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    Sara T.
    Sara T. @endosara

    'Below the Belt': Why This Endometriosis Documentary Is a Must-Watch

    EndoWhat? has been working on “Below the Belt” for 10 years to show the truth, struggles, and reality of what women with endometriosis go through — from struggling to get diagnosed, taken seriously, and how challenging it is to get the gold standard treatment, which is excision surgery from a vetted specialist. When I saw the opportunity to purchase an advanced screening ticket for North America to watch this documentary at home, I took it. I prepared myself to watch “Below the Belt” in comfy clothes while handling a pretty rough period with multiple painful flares before it arrived. I grabbed the only food that sounded good because my nausea was impacting my appetite again and hit play with a box of tissues nearby. There was a beautiful opening message from Shannon Cohn, founder of EndoWhat, to set the stage, along with providing a trigger warning about miscarriages. I greatly appreciated that and hearing why making this film was so important to her. From there, the film starts by following four women in different stages of life and their endometriosis journeys. Each one faces similar yet unique struggles, but I found myself connecting and relating to each woman easily and naturally, as did many other viewers who posted their reflections after watching this. It didn’t take long for the tears to start — to see what each of them went through, to see them fight for their right to have a functional life, to strive for a higher quality of life that we all deserve despite any chronic illness, along with horrendous statistics and survey findings that prove most doctors simply do not have the knowledge or skills needed to help endometriosis patients. Many of us watching “Below the Belt” will directly relate to their pain, the anguish, the frustration, the awful med cycles some are put on, the impact these meds put on our bodies, the multiple surgeries, and the mental toll it all takes as we simply fight to live some kind of version of life that many of never envisioned. When faced with this disease, we often lose part of ourselves, but how can we not when we aren’t believed because of all of our tests/scans/blood work/etc. come back as “normal”? We trust our health care team to help us feel better and to believe us when we say something is wrong, not place blame when they lack knowledge or easy answers. Outside of this reality, they highlighted the importance of excision surgery being the best treatment option and how not every doctor possesses the ability to remove endometriosis tissue. That alone creates a huge problem given how many people are impacted by endometriosis, and they continue to suffer by medical schools skimming over this disease and not updating their training with best-proven practices that others have fought so far for — including Dr. Redwine, Nancy Peterson, Dr. Sinervo, and getting more help to share awareness including Hillary Clinton, who is a co-executive producer of this film. These advocates give me hope and make me feel so fortunate because while their numbers are low, they are helping us generate awareness about endometriosis, sharing factual information about its symptoms and treatment options, and some are even training new doctors to understand endometriosis for what it really is — a debilitating disease that is greatly misunderstood. I don’t want to give any direct spoilers from “Below the Belt” because EndoWhat currently offers virtual screenings and local screenings to select locations, but I believe anyone who suspects they have endo, has endo, knows someone with it, is a woman, or has a woman in their life, needs to see this film. I would love to see this shown in schools to young girls as age doesn’t dictate disease, along with any student pursuing a career as an OB-GYN or within an office that concentrates in that area. If you want to watch “Below the Belt,” check out these links to see when you can have your chance and more details: Advance Virtual Screening Tickets for North America — It is $25 for a screening ticket and the next viewing window of 48 hours will be over the weekend of October 1-2, 2022. The panel discussion will only be available live on October 1st at 8:30 p.m. PT/11:30 p.m. ET. Advance Virtual Screening Tickets for the United Kingdom and Europe — It is $25 for a screening ticket and the screening date is set for November 12, 2022. You will have access to the panel discussion streaming. Here’s what others had to say after watching the advanced screening of “Below the Belt”: “It’s such an accurate description of what so many of us go through. I want to watch it on repeat.” –Emma “Everyone needs to watch this film. If it wasn’t for the bravery of other endo warriors sharing their stories, I would’ve never had my eyes opened to the circle of ineptitude and misleading information we are all forced to accept. It has to stop. Thank you for hopefully opening more eyes and more hearts with this very important film.” –Lupe “I’ve never felt so heard.” –Sara (AKA me EndoSara) “I’ve never felt this seen or validated in the 20 years since I’ve had endo.” –Sarah “Thank you for reminding me that my symptoms are valid and everything I’m feeling is real.” –@advocatingforendo “What an incredibly moving tapestry of stories from all corners of the world, from so many diverse voices unified in their struggle. What a tour de force.” –Kristina “Yesterday, my mom watched ‘Below the Belt’ with me. After four surgeries, this was the first time she got it.” —-Ash “Phenomenally done. Emotional, raw, informative, and all too familiar.” –Jessica If you want to hear other stories from women with endometriosis, I recommend navigating through The Mighty’s endometriosis stories, or social media and inputting “endometriosis” in the search filter. Keep in mind, not everyone remembers to place trigger warnings, so check associated hashtags before reading or watching as a safeguard. Watch “Below the Belt” Panel Discussion from August 27, 2022 EndoWhat recently opened up the recording to their live panel discussion after their first advanced screening in the United States. It is free and available to watch at this link. They talk about the film, answer live questions, expand further about the film, and hear from key people who were part of this project. For any Nancy’s Nook fans — you’ll be thrilled to know that Nancy Peterson herself is included in this panel! We Still Have Work to Do — Can You Help? Awareness of this disease matters, women are often accused of having pain and symptoms “all in their head” because there is a lack of education around endometriosis and how the endo stage has nothing to do with how disruptive it can be to someone’s quality of life or daily functions. This film presents a raw view of what it’s like to be someone with endo, which will make this so impactful.The fact that our health care system closes its eyes to such a brutal condition feels criminal and directly violates patient rights to receive quality care – we need excision surgeries to become the norm. Not ignoring it, not relying on oral contraceptives, not encouraging trying to have a baby, and all those other endo myths we’ve heard and have been debunked. EndoWhat has graciously opened up the ability to send a free toolkit to healthcare providers, which you can find here.  Lastly, I encourage each and every one of you to share your stories and struggles with endometriosis if you’re comfortable doing so. You never know what your story can mean to someone else who may be struggling, and educating others about this disease is critical to keep this momentum moving. Whether you share your words or experience through The Mighty or personal social media handles, please know that you always deserve to feel heard and are not alone. Learn more about “Below the Belt” on the film’s website.

