This Film Contest Can Help Change the Way the World Views Disability


Most people know how tough it is to find regular work as an actor. When you are a little person like I am, the odds of being cast are even lower. While I’m fortunate to be a working actor who has been on such hit shows as “The Sopranos,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “Private Practice,” it’s rare to find a role that does not focus on the fact that I’m a little person.

My time in the entertainment industry has made me keenly aware that individuals with disabilities are drastically underrepresented both in front of and behind the camera. I was not surprised to learn that while more than 18 percent of Americans have disabilities, only 2.4 percent of all speaking characters were depicted with a disability in the top 100 films of 2015.

My frustration that films, television programs and other entertainment don’t reflect the diversity of our world and limit actors in the roles they can play made me realize I needed to take action. I had gotten to the point where I was creating and producing my own content, but I knew there was more to be done.

As a result, four years ago I founded the Disability Film Challenge to help boost the profile and opportunities for those with disabilities, give aspiring filmmakers the opportunity to showcase their work and provide them with meaningful exposure, and increase awareness of the need for more inclusion in Hollywood and around the world.

This year, I was thrilled to join forces with Easterseals Southern California to expand the challenge, now known as the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. The challenge is in the form of a contest, where teams creatively write, produce and complete a short film over a weekend to win prizes and boost their exposure. The prizes are cool, the purpose has always been cooler.

Sponsored by CBS Entertainment Diversity, Dell and SAG-AFTRA, the 2017 challenge will be held from April 21- 23, 2017. Challenge winners will get mentorship opportunities with well-known leaders from a variety of media, including Scott Silveri, creator of ABC’s “Speechless”, actress/producer/writer/director Amy Brenneman (“The Leftovers,” “Private Practice,” “Judging Amy”), actor/comedian/director/writer Randall Park (“Fresh off the Boat,” “Veep”) and Executive Vice President, Entertainment Diversity, Inclusion and Communications, CBS Entertainment Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, and famed casting director Pam Dixon (“City Slickers,” “The Green Lantern”). Winners also gain entry into the HollyShorts Film Festival — a qualifier for the Motion Picture Academy Awards, a Dell workstation or 2 in 1 computer.

Since the challenge launched, aspiring filmmakers from around the world have created more than 150 films which have been viewed online and at festivals. Winners have included Dickie Hearts, a winner of the best filmmaker award in 2015 who went on to win an HBO Project Greenlight digital series competition, Jenna Kanell, the winner of the best film award in 2015 who went on to give a TED talk about her experience and David Harrell, the winner of the best film award in 2016, who won Best Actor at the Focus on Ability Festival.

If you also want to change the narrative and illustrate more inclusive stories, I encourage you to get in on the action and register now! It’s easy and takes just a few minutes. The challenge is open to filmmakers with and without disabilities. Filmmaking teams must include at least once person with a disability in front of or behind the camera. The challenge theme is announced the weekend the challenge begins April 21-23.

You must register in advance! Regular registration ($45) will run until Sunday, April 9, and late registration ($60) will take place from Wednesday, April 10 until Wednesday, April 19. Full registration instructions are available online at the Disability Film Challenge website.

Sign up today!

Learn more at Disability Film Challenge.

Thinkstock photo by Fabio Derby.


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