Posts Tagged ‘NFB’

Disability Representation – Same Goal Different Strategy

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019

Titled Disability Representation, this collage includes scenes from ; Forrest Gump, Rain Man, Ray, Wait Until Dark and The Rear Window; All movies with a disabled character played by a non disabled actor.
If you think about portrayals of people with disabilities on the screen, movies and television, chances are extremely high that the actor was not disabled. At least two recent projects have sparked this conversation including “The Upside” and “In the Dark”.

The latter series on the CW Network caused the National Federation of the Blind to launch their #LetUsPlayUs Campaign.

In this episode we learn why representation matters from:

Plus, “Blind Face” is that really a thing? I had to speak on it.

Consider this the beginning of RMM Radio’s exploration of Disability Representation in Media.

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Transcript

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TR:

What’s up RMMRadio Family?
It’s me, T.Reid, host and producer of this here podcast.
This is your place to hear stories and profiles of compelling people impacted by all degrees of vision loss and disability. And yes, occasionally I throw some of my own experiences in there pairing those words and music and sound design.

Today, I want to jump right into it. We have a lot to cover.
So…

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

Audio:
* Rain Man – Dustin Hoffman

TR:

Each of these clips, are from movies featuring a main protagonist with a disability.

Audio:
* Forrest Gump – Tom Hanks

Yet, each starring actor does not have a disability.

Audio:
* Ray – Jamie Foxx

TR:

It’s not a new issue

* Audio: The Rear Window

A scene from The Rear Window with Jimmy Stewart, in 1954

* Audio: Wait Until Dark

And Audrey Hepburn portraying a Blind woman in 1967’s Wait Until Dark.

Audio: “The Upside” trailer

TR:

Most recently, Kevin Hart and Brian Cranston star in The Upside.

Cranston, known most for his lead role in “Breaking Bad plays a wealthy quadriplegic who hires a former criminal, played by Hart, to be his caregiver.

With fewer than 2 percent of characters in movies being a person with a disability, well it’s understandable that the disability community took to social media to express their disapproval.

Cranston’s reply?

According to a BBC report he said;
“If I, as a straight, older person, and I’m wealthy, I’m very fortunate, does that mean I can’t play a person who is not wealthy? Does that
mean I can’t play a homosexual?”

In fairness, he does agree that there should be “more opportunities” for actors with disabilities.

I guess just not those that he’s slated to play

Audio: “In the Dark” trailer

TR:

In the Dark is the new television show on the CW Network that stars Perry Mattfeld as a blind woman who is the only witness to her friend’s murder.

Perry herself is not Blind.

The NFB, National Federation of the Blind, believes this is not acceptable. The organization which says they have 50 thousand members in all 50 states including DC and Puerto Rico, began a campaign called #LetUsPlayUs.

I reached out to NFB’s Director of Public Relations, Chris Danielsen, to learn a bit more on what sparked the protest.

CD:

We’ve been concerned for some time that there are not opportunities for and roles for Blind actors. I know we passed a resolution at our National Convention in 2018 on this topic and I think we had passed one even before that.

Fast forward a little bit to early 2019 and the CW Network began heavily promoting its new series “In the Dark”. CW was asked why a Blind actress was not cast in this role and they really made excuses for not casting a Blind actor in the lead role of Murphy in their show.

TR:

According to TheWarp.com:
Nicky Weinstock, an executive producer for the show said:
“We went about searching for a blind actor immediately, and looked allover”

That included 29 different organizations for the blind where he said they were hoping to find the lead actor.

NFB’s Chris Danielsen had this to say about that.

CD:

We were not one of those organizations by the way.
And then they kind of said but we do have a blind writer, and a Blind Consultant and we do have a another Blind actress in a supporting role

They made those sound like compensations for not having cast a Blind person in the lead role.

TR:

You have to wonder, what do they really know about what it really means to be Blind.
Especially when you hear that same CW Executive Nicky Weinstock describe Mattfield as accurately portraying a blind person based on the committment she demonstrated after acquiring a cane and using it around her apartment for weeks.