    5 Classic Movies to Watch When Your Depression Makes Life Hard

    There’s a reason I love old Hollywood films, and it’s not because of the egregious and horrible lack of diversity, cringy age gaps, and other aspects that simply just didn’t age well. It’s because of the music, the soft camera, and ultimately the directorial and acting styles that make it so easy for me to relax in comparison to modern film. As someone who is perpetually stressed, anxious, depressed, and who constantly would love to just disappear, classic movies gives my brain a way to breathe, almost granting me that request for all of two or so hours. I won’t say I’m a classic movie buff, but I do have a certain go-to movies for when my mental health conditions are making my life just a little bit harder. Different movies play different roles, but at the end of the day they all help in pushing me and my sad little brain along. 1. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” I’ll be honest. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is a classic and so many people love it for the glitz and the style, and while Holly Golightly is a very fashionable woman, the story runs so much deeper than that. It’s the story of a young woman trying to save her brother, when she can barely save herself, and because of that she keeps running around in circles. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is the perfect movie to watch when you just feel lost and nothing is working. Extra points if you’re broke financially too. Yes, there is a happily ever after at the end, but getting there is the hardest part. That’s life though, isn’t it? “I’m not Holly. I’m not Lula Mae, either. I don’t know who I am! I’m like Cat here, We’re a couple of no-name slobs. We belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to us.” 2. “Hello Dolly” “Hello Dolly” is a movie about grief. Similar to “Thor: Love and Thunder,” “Hello Dolly” focuses on a widow’s official re-emergence back into the real world after losing the love of her life. This gets overshadowed by all the other events and hijinks in the film, but at its core “Hello Dolly” is a movie about love and loss, and how brave you have to be to love again after loss. This is the perfect movie to watch when you want to disappear from the world because it’s fun, colorful, silly, carefree, and also full of so much heart. “Dolly will never go away, again.” 3. “Funny Face” “Funny Face” is one of those movies I have to intentionally ignore the extremely large age gap between the two leads because it’s just plain weird. Yes, they’re both consenting adults, but it still makes me squirm. Anyways, “Funny Face” is the movie everyone thinks “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is, which is hysterical because they’re both Audrey Hepburn movies. “Funny Face” is easy to digest, and in general is just a very fun, unserious movie. It follows a book retailer (which is only the beautiful and graceful Audrey Hepburn) and her accidental journey to Paris where she’s agreed to model for a major fashion magazine. Yes, there is a message about empathy, but overall it’s a very unserious, shallow movie in all the best ways, which makes it very easy for me to turn my brain off. “How could I be a model? I have no illusions about my looks — I think my face looks funny.” 4. “An American in Paris” Hopefully you like obscenely long but magnificently beautiful dance sequences, cause…well. Watch and you’ll see. I don’t know if you can tell, but I love love stories, and this is no exception, but the love story as wonderful as it is isn’t what makes me want to watch this movie when I’m ready to vanish. It’s the colors and ambiance. It’s the overall happy feel even in the sad parts of the movie that earns it this spot on the list. As a writer, story is very important to me, but sometimes I don’t want to think about the story. I just want to see pretty visuals, and “An American in Paris” is perfect for that.   5. “Singing in the Rain” Fun fact, I sing “Good Morning,” every morning to my dog as a greeting. It’s one of my favorite parts about our morning. That, and our good morning hugs. “Singing in the Rain,” like all the movies above, is just a simple classic. It’s been parodied, honored, and recreated in so many other pieces of media which is understandable as it is a work of art. “Singing in the Rain” is such a good movie for when my mental health conditions hit because it’s also silly, and very shallow in terms of the plot. It’s not going to make me think, and I always find myself cracking up at Lina’s antics. She’s an easily disliked antagonist, but boy do I adore her and there’s nothing better than laughter when you’re sad.   If you notice, these movies aren’t really designed to make you feel. Some do, like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” but for the most part these film selections are upbeat and jovial, even if there are melancholy events here and there. Sometimes we need to just shut our brain off when we want to disappear. Fighting is hard, and it takes more energy than we have at times. There’s nothing wrong with just turning on some Turner Classic Movies, and allowing your thoughts to dim as the screen fades to black.

