress of a rough season for viral illnesses in kids

Shortages of key medications used to treat common childhood illnesses like flu, ear infections, and sore throats are adding to the misery of this year's early and severe respiratory virus season.
7 days ago
Officials at Weber State University are considering a change to the student health services current...
Alexandrea Bonilla

Weber State University considers outsourcing student health care

Right now, the health center at Weber State provides low-cost care to students and does not require any form of insurance.
8 days ago
carbon monoxide poisoning...
Ali Litzinger

Carbon monoxide poisoning on the rise in winter months

SALT LAKE CITY — Winter is approaching and officials want people to know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Last year, nearly 200 Utahns were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.  The flame in a gas appliance should generally be blue, with some orange. If the flame is mostly yellow, it’s giving off excess carbon monoxide.  […]
8 days ago
BYU...
Mark Jackson

BYU wellness students return from Blue zone with healthy lifestyle tips

Some BYU students are learning how to live healthy and happier lives from a trip to Ikaria, Greece.
8 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
Foundation says diversity inclusion is needed in the film industry