CD:

This could be really tone deaf publicity on their part, but it’s pretty typical of the behavior that we see from the entertainment industry. There have been literally dozens of films and television shows about Blind people and in none of them that we’ve been able to find, was a Blind person actually cast in a lead or recurring role.
CD:

We felt that this is the right time to really respond to what the CW has said and done but also to this type of behavior that is just recurrent in the entertainment industry. And for that reason we launched our Let Us Play Us Campaign.

[TR in conversation with CD:]

Tell me what is exactly the objective of #LetUsPlayUs?

CD:

The immediate objective is to have the CW reconsider its decision to cast a sighted person in the lead role.

Given that they have really sought in a very discouraging way to justify their decision not to cast a Blind actor in the role, we feel like the only way they can really make it right at this point is to simply re-cast and re-think the show.

TR:

The showed debuted on Thursday April 4, 2019.

It doesn’t look as though this demand is going to be met.

There is time however, to expand the conversation about representation.

CD:

We have found over the years that a lot of the portrayals of Blind people are very inaccurate and often even offensive.

We want to engage in a dialog with the entertainment industry and talk about why it is that Blind actors are not cast. Why there are such low expectations for Blind actors and performers. And how we can work together; the entertainment industry and the National Federation of the Blind to actually identify Blind actors, to develop their talent and to actually see them included in the future projects so that those projects have an authentic perspective on blindness.

TR:

Disability representation in media can be categorized in four groups of characters according to a white paper recently published by the Ford Foundation.

Disability Activist and Senior Fellow at the Ford Foundation, Judith E. Heumannn authored the paper titled; Road Map
for Inclusion Changing the Face of Disability in Media.

The four stereotypes:
* THE SUPER CRIP – think Daredevil
* THE VILLAIN -The James Bond Franchise is known for many.
* THE VICTIM
* The Innocent Fool

I’ll link to the report on this episode’s post over at ReidMyMind.com.

The show’s trailer, gives the initial impression that “In the Dark” may not be too interested in changing the paradigm.

Murphy, the main character is shown trying to hide under a glass table.

Audio: The above scene from the “In the Dark” trailer
In case you’re new here, Blind people know glass is transparent and they know how it feels.

And probably even more concerning, the trailer includes what appears to be the ol’ feel the face!
You know that all too popular scene in just about any movie or television show featuring someone who’s blind where the brilliant idea comes to the sighted person to have the Blind person feel their face so they could know what you look like.

Audio: “Hello”, Lionel Richie Music Video
— From the video, Music plays and a telephone rings…”Hello” says the Blind woman in the video.

TR:

Hey how are you doing? This is T.Reid from Reid My Mind Radio. May I speak to the creator of this music video please?

— From video: Lionel Richie sings “Hello”

TR:

Lionel?
Was this video your idea?

— From video: Lionel Richie sings “Hello Is it me you’re looking for?

TR:
Well yes, if you’re the creator of the video.

— From video: Lionel Richie sings “Cause I wonder where you are”

TR:

My brother, I’m in the future.

— From video: Lionel Richie sings “And I wonder what you do”

TR:
Well, I host a podcast, it’s sort of…

— From video: Lionel Richie sings “Are you somewhere feeling lonely”

TR:

Well now that you ask?

— From video: Lionel Richie sings “Is someone loving you”

TR

Hey bruh, that’s personal.

— From video: Lionel Richie sings as echo and fades out “Tell me…”
— Music continues…

TR:

Look man, on behalf of Blind people around the world who have been asked to feel somebodies face.
You know, that thing in your Hello video.

It’s 2019 I think we can end this stereotype.

It’s 2019 & the results are in, we’re over it!

— From video: Door shuts!

Blind woman says: ” I’ve wanted you to see it so many times, but I finally think it’s done.”

