Disability in the Arts and Media - Access, Inclusion, Accuracy
Watch one episode of Game of Thrones and you’ll see why it is one of the most popular shows on television. It’s easy to get lost in the world of warlocks, dragons and vindictive boy-kings, but one character on the HBO drama always brings us back to reality -- Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf brother of the Queen. Tyrion shows that disabled characters need not be defined or limited by their handicap. His struggle for acceptance by his average-sized peers is clear, but he proves himself a driving force of wit and has a depth which many say no other GoT character approaches.
But historically this hasn’t been the case when disability is on screen. Creators for film and television have often used impairment to define character, stereotyping the disabled in the most obvious way as villains or pitiable individuals unable to take part in normal daily life. And more often than not, disabled characters are portrayed by able-bodied actors. On network television for the 2011/2012 season, five series include a recurring cast member that has a handicap (Glee, Raising Hope, CSI, Parenthood, and House), but of the actors in these roles, only Robert David Hall on CSI and Lauren Potter on Glee are actually disabled. Even dwarfism is often faked while full-size actors are shrunk through the magic of CG.
But things are changing, and we’re talking with three who are making it happen. Geri Jewell helped break through in 1980 when she landed the regular role of Cousin Geri on the prime time sitcom, The Facts of Life. Geri was born with cerebral palsy, but didn’t let that stop her from a successful career as actor, writer and comedienne. Geri isn’t alone; filmmaker Jenni Gold and actor Mark Povinelli are among the many with similar experiences. Join KPCC’s Shirley Jahad as she talks with Geri, Jenni, Mark and Danny at the Crawford Family Forum about how they make their disabilities work for them – their successes and disappointments – and what they will and won’t accept as they work hard in the highly competitive, fast-moving field of entertainment and media.
Shirley Jahad: KPCC news host and reporter
Geri Jewell: actress, comedienne, writer; her acting credits include television’s The Facts of Life and Deadwood, and the film, Two of a Kind. She the author of I’m Walking as Straight as I Can: Transcending Disability in Hollywood and Beyond. When not acting, Geri travels as a motivational speaker and trainer focusing on diversity, disability and LGBTQ rights. Geri has had cerebral palsy since birth.
On Feb 11th of this year, Norman Lear presented Geri Jewell with the Motion Picture Council’s Halo Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Jenni Gold: Director member of the Director's Guild of America and founder of Gold Pictures, Inc., a development / production entity located in Hollywood, California. She is an award winning filmmaker who soon will be releasing her new film CinemAbility, a documentary in which she explores the evolution of disability portrayals in film and television. Jenni has muscular dystrophy and has used a wheelchair since the age of seven.
Mark Povinelli: stage, screen and television actor; his TV and film credits include Modern Family, Boardwalk Empire, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Polar Express, Mirror Mirror, Water for Elephants and the upcoming My Next Breath. His roles also include Ibsen's iconic patriarchal husband, Torvald Helmer, in the international tour of the OBIE award-winning Mabou Mines' Dollhouse. Mark was born with a skeletal dysplasia causing dwarfism.
Danny Woodburn: performer on stage, film, television, and the comedy club circuit. He’s a veteran of over 120 television appearances with regular and recurring roles on Seinfeld, Tracy Takes On…, Murder She Wrote, Becker, Charmed, Baywatch, and Passions. A long-time advocate for Little People, he served on the Screen Actors Guild Performers with Disabilities Committee and helped negotiate better terms for disabled actors in contract talks.