Saturday, May 10, 2008

Disability themes breaking through in Hollywood?

New Mobility magazine's May issue has an article investigating whether disability themes and disabled actors are making headway in Hollywood. Writer Jeff Shannon's findings are a mixed bag.

Two disability themed TV pilots, starring disabled actors -- "Special Unit" and "I'm With Stupid" -- were greenlighted through the production and pilot stage, but in the end, no network picked up the pilots.

Actor Danny Murphy, who is a quadriplegic, has had parts in the films "Kingpin," "Shallow Hal" and "There's Something About Mary" and serves as vice chairman of the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) Performers with Disabilities Committee. Murphy co-founded Value Added Script Services, which tries to get more disabled performers into TV, stage and film roles.

"Anyone on the SAG committee would roll their eyes if they heard we were on the verge of a breakthrough," Murphy says. "We're developing a strategy that we hope will break the entertainment industry's 'lead ceiling' for people with disabilities, but there's still a lot of fear, hesitancy and discomfort with disability at the producer and studio executive level, and there's a lot of evidence that we're not making as much progress as we'd like to."

Murphy had a role in the pilot of the American spinoff of the British sitcom "I'm with Stupid," but those disabled performers associated with the show say it probably wasn't picked up for legitimate reasons -- it may not translated well into an American context.

"I'm With Stupid," which was produced by NBC Universal and starred disabled actor Bryan Dilbeck, focused on a disabled loner who befriends a homeless man and was set within a residential group home, which has a different structure in a country like Britain that has socialized medicine.

"According to Murphy and others, that didn't accurately reflect the experience of most people with disabilities in the United States," New Mobility reports.