    Sandra Postma

    A Plea to Make Room for Chronic Illness Stories in Popular Culture

    “In diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” — Maya Angelou I never saw myself reflected on TV or in books. A chubby small-town girl who liked to read and write didn’t really get much airtime on TV. Still doesn’t. Not to mention if that girl develops a chronic illness. And then another. And another. As more minorities speak up and rightfully demand their stories be told, I want to speak out for people with disabilities and chronic illness to plead for the same. It might be difficult to tell a compelling story about characters who spend much of their time in their homes, yet their stories must still be told. Our stories. Because we deserve to be seen and others need to see us. Because being seen helps validate our existence. Because others seeing people like us helps their understanding of us. Because our stories being told can help form policies. Because our stories being told can help others going through the same type of story feel less alone. Because our stories being told helps us feel seen, appreciated, part of society, and loved. Because we are so much more than our illness. We don’t just write about our illness, we write about love, about fantasy and futuristic worlds, about joy and about heartbreak, and so much more. Storytelling from all kinds of perspectives and about all kinds of people from all types of backgrounds enriches the human experience. Not just for people part of those groups, but also – or even more so – for those who have no experience with such an existence. Empathy and compassion are what make us human. To reach empathy and to be compassionate means to understand that other people live under different circumstances than you and to accept those people without judgment or assumptions. Having their — our — stories told helps with that. I feel so strongly about this that I’ve made it my job. I help fellow spoonies feel worthy of telling their stories and help them write fiction, because I feel the power and impact of both seeing yourself and not seeing yourself in the stories we consume. Encountering people with illness in popular culture helps other people see us as fellow humans. It helps them understand us. It prevents them from judging us when we have to cancel at the last minute. It will help people not to judge us when we have to take the one empty seat on a train because we cannot stand for long despite being “young.” It will help politicians understand that even though we are ill we want to be — should be — part of society just as much as anybody else, and being a part of storytelling culture is such a huge part of that. It is vital to have those stories told, or written, by the people who live the experience. As long as there is no level playing field in the arts, this needs to be the way to achieve it. Plus, those living it bring insight into the story that abled people could never bring to the table. And so I will continue to push for the stories of those disabled and ill to be told. I push for people with illness and disability to be able to play their part in telling those stories. So hopefully one day we can look back and realize that we no longer tell the story of illness, but the story of human beings who are also ill. Until that day comes, I will continue to fight for the position of people with chronic illness and disability, and other minorities, in life itself, but also in art and in popular culture. We belong to humanity, thus we should also belong to its cultural expression.

