Dozens of award-winning actors, writers, directors and producers have signed an open letter to the entertainment industry urging the studios and networks to be more inclusive in the casting of actors with disabilities. Signers include Mark Ruffalo, Norman Lear, Glenn Close, Bryan Cranston, Tony Shaloub, Marlee Matlin, Chris Cooper, Danny DeVito, Jason Alexander, Orlando Jones and Peter and Bobby Farrelly.
“The entertainment industry has made strides in prioritizing diversity,” the letter states. “At the 2019 Academy Awards, diversity and related topics such as race, immigration, and sexual orientation were explicitly mentioned on stage 38 times. We applaud the industry for elevating these issues to the world’s largest and most glamorous stage. But in the history of the Academy Awards, among the 61Oscar nominees and 27 winners playing characters with a disability, only two were authentically portrayed by an actor with disability.”
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Read the full letter and see the full list of signatories below.
The letter is being circulated by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a leading voice for disability inclusion, which has been critical of numerous films and TV shows that have cast able-bodied performers in disabled roles.
The letter calls on the industry to pledge to audition actors with disabilities and to cast qualified performers with disabilities, “thereby improving their visibility and expanding overall talent pools…Only then will the entertainment industry finally live up to its vast potential for leadership in diversity, inclusion, social justice, and civil rights.”
Here is the full letter, followed by its signatories:
Changing the Landscape in Casting People with Disabilities
Dear studio, production, and network executives:
The entertainment industry has made strides in prioritizing diversity. At the 2019 Academy Awards, diversity and related topics such as race, immigration, and sexual orientation were explicitly mentioned on stage 38 times. We applaud the industry for elevating these issues to the world’s largest and most glamorous stage.
But in the history of the Academy Awards, among the 61 Oscar nominees and 27 winners playing characters with a disability, only two were authentically portrayed by an actor with disability.
Therefore, we must ask: Why is disability excluded from the diversity conversation? Twenty-percent of the world’s population has some type of visible or invisible disability, making this community the largest minority in the world. Yet people with disabilities are systematically excluded from opportunities for social and economic mobility.
Now is the time to change the conversation. Hollywood can play a significant role in driving socioeconomic progress for people with disabilities. The entertainment industry must embrace disability as a key facet of diversity and can help normalize disability, erasing the stigma that surrounds it.
While many beloved characters have a disability, opportunities for actors with disabilities are virtually non-existent. In fact, research shows that 95 percent of top show characters with disabilities on TV are played by actors without disabilities. Yet it is still the norm for able-bodied actors to play characters with disabilities.
We call on the entertainment industry to increase opportunities for performers with disabilities by taking the following steps:
Join the Ruderman Family Foundation Pledge to audition actors with disabilities.
Cast qualified performers with disabilities, thereby improving their visibility and expanding overall talent pools.
From greater accessibility and opportunity, talented and high-profile actors with disabilities will emerge. Infusing the industry with this largely untapped source of talent promises to boost box office and network revenues while opening the market to an even broader audience, as evidenced by all previous diversity-oriented initiatives in entertainment.
Hollywood recognizes that it can’t ignore diversity, but still ignores that disability is part of that diversity.
The recommended steps listed above will change the landscape of casting people with disabilities to one of equality and support the industry’s belief that it is truly on the side of diversity. Only then will the entertainment industry finally live up to its vast potential for leadership in diversity, inclusion, social justice, and civil rights.
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