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This Short Film Explores Autism and Friendship


Emily Kranking has had an interest in filmmaking since she was a child. The Easterseals Disability Film Challenge gave her the opportunity to make her directing and writing debut. Her film, “Saylor and Selena,” tells the story of Saylor (Aidan), a girl with autism, and Selena (Addison), her imaginary friend – an alien who is seeing Earth the first time.

The weekend-long competition gives filmmakers with and without disabilities the opportunity to collaborate to tell unique stories that showcase disability in its many forms. Kranking, an actress with hemiplegia cerebral palsy known for “The Homecoming: A Musical” (Nancy), was excited for the opportunity to challenge herself.

“Easterseals Disability Film Challenge showed me that you don’t need to be a professional to make movies,” she said. “It has really inspired me to write more short scripts about characters and stories with disabilities.”

The short film is centered on a young girl with autism who begins a imaginary friendship with an alien. Then the question becomes, is she imaginary? According to a recent report by the Media, Diversity, and Social Change (MDSC) Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, only 2.7 percent of all speaking or named characters in film were shown to have a disability in 2016 (up from 2.4 percent in 2015).

Saylor, a character with autism, is played by Aidan, a young girl with autism. This is significant as actors without disabilities play more than 95 percent of characters with disabilities. Ensuring she had a lead actress with a disability was important for Kranking.

“I looked up actors on Facebook for the movie,” Kranking said. “When a mother told me about her daughter who is autistic, I not only felt relief that I found an actor with a disability, I knew what the movie was going to be about.”

Kranking currently serves as a Communications Fellow with RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Working as a Communications Fellow at RespectAbility mixes her passion for entertainment and her love of service with strategic communications to help people with disabilities.

As an actress, Kranking’s first feature film, “The Homecoming,” is scheduled to be released this fall. Zeno Mountain Farm’s “The Homecoming” is the first movie musical that mainly stars actors and dancers with disabilities. Emily will star as Nancy, the bubbly best friend of the main character Sage. Taking part in the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge was important for Kranking as showcasing both actors and crew members with disabilities is one of the challenge’s missions.

The film challenge also gives new actors an opportunity to be in their first film.

“I enjoyed working on a meaningful project in which I not only had the opportunity to act, but I got to work as a cinematographer, assistant director and script supervisor,” co-star Cara Jaye said.

Kranking’s future plans include getting a master’s degree in screenwriting, theater, communications, disability studies or children’s media. Her hope is that taking part in the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge will get her one step closer.