TR:

At least I guess we can be happy that in the actual scene from In the Dark, Murphy was resisting and even protested saying that’s something Blind people don’t do, but her friend insisted.

We later see it was needed to advance the plot. This was how she identified her friends body.

I personally would have suggested something like Microsoft Seeing AI which allows you to take a picture of someone and it will recognize them in future pics. But maybe that doesn’t work for the rest of the show.

But that’s just me. Everyone is different.

Not all Blind people use technology.

Like any other marginalized group, we don’t all act one way, we don’t think the same and we all have our own voices.

In fact, I tried to get some individuals with opposing opinions to share them on this episode but I didn’t get a response.

Not everyone believes this issue should garner as much attention from the NFB.

Some believe, the hiring of a Blind writer, consultant and additional cast member are steps in the right direction.
Therefore, demanding the network pull the show well that’s not a way to open a dialog.

Most of the discussion I thought was valuable, focused on strategy.
That’s always going to be a source of contention.

TR:

On April 2, 2019, the NFB protested outside of the CBS offices, owners of the CW Network, in New York City. .

CD:

We had well over 100 Blind people from five different states, at least, participating in the protest. We protested for two hours

We told the CW Executives who bothered to look out the window or listen, we don’t know for sure that any did. We told them that Blind face is just as unacceptable as Black face for example.

TR:

In addition to the protesting outside of CBS, NFB and others have taken to social media including Facebook and Twitter.

[TR in conversation with CD:]

So Chris let’s talk about something because I was going to go one way but now I have to switch it up. The social media campaign, and I’m gathering that the future consists of continuing with the hashtag… (#LetUsPlayUs). One of the things that tends to happen around this topic is that comparison to people of color. I’ve seen things where people are saying “Oh you don’t want white people playing other nationalities, ethnicities etc. Even though that happens and it still happens today.

CD:

Sure, sure.

[TR in conversation with CD:]

I think that’s almost like, defeating the purpose, but then also the one you just mentioned which was the comparison of Blind face to Black face. What is the NFB’s position on that because in social media I notice that the official NFB account kind of stayed away from that. And I was wondering if that was on purpose or if that was just a coincidence.

CD:

Well to be fair that comparison came up in the protest. It wasn’t intended so much as a comparison as kind of a play on words I think when it was originated.

We are a diverse organization. We have a makeup of membership that is racially diverse, ethnically diverse different sexual orientations and all of that. We respect all of that, all of that diversity. That said, we’re not focused so much on trying to make that comparison. That said we do see some commonality in the idea that we don’t, we don’t allow people anymore to sort of appropriate and sort of pose as others. It does still happen, but there are areas where it doesn’t happen anymore and doesn’t happen as much as it used to . But so far disability isn’t one of those areas.

There wouldn’t even be a thought at this point of having, really seriously, of having a man play a woman. Back in Shakespeare’s time it was common for woman to be played by men, typically young boys. You did have situations where it was considered appropriate to put on black makeup. So why are those things largely gone and why is it still appropriate and considered the norm in fact to have non-disabled people play the role of people with disabilities. It’s the norm and it’s rewarded . Think about how often we’ve seen Oscars awarded to people for doing this; Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino Daniel Day Lewis.

Audio: “And the winner is…” followed by each of the above winning Oscars.

TR:

Chris is right about that last part. Let’s take a look at some others who won in roles of someone with a disability.

Jack Nicholson, John Voight, Tom hanks, Ann Bancroft and Patty Duke both won for the Miracle Worker playing Annie Sullivan and Hellen Keller respectively.

And oh yes, my bad…
Audio: Jamie Foxx winning for Ray.

Does anything stand out to you about that list?
I’ll give you a second.

Audio: Jeopardy music

All but 1 are white.

Which brings me back to this idea of Blind Face.

That’s a made up term, it doesn’t have the history that is tied to how Black face was systematically used to dehumanize an entire race of people.

And it’s not gone.
.
Audio: Multiple news segments regarding Virginia Governor Ralph Northam & Black Face.