    Hallmark Movie Stars Actors With Down Syndrome

    How many teens or 20-somethings get to do something so consequential that it raises hopes, dreams, and possibilities for millions of people, while changing society as a whole? Two young, seasoned actors who happen to have Down syndrome are doing just that with their new Hallmark movie, “Color My World With Love.” This is the first Hallmark movie to feature actors with Down syndrome in lead roles. Lily Moore, age 19, has been acting since 2014 amassing over 23 acting credits. She is best known for the Netflix series “Never Have I Ever” where she plays Rebecca. Lily started acting classes at age 6 because several medical conditions left her unable to participate in physical activities many children take for granted. To date, she has had 11 major surgeries. Lily took to acting right away, and it wasn’t long before it was obvious to her family and others that she was a very good actress. Lily is also an experienced model. She learned early to make the most of her talents and always has a positive and strong attitude. Lily’s mantra is “Everybody has an inner star. No matter what it is, find it and let it shine.” She is a senior in high school and lives in the Atlanta, Georgia area. David DeSanctis, age 29, is best known for playing the role of Produce in “Where Hope Grows” in 2014. He was the first actor with Down syndrome to star in a nationally distributed film. David’s outgoing and witty personality was well known in his hometown of Louisville, KY. The producers of the film were searching for someone exactly like David, and were steered his way by David’s community. The rest is history. David is a national public speaker who has presented to audiences all over the country displaying his love of fun, dance, and witty sarcasm. He also uses his presentation skills to advocate for people with disabilities on a national level. David still lives in Louisville, KY. David and Lily’s parents are extremely proud of their children and this movie. Their children have worked hard to get to where they are. They are so excited to see the barriers that will come down when those with disabilities see this movie — and what can be. Lily Moore burst out in tears when she got this role as her dream of a leading role was coming true. In a statement after filming, she said, “Everyone has a dream to fall in love and get married one day, even people with disabilities. I hope viewers take away that ‘Color My World With Love’ is about painting your own story through your emotions and that we all have endless possibilities.” David DeSanctis was grinning and jumping with joy when he got this part. After filming the movie he said, “I just had an awesome time making this movie. I became friends with a lot of very special people. I hope everyone who sees the movie will realize, with the backing of good, caring family figures, they can accomplish amazing things in life.” “Endless possibilities” and “accomplish amazing things in life” are goals millions of people with disabilities can now see just a little bit clearer. They are also facts that our broader society will see on their TV screens, which in turn will organically break down centuries of stereotypes. Representation matters! “Color My World With Love” premieres June 12, 2022 on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel.

    Why Going to Movie Theaters Is Hard as an Autistic Adult

    It’s summertime and all the nerdy blockbuster hits are coming to theaters. My love for all things nerdy (especially movies) has always been there. As an autistic child, I loved going to the movies and being immersed in another world. But as I’ve grown into adulthood, I’ve found I have a love/hate relationship with going to the movie theater. With technology and the internet, it’s so important to see blockbuster hits such as Marvel or Star Wars as soon as possible or the movie might be spoiled. So, I try to see these movies as soon as they come out. But as society has changed, so has going to the theater. During the pandemic, I loved that you could watch newly released movies at home. Since the restrictions have been lifted, so have some of the accommodations. Why are movie theaters hard as an autistic adult? 1. The need to be there super early. I get anxious if I’m not at the movies at least 30 minutes before the movie starts — 45 minutes if anyone is wanting popcorn. This isn’t just because I’m worried about getting a seat. It’s also because I don’t want to miss anything. I want the time to be able to get snacks, go to the bathroom, and find my seat without being rushed. There have been times when I’ve gotten to the movies right when the previews started, which usually resulted in a meltdown. 2. Anxiety about seating. While having reserved seating can help calm this anxiety, I still worry about who is going to sit next to me, if they are going to talk through the movie, have their feet on the back of my chair, or if they are coughing and sick. I’ve been known to change seats just because of people near me. 3. Movie theaters don’t display closed captioning. While it is possible to get a closed captioning device at some theaters, they are often cumbersome and frustrating. It’s hard to see the captions and pay attention to the movie, since they are on different screens. Sometimes the music can be too loud and the voices too quiet and it’s hard to pay attention to the dialogue and watch the movie at the same time. 4. Movie theaters can be uncomfortable. It can be hard to get comfortable in stiff seats. Even the ones that recline aren’t always comfortable. I love being able to curl up on my couch at home and watch movies. I can stim and get as excited as I want to. However, in theaters, there are different rules for how you are expected to behave, and I often find myself masking my autism. 5. There are a lot of distractions. You can’t control what goes on in the theater. People may talk, walk in front of you, or be on their phones, which can be hard as an autistic. Things like this take me out of the movie and make it hard to enjoy the theater. I hope that in the future more movies will come back to being on demand and in the theaters. Movies at home make entertainment accessible to everyone, not just to autistics.

