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5 Academy Award Nominees With Health Conditions

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At the Academy Awards on Sunday, March 4, viewers will find out which of their favorite movies, actors, filmmakers, writers and creatives will take home Oscars.

We don’t often see illness and disability represented in the movies, nor behind the scenes (though able-bodied actors often win awards for playing disabled characters).

However, as people with health conditions know, a diagnosis does not disqualify you from achieving cinema greatness, and despite an industry that regularly keeps disabled actors from equal opportunity, for years people with different diagnoses have been starting to pave the way for others both on and offscreen. People with lived health experiences are instrumental in telling stories that are beautiful, moving and relatable to so many with health challenges themselves.

Below, discover five people who were either nominated for an individual Academy Award this year or were crucial parts of their nominated film’s teams. Some of them brought their unique perspectives to make movies about health — others have spoken openly about being a Hollywood creative while dealing with their own diagnosis (some have done both!). By celebrating these talented nominees, hopefully we can encourage the entertainment industry to increase opportunities for people with health conditions, both onscreen and off.

1. Emily V. Gordon, Best Original Screenplay


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The story of Emily V. Gordon and her husband Kumail Nanjiani’s unusual romance is now immortalized in their film “The Big Sick” — Gordon became seriously sick with an unknown illness while she and Nanjiani were still early in their relationship. This meant after she was placed into a medically-induced coma, Nanjiani had to “join forces” with Gordon’s parents, whom he had never met before, to help manage her care. Gordon was eventually diagnosed with adult-onset Still’s disease, a rare form of arthritis that causes inflammation throughout the body. Nanjiani stars in the movie as himself, along with Zoe Kazan, who plays Gordon.

Ultimately, “The Big Sick” gives viewers a peek at what it’s really like when one partner gets seriously ill — and it also comes at a time when access to healthcare is at a crossroads.

“This movie wasn’t supposed to be political, but [if not for my insurance coverage,] I would still have those astronomical bills,” Gordon told The Hollywood Reporter. “We all need to take care of our health, and we all need help to do that.”

2. Sally Hawkins, Best Actress

Sally Hawkins is nominated for Best Actress for her role in “The Shape of Water” as Eliza, a janitor who doesn’t speak and falls in love with a mysterious sea creature at a government lab. In January Hawkins told The Daily Mail she has lupus, which causes her to deal with chronic fatigue.

“I do get quite tired, but I don’t let it stop me,” she said. “I’ve been very lucky with it, for the most part. It comes in waves… I just have to be aware and take it steady.”

3. Mindy Alper, Best Documentary Short Subject

As the star, not director, of short-subject documentary “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” Mindy Alper won’t actually take home an Oscar statue if the film wins. But she can certainly take some credit. The documentary focuses on Alper’s battle with mental illness and how she channels her emotions into her artwork (one project is an 8-foot-tall papier mache sculpture of her psychiatrist). The film’s title is a nod to Alper’s unique way of viewing the world — for example, her contented attitude about sitting in Los Angeles traffic.

She’s used art to deal with mental health challenges like depression, anxiety; stints in psychiatric facilities; and electroconvulsive therapy.

“I remember times when I couldn’t speak for quite a long time and using drawings to communicate,” she told Deadline.

4. Octavia Spencer, Best Supporting Actress


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Octavia Spencer could take home her second Best Supporting Actress for her performance in “The Shape of Water” as Zelda, Eliza’s co-worker (Spencer previously won for “The Help.”) She has been open about her lifelong challenges with dyslexia. A teacher helped her cope by introducing her to mystery novels. “My teacher told me, ‘You have to pay attention to everything because you don’t know what is a clue,’” Spencer told AARP. She’s now the published author of two young adult detective books.

“I was a dyslexic child and am a dyslexic adult; that doesn’t really mean that you’re not intelligent – it just means that your brain functions differently,” Spencer told WENN. “I just remember thinking differently. I could solve puzzles quicker than the average child. I would start with the mazes at the end and go to the front and be done in, like, 30 seconds. My deductive reasoning was very important.”

5. Maisie Sly, Best Live Action Short Film

Maisie Sly provides the heart and soul of the film “The Silent Child,” which is up for Best Live Action Short Film. She plays Libby, a young deaf girl with hearing parents and siblings who don’t quite understand her unique challenges and strengths. The film was written by British actress Rachel Shenton, who was inspired by her father’s sudden hearing loss when she was 12 years old. Shenton also stars in the film as Libby’s teacher. Six-year-old Sly is deaf herself, as are her parents.

“Maisie is representing a whole Deaf community on the screen, we as a family are a part of that community and can’t express how proud we are of Maisie,” Sly’s father Gilson told The Plymouth Herald.

Have we missed someone? Let us know in the comments below.

Originally published: February 28, 2018
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