TR:
Even outside of medical schools in the 80’s.

Audio for below Two college girls suspended for Black Face
College campus frat parties still have it… sometimes they use different names but it’s the same. Parties where they dress like rappers. There was even a so called Gangster Halloween costume. And don’t get me started on other examples of appropriation.

Audio: About Redskins

Does it mean that those who used the term Blind face have the same intent?
I don’t believe that.

But what can we expect when this history isn’t taught, when people prefer to be color blind and refuse to have these conversations. Especially in this world of social media and the re-tweet.

There are valid and strong feelings in all marginalized groups. Something we all need to take into consideration.

CD:

We’re not Oscar bait. We’re people with real lives. We don’t exist so that actors can play us and feel good about themselves because they’ve supposedly experienced what we experience. Which of course they haven’t. That’s what’s really offensive.

I’m interested in your perspective too because you know we don’t want to make an offensive comparison. We want to be careful about that and at the same time the point that we’re trying to make is that there are situations where it’s no longer appropriate and the industry seems to understand that it’s inappropriate to have certain kinds of portrayals. Why is blindness and disability the exception to that.

[TR in conversation with CD:]

That’s where the difference of opinion definitely comes into play and I think the perspectives where you say that the industry understands that; I don’t think most people of color would say that the industry reflects their real lives.

CD:

Sure.

TR:

Remember those 4 stereotypes of disability in media?
* THE SUPER CRIP
* THE VILLAIN
* THE VICTIM
* The Innocent Fool

Black stereotypes have existed and continue to make up what we see in film today. Slightly modified versions of, well take your pick:
Sambo or the lazy happy go lucky Negro
Mandingo – the over sexed, big Black man
Mammy, subservient Black woman who’s nurturing ways usually focus on the white children
Jessabelle – over sexualized Black woman

So many films and television shows to this very day still have some version of these stereotypes.

In fact, as the years went by new stereotypes came into existence. The Welfare Queen, the criminal or thug and of course some of your favorite movies might star the magical Negro. who’s there to mysteriously make the white persons dreams come true.

Stereotypes also exist for Latinex, Asians and just think about the context of when you’d see a Native American on the screen.

So for those of us who are aware of this history in culture, hearing what can sound like an implication it no longer exists, well that can feel like all of that struggle and history is being erased.

With that said, let me make it as clear as I can, disability experiences deserve to be on the screen as much as any other human experience.

[TR in conversation with CD:]

You don’t have to make these comparisons.

CD:
Mm , hmm!

[TR in conversation with CD:]

There are comparisons that can be made. And the thing that I like to say is we can compare apples and oranges, they are both fruit…

CD:

Yeh, yeh, yeh. (In agreement)

[TR in conversation with CD:]
… but they are so different.

CD:

Yeh, certainly the intent is different. I would say that some portrayals of blindness have been specifically meant to put Blind people down, but some haven’t. There just profoundly mis-informed. So I totally agree with you, then in that sense it’s not an appropriate comparison. I think that’s why we have stayed away from the comparison on social media. We definitely don’t want to minimize the real pain that, that has caused, but sometimes the paper trail of disability does cause pain as well. Not the same kind, but the misconceptions out there are harmful to people with disabilities and they do trickle through.

TR:

Now we’re getting there!

Probably the strongest argument for increasing representation and the one that lots of people with disabilities feel on a regular basis.

Kristen Lopez:

There is so much mis-information out there about disability. Films are a gateway for us to learn about people and cultures different from ourselves.

TR:

This is Film Critic Kristen Lopez. She also writes reviews on new and classic films.
She has a much cooler way of saying it though.

Kristen Lopez:

Freelance Pop Culture Essayist, who writes a lot about representation in cinema, specifically gender and disability.

I’ve had so many embarrassing encounters with people. Unbreakable being a great example.

People who’ve seen the movie and they feel like that’s some sort of gateway into relating to me and it’s completely wrong.