    Community Voices

    Repetitive HUMMING while watching movies and TV?

    <p>Repetitive HUMMING while watching movies and TV?</p>
    5 people are talking about this
    Erin Noon-Kay

    The Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Is Revolutionizing Hollywood

    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.

    Autumn Knapp

    How 'Turning Red' Helps Me Be a Better Mom to My Daughters

    My four daughters and I watched Disney’s new movie “Turning Red” for the second time tonight. It’s about a quirky 13-year-old girl who, seemingly overnight, develops all kinds of feelings and hormone rushes and then — poof — turns into a giant red panda. Hilarity and chaos ensue. I won’t give any spoilers, but the big idea is that she just has to last a month until she can undergo a ritual that will lock away the panda for good. The movie explores mother-daughter relationships, friend relationships, and the longing to fit in that most of us went through at that age. And of course, it spends some time tackling the subject of puberty in a very open and hilarious way. Most other reviews have covered the puberty angle of the movie. But I was more struck by how the movie depicted the relationship between Mei Lee and her mother. Mei Lee’s mom clearly loves and wants the best for her daughter, but is quick with criticism and judgment of her daughter’s world. As a result, Mei Lee hides her true self from her mom. There is a scene where Mei Lee’s mom finds a notebook full of (innocent yet cringy) drawings of boys and immediately has a huge, embarrassing outburst. The scene was physically painful to watch. I had a very similar experience with my own mother that was humiliating and soul-crushing. It was the first time that I realized my true self was not safe with my mother and I needed to hide away any messy feelings. Another scene that hit home for me was at a party where Mei Lee’s mother accuses her friends of influencing her to be the silly teen she is. Mei Lee is forced to make a choice between her friends and her mother. She chooses her mother. I also was in that situation several times and it is a frustrating, maddening position to be in, when you are torn between the people that know you the best and accept you for who you are versus the mother who, though she provides for you and keeps you physically safe, doesn’t fully accept you. You know there will always be things you have to keep hidden. Her love is conditional on her approval. Finally, (and I’m going to try to explain this without any spoilers)… there is a scene near the end where Mei Lee is wandering in a dreamlike bamboo forest, sort of an ‘in-between’ place. She finds her own mother (named Ming) as a teenager crouched on the ground and crying. Ming cries out “I’m so sick of being perfect! I’m never going to be good enough for her…or anyone.” We realize that the same disapproval she applies to Mei Lee was applied to her as a young woman. Mei Lee tells her, “I know it feels that way all the time, but it isn’t true.” She leads her mother sniveling and downcast through the forest to an open area with all the aunts and her grandma. Ming and her mother embrace, and she finally receives the unconditional approval she so desperately needs. “You don’t have to apologize. I’m your mother.” Grandma says. Cue tears. Regret flowed in for the relationship with my mother I always desperately wanted but never had. I know I’m not alone in this because I’ve spoken to adult daughters who have similar regrets about their relationship with their moms. Yet there is hope. My four daughters are still young enough that I have time to change the narrative. Just like Mei Lee, I can change my daughters’ future. They don’t have to grow up as we did, hiding their true nature out of fear of disapproval. We can share our struggles with them and show them that we are human. We can realize that our children are not a measure of ourselves. They should have the freedom to be their own person and not have to worry about their self-image. Between the “Far From the Tree” short, “Encanto,” and now “Turning Red,” I think a generation of filmmakers are processing their childhoods and producing films that show young people deciding to change the parenting narrative. As I grow older and walk further into the work of raising daughters, I’m stepping into the freedom that comes with untangling unhealthy generational patterns. I ask myself, “What kind of mom did I need as a girl?” and let than inform me how I parent my daughters.

