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'Peanut Butter Falcon' Director Tyler Nilson Was Offered Money to Replace Zack Gottsagen for More 'Marketable' Face

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During a new interview, the director of “Peanut Butter Falcon” revealed he was offered more money to replace the movie’s lead actor, who has Down syndrome, for someone able-bodied with a “more marketable face,” highlighting the discrimination disabled actors face in Hollywood.

On Monday, “Peanut Butter Falcon” director Tyler Nilson and actor Zack Gottsagen, who has Down syndrome, sat down for an interview on “This Morning.” The pair shared some of the challenges they faced getting a movie off the ground that featured a lead character with Down syndrome. Among those challenges, Nilson said his bosses offered him more money to recast Gottsagen.

“We were offered money if we would’ve replaced Zack but that was something for us that was a major no,” Nilson said. “We were told the movie we made with starring somebody with Down syndrome, we were told that this would not be marketable, that people wouldn’t go see it in theaters, that a lot of streaming services wouldn’t pick it up because they said he’s not a marketable face.”

Peanut Butter Falcon” stars Gottsagen alongside Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson. In the film, Zak (Gottsagen) runs away from his nursing home to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional wrestler. Due to a turn of events, he teams up with “small-time outlaw on the run” Tyler (LaBeouf) and shenanigans ensue. The movie was initially released on Aug. 9.

Nilson and his directing partner, Michael Schwartz, created “Peanut Butter Falcon” with Gottsagen in mind. They saw him perform at an acting camp and were reminded how few acting roles were available for people with disabilities. According to a September report from the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, in 2018 only 1.6% of all speaking characters in the top-grossing films had a disability. A previous study by the Ruderman Family Foundation found 95% of those roles go to actors without disabilities.

Though movie bosses thought casting a lead actor without a disability was better for business, a recent Ruderman Family Foundation white paper suggests otherwise. The organization’s market research found 55% of respondents were more likely to watch a show that featured authentic representation — actors with disabilities portraying disabled characters. In addition, 44% of those surveyed were more likely to sign up for content distributors committed to disabled actors.

The numbers don’t lie for the success of “Peanut Butter Falcon” either. It’s earned more than $19 million at box offices so far and it was picked up to play in other countries as well. U.K.’s Times Magazine suggested Gottsagen’s performance is Oscar-worthy.

“I’m proud of the way our movie shows the complete range of emotions for a person with Down syndrome, and that Zack does play a character with hopes, dreams, aspirations, frustrations, work ethic, fear, excitement,” co-director Schwartz previously told The Mighty in a sponsored post. “That’s a lot of a lot of range and even a performance for him to hit all those notes is really fantastic.”

“We came out swinging,” Nilson concluded during his “Good Morning” interview.

“Peanut Butter Falcon” is currently playing in select theaters nationwide in celebration of Down Syndrome Acceptance Month and will be released on DVD Nov. 12.

Originally published: October 7, 2019
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