Turning a bright spotlight on the history of disability portrayals in entertainment, superstars have joined forces to empower CinemAbility: The Art of Inclusion. The stand-out collection of talented actors and actresses includes Ben Affleck, Jamie Foxx, Marlee Matlin, Gary Sinise, Jane Seymour, William H. Macy and Geena Davis. To coincide with October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the film is scheduled for release on October 5, 2018 (digital from Leomark Studios)
From Director Jenni Gold, the first wheelchair-using woman in the Director’s Guild, CinemAbility reveals a compelling and often amusing look at this important issue. From the early days of silent films to present-day Hollywood blockbusters, this historic film takes a detailed look at the evolution of “disability” in entertainment during the last 120 years by going behind the scenes to interview celebrities, filmmakers and studio executives.
Clips From Popular Hollywood Movies and Television
With heart and humor, CinemAbility: The Art of Inclusionuses clips from Hollywood’s most beloved motion pictures and television programs. Together, they shine a light on how the media impacts society and the monumental effect these portrayals have on inclusion.
Along with A-list actors including Ben Affleck, Jamie Foxx and Geena Davis, other Hollywood stars were involved in the project. They include Adam Arkin, Helen Hunt, Kyle MacLachlan, Daryl Mitchell, Beau Bridges, Richard Donner, Peter Farrelly, Randal Kleiser and many more.
Director’s Love Letter to Hollywood
“CinemAbility is in part a love letter to Hollywood, an industry that has consumed my life, and partly a wake-up call. Growing up as a wheelchair user, I found many of the representations of people with disabilities on screen to be confusing. I remember every year my family would watch Affair to Remember when it aired on TV and I always found it odd that after Deborah Kerr became a wheelchair user she could no longer pursue the man she loved. I remember hating the sappy Movie of the Week style representations in the ’70s and ’80s. The person in the wheelchair was always syrupy sweet or angry and bitter,” Jenni Gold says.
“It wasn’t until Friday the 13th part 2 came out that I saw a wheelchair user the way I wanted to be seen. He was a cool teenager hanging out in the cabin in the woods just like everyone else, he had a girlfriend just like everyone else, and right before he was about to have the night of his life, he got killed by Jason, just like everyone else. His disability was not the topic and was not a factor in his story line.”
Overview of Disability Portrayals
As a filmmaker who loves the rich history of Hollywood, she realized that a historical overview of disability portrayals had never been done. This fresh and exciting aspect of the project was one compelling point.
“As we continued to research and interview more people about their recollections of disability portrayals in film it became clear that this was not the whole story. There was more behind these characters and depictions than the stereotypes that emerged, which in some instances are still adhered to. In fact, what we found was much richer, in that there is a strong correlation between these depictions and how people with disabilities are treated, and as portrayals have become more well-rounded and realistic, actual people with disabilities have become more accepted socially, and more integrated into society,” she says.
“Being a director with a disability and the only DGA wheelchair using director member, the last thing I wanted to do was make another cookie-cutter documentary about disability. But soon I realized that a film like CinemAbility must be made, and if not by me then who? I knew this story firsthand, and I knew how to tell it. So, slowly I started to pitch it, and soon I was interviewing A-List Academy Award winners, Academy of Motion Picture and Guild presidents, producers, studio executives and the showrunners of some of the hottest shows on TV. Hollywood heavyweights came to the forefront because these are caring people who are interested in good causes, and they realize inclusion is important. They all had something viable and important to say and even had some personal realizations that I caught on camera.”
Gold adds that by connecting the dots between how people with disabilities are portrayed and how they are perceived in public, they were able to broaden the story beyond disability, to any minority group that has at one time or other been underrepresented or misrepresented in our media. The film shows how Sydney Poitier films impacted an entire Civil Rights Movement and how Will & Grace opened the door for homosexual civil rights.
“I found out very quickly that the changing of portrayals of disabilities in the 1980s lead us toward a major victory in 1990 with the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. After a backslide in these depictions, we might be able to get into the building, but what was the perception of people like me once we were in it? Would there be job opportunities if perceptions were still based on the understanding one gets from what we see in the media?” she asks.
Enlightening Eye-Opener Enabling Reshaping of Perceptions
Jenni Gold realized that the film was more important than just recapping the history of a few interesting characters in the history of film. She wanted to document the shaping of perceptions of minority groups through the media and create a platform to do some of her own reshaping.
“This film has the ability to break down these stereotypes in a way that had never been done before. And most importantly, it is done in a fun and entertaining way! People normally hear about a disability-themed documentary and they run for the hills, but those brave enough to take a peek are shocked to find they have a good time and laugh while also being challenged intellectually. As a storyteller, that is my entire goal,” Gold says.
“When we started this project over a decade ago, disability was not included in most diversity initiatives, but that is now changing due to new crop of talented, passionate & determined actors with disabilities who have stormed into Hollywood and aren’t taking ‘no’ for an answer. Enlightened show runners and producers are also starting to take chances on stories, characters and actors that are ‘different,’ and yet it still remains that hardly anyone with a disability is working behind the scenes in Hollywood. It seems to be the perfect time for CinemAbility to open people’s eyes to something new.”
Andrea Karen Hammer is the founder, director and owner of Artsphoria Media Group including Artsphoria International Magazine, Artsphoria: Arts, Business & Technology Center (https://www.artsphoria.biz) and Artsphoria: Food for the Soul (https://artsphoria.live). She is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer who has published articles in international publications.