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October 5, 2021 29 mins

In episode 3 we turn the spotlight on the fashion and film industries to find out why they are still playing catch up on becoming truly representative of the disabled community. We’ll hear from Jameela Jamil, RJ Mitte, Sinéad Burke, Eryn Brown, Keely Cat Wells, Jim LeBrecht, Christina Mallon and Ellie Cole, who each have their story to tell about ableism in fashion and media.


Jameela Jamil tells us about battling entertainment industry ableism as a performer with an invisible disability, while RJ Mitte tells us about how he purposefully normalized his disability in the early days of his career. We talk to CEO Keely Cat Wells, who was denied an acting job due to her disability, and now runs a talent agency for disabled talent and LA mega talent agent Eryn Brown, who herself has a disability and knows discrimination only too well, and has just started a 1 in 4’ campaign ‘aimed at instigating change in Hollywood. What will it take to change? In fashion - if 15% of the world is disabled, why aren’t 15% of catwalk models? Sinéad Burke who advocates for accessible design in fashion and was the first Little Person to feature on the cover of Vogue, speaks to us about what can be done.


Hosted by Sophie Morgan and executive produced by Sophie Morgan and Sinéad Burke, Equal Too has been created by Harder Than You Think, the award winning team behind Emmy award winning Netflix documentary Rising Phoenix, and P&G Studios. The podcast aims to continue the conversation that the documentary started.


Equal Too: Achieving Disability Equality is a new special six-part series, featured on Seneca's Conversations on Power and Purpose series, that explores the biggest challenges faced by the disabled community and starts a conversation about what is needed to drive equality.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
There's a young boy who want to do what it
was cut up from our surgery prosthetic picts burgery telling
me I'm normal, but normal. They never really made me
see they are always painting discriminated. But that seems like
such a tremendously obvious thing to do, doesn't it. Disability
sport presented by the people with disabilities. Only no one
in the world had ever done anything like that before.

(00:23):
It was revolutionary. I was looking at these kids and
they were in awe. They were like, We've never seen
this before. We don't have a disabled actress who was
an Oscar winner and who's on the cover of Vote.
I quickly found like, when we have clients who go
to jobs that are completely unrelated to disability, they would

(00:45):
consistently be asked to speak about their disabled experience. This
industry that I'm in, the entertainment industry is wonderful in
many ways and can achieve great things, but as also
responsible for so much and the world and so many
dangerous narratives, and it's responsible for so much A Raser. Yeah.

(01:33):
Throughout the interviews for this series, one issue comes up
time and time again. Representation. The general consensus appears to
be that in all parts of society, disabled people are
represented inaccurately, offensively, or worst of all, they are ignored.
In this episode, we're asking why representation matters and how

(01:58):
we can achieve more accurate it and greater representation moving forward.
I'm Sophie Morgan and this is equal to episode three.
Accurate representation matters. How many the team behind this podcast
are exceptional and I use that word deliberately. They are

(02:18):
the exception to the rule because when they made the
Netflix documentary Rising Phoenix about the Paralympic Games, they insisted
on using disabled talent both on and off screen. From
day one, disabled people were put at the heart of
the filmmaking process, Paralympians like us as Tatiana McFadden, who

(02:39):
we heard from in the last episode, was one of
Rising Phoenix's producers. The researchers were disabled as well. Even
the film's title track is a collaboration between composer Daniel
Pemberton and Crip Hop Nation, a movement of disabled hip
hop artists and musicians. Because due to the proactive approach

(02:59):
taken over six of the Rising Phoenix working days were
fulfilled by people with a disability, and in this podcast production.
Over sixty of the people involved identify as disabled. Both
projects were designed by disabled people for disabled people. Don't
fit into your perception, how dare you define me? I'm

(03:23):
beyond what you see as perfect. Rising Phoenix made its
stars into icons going into the film. Ellie Cole, an
Australian Paris swimmer and wheelchair basketballer, had already won fifteen
Paralympic medals about some Australia, and received the Order of

(03:43):
Australia and been named Cosmopolitans two thousand and fifteen Sportswomen
of the Year, but the film took her fame to
a whole new audience. I didn't really couldn't really comprehend
just had big Rising Phoenix was going to be until
probably the day it dropped on Netflix and I started
getting hundreds upon hundreds of messages from people all over

(04:05):
the world, including one David Beckham, which just blew my mind.
But for me, I'm just very proud, like I said before,
to be in a documentary that actively promoted the Paralympic movement.
I think the main basis of messages that I was
getting was we didn't really understand the struggles that Paralympians
go through. You know, we can't believe that there are

