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Hollywood’s diversity efforts can’t ignore disability, advocates say in open letter

More than 80 members of the entertainment industry, including actors Amy Poehler, Naomie Harris, Heather Matarazzo and Janina Gavankar, are urging Hollywood studios and production companies to better prioritize disability in their diversity efforts and inclusion, in a new open letter.

The letter, published Wednesday, was edited by Keely Cat-Wells, Founder and CEO of Talent C, an agency representing artists and athletes with disabilities.

Cat-Wells noted that diversity is often seen as giving more people “a place at the table” in a statement accompanying the open letter.

“But what if we can’t get to the door to get to this table?” she said. “If we don’t design for accessibility or if we don’t include people with disabilities, it’s like saying we don’t want the stuff of one in five people walking or through the door.”

Cat-Wells founded C Talent after his own battles against discrimination in Hollywood. In 2017, she said she was turned down for a role because of her disability.

“I went to the fitting room where they made me try on a low rise bikini, which revealed my ileostomy bag. The next day, I received an email saying that I no longer had the part. They said I was ‘too off-putting’ to the public and that would be ‘too confusing’, ”she said. “It could easily have been ‘fixed’ with a high waisted bikini. This type of prejudice and discrimination is not an isolated event. In short, I lost a job because of my disability. “

This fight is not new. Promises have been made, but no systemic action has been taken to change inequitable systems and procedures. We cannot expect a bandage to heal an open wound. Adequate inclusion is long overdue. Don’t dismiss disability.
Open letter to Hollywood studios and production companies

For decades Hollywood has disabled artists systematically excluded. In front of the camera, actors with disabilities often find themselves ignored for roles – including when non-disabled actors are cast in roles involving characters with disabilities. With some exceptions, on-screen stories about people with disabilities tend to celebrate characters with disabilities who “overcome” their disabilities or turn them into objects of pity or ridicule. Behind the camera, cinema and television sets often do not provide enough housing for people with disabilities or do not take accessibility into account.

“Due to years of misrepresentation in the media, social barriers and chronic ableism, deaf, hard of hearing, neurodiverse and disabled communities continue to be underrepresented and unrespected in the entertainment industry. This fight is not new. Promises have been made, but no systemic action has been taken to change inequitable systems and procedures. We cannot expect a bandage to heal an open wound, ”the open letter read. “Adequate inclusion is long overdue. Don’t dismiss disability. “

The letter calls on Hollywood studios and production companies to create a permanent position for a disability officer, a leadership role that would ensure that disability is mainstreamed into all facets of the business, not just after the fact.

Cat-Wells pointed out that over the past year, Hollywood has responded quickly to the pandemic, hiring security guards and COVID-19 consultants to ensure film and television production could safely resume. . Why not then take the same kind of “drastic measures to ensure the safety” of artists with disabilities, who “faced threats, lost jobs and faced a lack of access long before COVID”, she declared.

According to the letter, the role of a disability officer could involve improving hiring practices, setting goals for the representation of people with disabilities on and off-screen, as well as developing standards of employment. industry for representations of disability and accessibility in the workplace and on platforms.

Establishing an ongoing leadership role “will create more than the occasional change and a few good news headlines, but a systemic and lasting difference,” said Cat-Wells.

Read the full letter below.

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