You may or may not be familiar with #FilmDis, a discussion about portrayals of disability in the media facilitated by Dominick Evans (and guests) on Twitter. Dominick is an aspiring filmmaker and passionate disability rights activist. We are delighted to share that FilmDis has recently gained non-profit status as a media monitoring organisation. We asked Dominick about the organisation’s plans for the future.
Film In Dublin: Is FilmDis going to look at global representations of disability in the media or will it stick to the US?
Dominick Evans: While FilmDis is a national non-profit based in the United States, we will not shy away from discussing problems with portrayals and representation as we see them internationally. I also, personally, have close relationships with disabled people in various countries including Australia, the UK, Sweden, and Poland. I was proud to work with activists in the UK and Australia when we were protesting Me Before You. I was one of the main people coordinating many of the international discussions, and making people in the UK and Australia aware of what we were doing advocacy wise here in the United States, during the protests. So, I have a huge interest to continue collaborating on an international level, simply because this problem exists worldwide.
Thanks to the Internet, media has become so much more of a global experience, so even if a film or television show, a comic book or a Broadway show is made or produced in another country it still is having an effect and impact on disabled people here in the United States. As such, it is prudent for FilmDis to advocate on international issues with disability in the media.
FID: Is there anything specific you’d like to share about the organisation’s aims?
Dominick Evans: FilmDis is a national media monitoring organization focused on inclusion and bettering portrayals of disabled people in all forms of media. Media can mean anything we consume as a form of entertainment and/or education including but not limited to film, television, web-based media such as web series’, podcasts, and mixed media, books, comics, Broadway shows, and as it continues to emerge, I’m certain we will eventually focus on virtual reality. We are as focused on reality-based media such as the news, documentaries, and reality television, as we are narrative fiction. We hope to see greater inclusion for disabled people as creators, as well as greater inclusion in the ability and access to consume such media.
We will be finding ways to encourage inclusion and greater education on portraying disability by working with those within these media forms who are producing such works. We will also be calling out harmful portrayals and/or disabled mimicry, as well as highlighting positive portrayals and examples of inclusion. Disabled mimicry, often called cripping up, is when nondisabled people attempt to portray disability, often using inaccurate or harmful physical stereotypes to physically show said disability. Disability is not something you can act. Disabled people simply are disabled, and instead of spending all their energy focusing on physically depicting a disability, they have the ability simply to perform the character.
FID: Just playing Devil’s Advocate here, but why do you think FilmDis Monitoring Organisation is needed?
Dominick Evans: FilmDis is necessary because representation matters. It impacts nearly every aspect of disabled people’s lives…from how they are treated by strangers on the street to the kind of disability legislation that is passed or not. Nondisabled people look to the media to understand that which they have no experience with, so we need to be responsible with portrayals for those reasons alone.”
FilmDis aspires to move beyond the “disability” narrative to show that disabled people are far more complex than just their disabilities. Our disabilities are a part of us, but they do not define us. They impact our outlook on the world, and that’s why disability cannot be acted. That is not anything you can teach someone. Disabled people simply are disabled. You just can’t fake that. At least not convincingly.
Right now, disabled people are not even allowed to play themselves. They are not even being cast in disabled roles over 90% of the time. I urge you to ask this question, “If we can’t play ourselves…who can we play?”
FID: FilmDis Media Monitoring Organisation is coming at a critical moment, as Dominick says, PWD are the last marginalised group to have their civil rights movement. Of the last 30 Best Actress nominations at the Oscars, 9 won for ‘cripping up’ or representing a disability they did not have. Considering the massive popularity of Me Before You both as a film and a novel, ableist representations of disabled characters are a mainstream problem. The main character would literally rather die than live life in a wheelchair. More recently, Split exploited disability as something to be feared – mental illness is the villain of the piece.
If you consider yourself an activist or believe in equality, remember that intersectionality includes people with disabilities.