(04:25):
so many financial struggles just for the Paralympic Games to
be hosted. You know, this needs to ends. And so
I think it was almost like a movement of people
just crying out for a quality UM and I have
seen a significant change in that over the last twelve months.
Part of that change was the growing visibility of disabled

(04:46):
people in the media beyond the Games. In fact, Ellie
broke the glass ceiling when she appeared on the cover
of Australia's Women's Health magazine. I remember from me, you know,
picking up my Women's Health magazine and seeing my self
on a cover. I just had this like moment where
I reflected on my entire life and how I'd almost

(05:10):
always been put in a bit of a corner. Um.
It's almost like I was invisible, and then for me
to be able to hold this magazine and see that
like people with disabilities are all of a sudden everywhere,
Paralympic athletes are all of a sudden everywhere. You know,
people are so proud to UM own us is one
of their own. Like I know Australia is very proud

(05:31):
of their Paralympic athletes. One of our major supermarketing chains
is promoting the Olympic and Pilampic Games this month, and
they have quite a few cardboard cutouts of the athletes
all across their store. And four weeks ago, there was
this little girl, she would have been about six years old.
Um she also had one leg, and she was standing

(05:55):
next to my um my supermarket poster and I remember
seeing it and maybe tear up because I had never
had that as a child. And apparently this young girl
like saw my clad out so that I had one leg,
and she just screamed out, like, mom, there's a girl
that looks exactly like I do. These examples prove the
power of representation, that even the smallest amount of visibility

(06:20):
and recognition can have a huge impact on individual people
and the world. But right now, there is very little
representation of disabled people in the media, let alone in
Hollywood itself. But there is someone who has managed to
break through. Hello. My name is Jamia Dmill and I
am an actor, a writer, a host, and an advocate.

(06:44):
So lovely to see my favorite thing joining Jamila and
me in this conversation is Shenaid Burke said, is a
leading disability advocate who through education, advocacy, and design is
changing the fashion industry. And there's also an exact could
producer on this podcast. So I've read that you say
that you're an advocate first and all of those other

(07:05):
things after. Yes, why is that? Why do you say that? Well,
I think that's by nature. I think I'm probably recognized
still first and foremost as an actor, but I it's
what It's my driving force in life, and it has
been since I was nineteen, and it's really the only
way that I can carry on in this industry because
this industry that I'm in, the entertainment industry, is wonderful

(07:28):
in many ways and can achieve great things truly on
like a humane societal level, but it's also responsible for
putting so much into the world and so many dangerous narratives,
and it's it's responsible for so much erasure um people
with disabilities still treated as a mistake and anomaly that

(07:48):
we should just ignore and pretend aren't there and then
maybe they'll go away. And I think that it's been
really interesting to straddle this industry with as being a
public figure as well as having an invisible disability myself
so I kind of straddle both of those worlds and
recognize how often I try and bring it up, and

(08:12):
how often no one wants to hear it from me.
They just want me to look nice on the cover
of the magazine. And it really hurts my feelings because
I grew up with much more visible disabilities and I
was in crutches, on ZIMP frames, are in a wheelchairs,
and and I remember just how lost and lonely I felt,
and how I felt like I could never be loved
or I could never be accepted, or I could never

(08:34):
go out and have fun because I would never was
never able to see that reflected back at me, you know,
from any form of media, not in any magazines and
in the movies, they portray people with disabilities always as
a sub story. There is a story arc for the
non disabled person, and they are the tragedy that's weighing

(08:58):
down the non disabled person. They're never just out getting
piste and having a laugh, you know, They're never ever
having an awkward sex scene that rarely able to be
in comedy. It's just so because I remember how painful
that erasial was. I think it's why I fight for
so many different types of representation, not just disability representation,

(09:19):
but I feel as though it is the one that
is the greatest emergency of us needing to address. So
what would better representation look like? Well, currently the UN
estimates that around one billion people worldwide live with a disability.
That's about fifteen percent of us. But do we see
that fifteen percent reflected on our screens? And I just

(09:40):
don't know how many more examples we need of finally
accepting or like representing a minority and registering how it's
not only good for society at large, it's also great
for profit. You know, the Purple Pound does exist, and
there is money to be spent. People do want to
see representation and Black Panther, Crazy, Rich Asians, Bridesmaids, Shrill,

(10:04):
all these different shows that finally finally paid homage to
these different groups who exist in the world everywhere, how
well they did, and how it only made the world
a better place to have that increased diversity. And so
it is it is up to magazines and media figures