    CODA Wins Best Picture, Makes Academy Awards History

    “This is dedicated to the Deaf community, the CODA community, the disabled community. This is our moment,” Troy Kotsur said when making history after winning the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for “CODA.” Indeed, it was Kotsur’s – and the deaf and disability community’s – moment during the 94th Academy Awards, as “CODA” won all three awards it was nominated for, including Best Picture. “CODA” first made news when it sold for a record-breaking $25 million during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival to Apple TV+. Kotsur then broke several records throughout this year’s awards season, and on Sunday evening, he became the first deaf male actor to win an Oscar. He is the second deaf person to win an Oscar after Marlee Matlin (“CODA” costar) won Best Actress in 1987 for Children of a Lesser God.” “For decades, disabled filmmakers have been working to ensure disability is included in diversity conversations, and ‘CODA’s’ win will help ensure this,” said Lauren Appelbaum, Vice President of Entertainment and News Media at RespectAbility. “It is important, however, to ensure that the narrative of future films is good. We have to be included in an authentic way, ensuring disabled individuals are leading the way. And we can achieve this by truly hiring people with disabilities behind the camera in an inclusive way to tell diverse, complex stories of the disability experience.” “CODA’s” nominations and wins also enabled a wider audience to see ASL being incorporated throughout the Oscars ceremony. Early on, co-host Amy Schumer gave “CODA” its first shout-out, signing “I love ‘CODA.’ It’s my favorite movie.” When last year’s supporting actress winner Yuh-Jung Youn announced this year’s supporting actor winner, she first signed congratulations before announcing Kotsur’s name verbally. She then stayed onstage to hold the award so Kotsur’s hands would be free to sign. Audience members waved their hands, signing applause, instead of the traditional clapping of hands. Siân Héder took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, bringing Heather Rossie on stage with her to interpret her acceptance speech, ensuring deaf folks in the audience could understand her. Heder showed that having an interpreter on stage for all acceptance speeches in the future could easily become normalized. “CODA” was announced as Best Picture by Liza Minnelli, who used a wheelchair to present, showing a wider range of disability representation. Minnelli presented Best Picture alongside Lady Gaga. During the team’s acceptance speech, a team of interpreters ensured that both the cast and audience members were aware of everything being spoken. Throughout the ceremony, viewers both in-house and at home had the option of watching an additional broadcast featuring certified ASL interpreters. Viewers at home could watch via a free YouTube link, while viewers in the audience were given tablets to utilize. In addition to featuring several deaf cast members, including Kotsur and Matlin, “CODA’s” win made history in several other ways. “CODA” was the first film distributed by a streaming service to win Best Picture, the first Sundance Film Festival premiere to win Best Picture, and the first film since 1932’s “Grand Hotel” to prevail in the category without nominations for directing and editing. “I felt that American Sign Language and the talents of the deaf community were truly acknowledged tonight on so many levels – the official ASL livestream, Amy Schumer’s use of ASL in her opening and closing remarks, Yuh-Jung Youn’s signing of ‘congratulations’ as she announced Troy Kotsur’s win, and Sian Heder’s bringing her interpreter, Heather Rossi, with her onstage so that the world could see her acceptance speech translated in ASL,” Deaf advocate, film executive, and RespectAbility Board Vice Chair Delbert Whetter told The Hollywood Reporter. “One of the more profound sights for me was seeing nearly everyone in the audience doing the ‘deaf applause’ on multiple occasions – witnessing industry leaders in the room fully embrace what is such a fundamental part of Deaf culture and ASL fills me with so much hope for the countless deaf and disabled filmmakers and performers who are out there waiting in the wings.” The pace of diversity of all marginalized populations has been increasing, allowing new voices to be heard. With Hollywood striving to boost diversity and inclusion, opening the inclusion umbrella for the one-in-five people living with a disability is the right thing to do as well as economically smart given that the disability market is valued at more than $1 trillion. However, the lack of representation – just 2.8 percent of characters on TV and 2.3 percent on film – means that millions of people are unable to see themselves in media today. “As the Academy makes gradual progress with racial and ethnic inclusion, the best picture winner is a reminder that disability is also diversity,” The Hollywood Reporter’s Rebecca Sun wrote Sunday evening. More people with disabilities need to be visible in front of – and behind – the camera. An increase in diverse, accurate, and authentic portrayals of disabled people in television and film can significantly help to end stigmas that undermine their opportunities to receive the education, training, and employment opportunities needed to succeed.