TR:

Unbreakable, is the film starring Bruce Willis and Samuel Jackson whose character is a wheel chair user and has Brittle Bone Disorder, as does Kristen.

Kristen Lopez:

I refused to watch it because I didn’t think it was actually going to be a movie that represented me. And for a year solid when people heard I had Brittle Bone Disorder they were like oh have you seen Unbreakable? it’s great, you’d love it. And I was like, why would I love it. And they’re like because it’s about you.

I’m not a super hero or super villain

I was very indignant; no that’s not me. I actually never saw Unbreakable until two years ago and I thought it was fine. It didn’t offend me.

TR:

Dr. Adam Pottle, is an author and screenwriter in Saskatoon, Canada with
4 published books and two produced plays.

He himself is deaf.

He’s experienced firsthand how misperceptions and stereotypes find their way into common belief. Like this idea that Deaf people carry on conversations by reading lips.

As he explained to me via email.

(Note the change in sound when I am reading Adam’s words.)

Adam Pottle:

It’s not enough. Reading lips is fucking exhausting, and we don’t always get things right. We need visual confirmation, whether through Sign language or captioning.

I was bullied in school about my ability to read lips. Older kids would point to their lips and mouth out, “Hey deaf boy. Can you read this? Fuck you.”

TR:

The argument for representation is less about personal offense and more about the impact images have on society.

Kristen Lopez:

Movies have sold disability as this grand mystery. We are this enigma that unless the audience knows how to handle us their not going to be able to interact with us and I think that that’s very wrong.

It’s just important to get rid of the little things. We’re talking now about a time where politically people are talking about who’s entitled to what and who needs what. Do we need healthcare? Do we need the ADA at all?

I think a lot of that has to do with movies which fuel the dialectic, fuel the culture and presented disabled people which is entitled, spoiled and massively wealthy and doomed to die relatively young. The movies have sold us as a burden on society.

TR:

Interestingly enough, I read a review of The Kevin Hart and Brian Cranston film, The Upside titled;
“The Upside” is a good representation of life with disabilities.

I don’t know if this writer is disabled. It wasn’t mentioned.
But disability isn’t one size fits all. We can’t forget the intersections;
Gender, sexuality, …

And as Film Critic Kristen Lopez explains, it’s complicated.

Kristen Lopez:

As an adult, I’ve slowly grown to be like I do identify as white, but that’s only because my skin pigment is white. So I know most people, I tell them my last name is Lopez and they look at me and they’re like what the hell are you talking about. I don’t identify as Hispanic, but I do identify as Latino just because my father is.

Now as an adult as I’ve seen how white disabled narratives are it does bother me on that level as well because you know there are no movies with disabled people of color. There’s barely any movies about disabled women but disabled people of color is completely absent in these movies. That doesn’t even factor into people’s discussion of disability because they’ve never seen it.

TR:

Representation is more than who is on screen. It’s about who is producing directing, writing and in general influencing the overall message and feel of
the project.

Adam wants to add his voice to the conversation. Currently trying to make his way into the business. He’s an aspiring screenwriter with three horror scripts under his belt. He has a PhD in English literature, for which he studied how Deafness and disability are represented in Canadian literature.

Adam Pottle:

Because my scripts all feature Deaf and disabled characters in lead and supporting roles, it’s a bit difficult to get them produced, even if they’re well-received. I have one script, a horror story, that’s been selected by six different festivals that I hope to have made one day.

TR:

When it comes to inclusion of any form, the first reasons also known as excuses is often we can’t find “them”.

The CW, couldn’t find a Blind lead. Silicon Valley can’t find people of color in STEM, Corporations can’t find women executives.

Well, I have less than 600 Twitter followers and A Blind Black Man in the Poconos, Pennsylvania found a deaf white writer in Saskatoon, Canada.

