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How the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Is Revolutionizing Representation in Hollywood

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We all know that disabled representation is lacking in film, television, and media in Hollywood, especially when it comes to authentic disabled narratives and storylines, meaning plots surrounding disability created by disabled writers, producers, etc. but Hollywood is beginning to change. Hollywood is beginning to listen in a meaningful, intentional way. 

I began the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge three years ago as a disabled media producer and it’s been life-changing for my disability media company Claiming Disability LLC.

What is the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge?

Actor and comedian Nic Novicki launched the Disability Film Challenge in 2014 in response to seeing disabilities underrepresented both in front of and behind the camera. As someone with a disability, Nic created the challenge to give aspiring filmmakers the opportunity to showcase their work and provide them with meaningful exposure.

In 2017, Nic and Easterseals Southern California joined forces to expand the challenge, now known as the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. As the leading nonprofit supporting people with disabilities, Easterseals brings additional attention to the challenge, using its numerous communications channels to encourage participation.

“A more inclusive media world will feature and employ more people with disabilities both in front of and behind the camera.” Nic Novicki, actor/activist, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.

How is ESFC creating a more inclusive Hollywood?

My participation in the ESFC has led to a slew of opportunities for me as a disabled media producer and created lifelong friendships and connections with disabled actors, producers, writers, crew members, etc., that I wouldn’t otherwise have as a disabled person trying to make it in the biz.

In the disabled community, it’s all about fostering connections with others and creating a supportive environment for sharing experiences. Our film team this year was spearheaded by director Zachary Mecham. “As a disabled filmmaker from Iowa, I didn’t believe a career was possible for me until the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. Now, I feel like making movies full-time is not just possible, but well within reach.”

Our film team has an incredible amount of disabled talent, including Hulu’s Breakout Star on the Emmy-nominated show “Ramy,”  Steve Way.  Verton Banks, an autistic disabled actor on our team, has appeared on HBO, FX, ABC, NBC, and many more. Our film team also sees performances from Bree Klauser and Madi Green.

As a disabled producer, the amount of disabled talent I interact with our a daily basis is astounding. These are SAG-AFTRA professional disabled actors with an unwavering desire to portray authentic disabled experiences on screen.

We want to see people who look like us and truly understand and embrace disabled culture and disability pride, not Jared Leto.   It’s very difficult to watch Hollywood choose able-bodied actors in the name of “method acting,” when there are some really great disabled actors out here just waiting to be cast in the next Marvel movie.

Our film is full of authentic disabled representation. Every year, the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge has a theme; this year it is superheroes. “There’s No ‘I’ in SideKick” is our comedy about a superhero and his disgruntled sidekick undergoing a performance review to examine a failed mission. There’s no doubt about it, this film will make you laugh. This isn’t your typical DC flick. You are going to want to watch.

How can you support disabled representation and the ESFC?

Every year, the ESFC does an awareness campaign where all the films are available to view on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. The campaign begins on April 16 and ends on April 25, so even if you don’t have a film, you can watch others and enjoy.

The only way we are going to create more authentic disabled representation in media, films, and television is by supporting the great work of the disabled actors, writers, and producers who are breaking barriers right now.

A movie poster with a golden background with a superhero with a red and gold suit on.

Originally published: April 18, 2022
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