    GLAAD Report Finds Greater Need for Disability Representation on TV

    A new report by GLAAD found that the number of series regular characters with disabilities counted on primetime broadcast TV decreased, down to 2.8% (22 of 775) from a record high of 3.5% last year and 3.1% the year before. The number of characters counted also fell, from 27 to 22. Since Variety VIP+ reports that Americans spent 4.6 hours a day watching video on streaming services and traditional TV in 2021, this representation is vitally important to how people see – or do not see – disabled individuals in society. “Including a disabled character does not happen by accident,” said Lauren Appelbaum, RespectAbility’s VP of Communications and Entertainment and News Media. “Inclusion of disabled people must be an intentional effort. What we see on screen influences how we act in real life. Thus, when studios make the decision to include individuals with disabilities, they are helping to remove the stigmas that currently exist about interacting with us.” As stated in the report, “This number falls far below the actual number of those with disabilities in the United States,” as more than 20 percent of people in the U.S. have a disability. While the numbers in this report are abysmally low, it is important to note that the GLAAD report is based on self-reporting by the networks and content providers. “While the reported numbers have gone down, it also is likely these numbers are underreported, possibly because the industry is not tracking disability internally as much as other demographics,” added Appelbaum. “Even so, the representation of disabled characters on our screens is nowhere near representative of disabled individuals in society today.” Examining the Numbers in the Report GLAAD’s 2021-2022 Where We Are on TV Report includes the only analysis of primetime scripted series regulars on broadcast networks of characters with disabilities. Largely known for tracking the number of LGBTQ+ characters on broadcast and cable networks, as well as streaming services, the Where We Are on TV Report also tracks racial, gender, and disability inclusion on television. GLAAD looked at 775 series regular characters expected to appear on scripted broadcast primetime programming broadcast on ABC, CBS, The CW, FOX, and NBC. Counts are based on original scripted series premiering or which are expected to premiere a new season in primetime between June 1, 2021 and May 31, 2022, and for which casting has been announced or confirmed by networks. The report finds that NBC once again leads the broadcast networks in representing disabled characters, counting 14 regular characters (10% of the network’s series regulars) who have a disability this season. However, this is a sharp decrease from last year’s high of characters. Many of these characters are played by actors without the disabilities the character has. One authentically cast character among the 14 characters counted is Izzy Harris (played by Zyra Gorecki, an amputee) on “Le Brea,” which also has been renewed for next year. While the report includes a recurring gay character on “Ordinary Joe” who is living with HIV, the report does not include series regular John Gluck, a 13-year-old actor who plays the lead character’s son. Gluck, who is a wheelchair user, has muscular dystrophy in real life, and his character is a wheelchair user in the series. The lack of inclusion of Gluck points to the reality that studios may not have known enough to share all its disabled characters with GLAAD for inclusion in this report. The report includes four series regular disabled characters from ABC, while the CW has two. However, none of these actors have the disabilities their characters represent. While CBS and FOX each reported just one regular character with a disability, both of these characters are cast authentically: CBS’s “NCIS: Los Angeles'” Hetty Lange (played by Linda Hunt) has dwarfism and Christopher Diaz (played by Gavin McHugh) on FOX’s “9-1-1” has cerebral palsy. There is an increased representation of characters with nonvisible disabilities, including addiction, anxiety, cancer, depression, diabetes, learning disabilities, and PTSD. For example, ABC’s “The Rookie” adds another dimension to the character of Officer Tim Bradford (Eric Winter), a highly regarded police officer, when viewers learn he has a learning disability. This casual inclusion of disability helps viewers understand that this is a common disability and helps lessen the stigma around having a learning disability and seeking assistance in learning in different ways (in this case, an audiobook). Spotlight on Cable and Streaming The report also looks at LGBTQ+ characters with a disability on cable and found five (4 percent), a decrease from eight characters and 7 percent. These include two characters who are amputees (AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and Showtime’s “Yellowjackets”), but neither of these actors are amputees themselves. In addition, Sam from Freeform’s “Single Drunk Female”and Rue on HBO’s “Euphoria” both have addiction. One character on cable to highlight is Maribel from Showtime’s “The L Word: Generation Q,” who has muscular dystrophy. It is important to note that Maribel was authentically cast, and is played by Jillian Mercado. Also on