(Laughing…)

So in the words of Mr. Biz Markie:
Audio: “C’mon, don’t give me that” from “Just A Friend”, BizMarkie

Adam Pottle:

The problem is systemic. The film industry is ableist to its core. It prefer stereotypical narratives. It doesn’t understand that Deaf and disabled people have rich lives with their own stories to tell. It prefers to look at us with pity and scorn. Recent examples include Me Before You, The Upside, Stronger, The Theory of Everything…

Notice these films all feature white actors, too. We don’t see Deaf and disabled Black characters, or Indigenous characters, or Asian characters. We don’t see LGBTQ2+ disabled characters.

Deaf and disabled people must be allowed to tell their own stories, from the ground up, as writers, directors, editors, photographers, producers, costume designers, and of course actors.

TR:

So #LetUsPlayUs, I’m with that. But can we let disability drive the conversation. Call out the many valuable reasons for representation and inclusion and rather than using the history of others as catch phrases use the lessons and honor those who paved the way.

I think we can agree the more marginalized you are in the society the lower your chances of seeing a real representation of yourself. Go ahead and think about the various marginalized communities. As you filter and each segment appears to have less and less representation not only in society but also on screen.

Just imagine if rather than re-booting movies and shows from the past, Hollywood start out by seeking multi marginalized Non Cisgender women of color with a story to tell.

As Adam Pottle points out.

Adam Pottle:

the first producer or major studio to truly recognize the potential of disabled filmmakers and disabled actors will experience a tremendous cultural and financial windfall. There are over a billion disabled people worldwide. We want to see ourselves onscreen. When we do that, disabled people will come out in droves, leading to changes in theatre spaces and screening options. In short, disabled people will change the way the world watches movies.

TR:

We’ve literally already started that process; Caption and Audio Description have already begun seeping into the mainstream.

So let’s continue.

By the way, the reviews of “In the Dark” are in & mixed. I started watching the premiere via the app but there’s no Audio Description. I don’t believe it’s offered by the network. One review had this to say:

“One thing In the Dark does get right is that the blind characters are completely in control. There’s a murder mystery at the center of it, but the real thrill is watching Murphy live such an imperfect, independent life. She goes out; she smokes cigarettes; she has sex—these are things we rarely see blind
characters do onscreen.

TR:

Seriously? Yawl need to go to a convention!

Apparently 80 percent of the writing staff is made up of women and several LGBTQ+ and blind writers and led by a female
showrunner.

And Calle Walton, the young lady who is Blind and part of the cast, said:

“When I lost my sight, I was devastated. I had to throw my acting dreams away. I thought there was no way I could become an actress now that I was blind. This experience has just been amazing:
getting me back on my feet, getting me back into my love for acting. I hope this really opens up the field and it makes it so blind people are getting looked at as characters that can play roles, instead of sighted people playing roles as blind people.”

Same goal, different strategy!

Shout out to :
Chris Danielsen , Director of Public Relations for the National Federation of the Blind.
You can find out more about them at NFB.org. And #LetUsPlayUs on social media including Twitter and Facebook.

Freelance Pop Culture Essayist, Kristen Lopez. You can find her work on line where she’s written for Rotten Tomatoes, Forbes.com and other outlets.
She has two podcasts;
Ticklish Business – all about classic movies before 1970
Citizen Dame – she’s joined by three other female film critics talking all about the latest entertainment news from a feminist lens
You can find Kristen on Twitter
@Journeys_Film

Dr. Adam Pottle is @AddyPottle on Twitter (Also spelled out)
His website is www.adampottle.com
He has a new book out now title Voice.
Where he explores the crucial role deafness has played in the growth of his imagination, and in doing so presents a unique perspective on
a writer’s development.

I think it’s clear that there’s a lot tied up in this topic of representation.

Consider this episode as just the opening of this discussion here on Reid My Mind Radio.

I hope to bring you more in the future which will include highlighting those behind the scenes as well as in front. I got my eye on some talented peeps.

You know there’s only one way to be sure you don’t miss an episode…

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Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

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