Showtime, but not included in this report’s count, is “Dexter: New Blood,” which featured bilateral above knee amputee Katy Sullivan as Ester. Also worth noting is that one of “Dexter: New Blood’s” writers was Marc Muszynski, a writer with low vision. The report also finds five disabled LGBTQ+ characters in streaming originals, which is up from one last year. However, while the report tracks LGBTQ+ regular and recurring characters on scripted original series on Amazon, Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, Netflix, Paramount+, and Peacock, it does not yet track those with disabilities that are not also LGBTQ+. No other report tracks this data either. According to Variety VIP+, streaming now accounts for more than half (51.5%) of all original series in the U.S., up from 12.9% in 2016. “While broadcast TV remains far behind in disability representation, there is a lot more disability-inclusive content to see on streamers, which are not yet tracked in any formal report,” said Tatiana Lee, RespectAbility’s Senior Associate for Entertainment Media. “Anecdotally speaking, streamers are more likely to cast authentically as well.” Several examples include Disney+’s “Hawkeye,” which includes a deaf character, Maya, authentically played by Deaf actress Alaqua Cox, as well as Clint Barton (Hawkeye) as a Hard of Hearing character; HBO Max’s “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” which features Lauren “Lolo” Spencer, who was diagnosed with ALS when she was 14 years old; and Netflix’s “YOU,” which cast Ben Mehl, who has low vision, to play blind character Dante. Increasing Disability Inclusion in Television Leads to Real-Life Results With Hollywood striving to boost diversity and inclusion, opening the inclusion umbrella for America’s largest minority – the one-in-four Americans with a disability – is the right thing to do as well as economically smart given that the disability market is valued at more than $1 trillion. Gail Williamson is a talent agent for Kazarian/Measures/Ruskin and Associates (KMR), leading their Diversity Department, seeking out the right roles for talented actors with disabilities. KMR’s clients include Lauren “Lolo” Spencer, as mentioned above. “While the report shows a decrease in series regular roles for characters with disabilities, I believe with more platforms and diversified content, the number of working actors with disabilities has greatly increased,” Williamson said. “From my experience, I predict the number of actors with disabilities playing series regular roles will increase in the coming seasons. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment that is not measured is the number of recurring, supporting and co-star roles that are now being cast with actors with disabilities. In the past, actors with disabilities were usually only invited into the casting office for roles when a lead character had a disability and that disability moved the story forward. Today we get calls at KMR for talent with disabilities to play smaller roles that have nothing to do with their disability. We are finally starting to see ‘full inclusion’ as it is in life. This also gives the actor with a disability the opportunity to grow in their craft as all other actors do, coming up the ranks, rather than just getting looked at for lead roles, that they are sometimes not prepared for since they haven’t had the supporting role experience. We are definitely making progress.” People with disabilities lack adequate access to healthcare, education, and employment opportunities. Depictions of disability should be focused on the abilities and contributions of people with disabilities, not just the disability. Additionally, even simple inclusion in crowd scenes is important. This is especially critical for the 22 million working-age Americans with disabilities, of which only one-in-three has a job. Diversity and inclusion processes that include disability are needed inside networks and studios so authentic portrayals become natural and consistent. A Lab for entertainment professionals with disabilities is aiming to do just that. Organized by the nonprofit RespectAbility, the 2019, 2020, and 2021 Labs already have helped place more than 30 alumni into jobs at studios that hosted the group, including Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and The Walt Disney Company. Others have found work in writers’ rooms for Netflix’s “Mech Cadet,” CW’s “4400,” and Showtime’s “Dexter,” among others, while several have had films featured at festivals such as SXSW and participated in additional career track programs including with Film Independent and Sundance Institute. “Progress toward authentic disability representation on the screen begins behind the camera,” said RespectAbility board member Delbert Whetter, a veteran film executive and producer who is deaf. “Only by including people with disabilities in the spaces where creative and business decisions are made, will we begin to see concrete results on screen. We’ve noticed a perceptible uptick of studio interest and enthusiasm for disability representation, which makes it all the more essential that the right tools and authentic points of view are available to creators, writers and producers who can benefit from them.” The entire report may be downloaded from GLAAD’s website.