(10:25):
to represent and show up. But do we see that
fifteen percent reflected on our screens? Janaid Burke, who we
heard earlier advocates for the fashion industry to be more
inclusive of disabled people. In her TED talk, she spoke
about why design should include everyone and is now director
of the design organization Tilting the Lens, which works to

(10:48):
raise the baseline standards of accessibility in design. Her best
selling book, Break the Mold asks what it means to
be different in a world where you feel that you
don't belong. The research is really clear when we talk
to this about representation, because you know, all speaking characters
across the top movies of Titsan nineteen, only two point

(11:10):
three had a disability and of the top TV network shows,
only twelve of disabled characters who are within a minority
already or played by disabled actors. I mean when you
look at statistics like that, reflecting also on the success

(11:31):
of Crypt Camp, Rising Phoenix, Coda, Sound of Metal, some
of which we have questions about how do we change
this or is the change already happening and we just
need to be patient for it to become more accelerated.

(11:51):
Perhaps change is happening, just like Rising Phoenix, Crypt Camp
mentioned thereby, said Broke the Mold. The film even had
a co director with a disability USA is Jim labret
I was born with spider bifida. I've had a career
in audio for over forty years, as first in theater

(12:12):
and then in doing sound mixing, predominantly for documentaries in
the San Francisco Bay area. But Jim's journey to success
has not been straightforward. Here he tells ed about the
challenges he's faced in the film industry. I found myself
being really the only person that I knew with a

(12:33):
disability working in post production audio. Unfortunately, I mean fortunately,
although I can't walk. I I grew up in a
split level house just North New York City, and my
bes on the top floor. So yeah, uh, and so
I was really good at climbing stairs. And you know,

(12:57):
when you're working in theater as a sound person, you
have to be able to listen from different areas in
the theater. So I was able to park my chair
and climb out and listen from different locations. UM and
that gave me UM an incredible turning ground in regards
to the aesthetics of sound. UM and I then wound

(13:20):
up working for at an incredible facility in Berkeley, the
Salience Film Center. So all produced the English patient and
unbearable likeness of being and there was a great facility
there and the Wheelshire access was very good. Um so
I was able to work my way up there then

(13:41):
started my own business. Quip Camp explores Jim's childhood at
a summer camp and how a group of friends became
history making disability activists. The world always wants us to
We live with that reality at the time. So many
kids just like me, We're being sent to institute as
it was just a continual struggle. Disabled people like myself

(14:05):
are unable to use public transportations. We needed a civil
rights law of our own. Co directed with Nicole Newham
and with Barack and Michelle Obama as executive producers, the
film was nominated for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards.

(14:27):
Members of the Academy's Documentary Branch have chosen these nominees
for Best Documentary Feature, and they are Cript Camp. I
don't like to kind of say, oh my gosh, you know,
we broke down the walls and everything, but cript Camp
was really well regarded and what it showed Hollywood was

(14:50):
that there are authentic stories coming from the disabled community
that people don't know about, and that very rich stories,
and that also people with disabilities can make OSCAR nominated films,
and I think that it and it's also good business,

(15:13):
so as we've seen with other communities that are marginalized,
once we are able to be the people that are
producers and directors and editors and writers, that we know
where these stories are and they're unique and they're they're fresh,
and they're new, and they're incredibly compelling that people want

(15:36):
to see them. So I think that I've heard of
kind of a crypt camp effect that I think helped
open the door much wider than it had been just
cracked before. Jim spoke about wanting to see disability represented
more widely in the film industry, with disabled actors cost
in every kind of role. The world that I want

(15:59):
to live in is one of which there is a
performer who has a disability playing a role that wasn't
written specifically for someone with that disability. My kind of
joke about this is that I live for the day
when I see a one armed barrista in the background
of drama and that they are there because we are

(16:24):
part of the fabric of society. Keeley cat Wells is
from the UK and based in l A. She is
the founder of c Talent, an agency that represents disabled artists, athletes,
and influences. She tells us about some of the barriers
that still persist in the industry. I quickly found like,
when we have clients who go to jobs that are

(16:46):
completely unrelated to disability, they would consistently be asked to
speak about their disabled experience, and it was almost like
people when they spoke to them, not disabled people, would
find the most interesting thing about them be disability. And
whilst obviously it's incredibly important that we have those experts
in disability, and we do some disability consulting as well,

(17:08):
and we represent some disability subject matter experts, and that's
incredibly important, but there is also a difference between those
subject matter experts and also people who are experts in
acting in cinematography, and we mustn't confuse the two. I
think it gets exhausting for disabled people to consistently be

(17:28):
educating others on their lived experience or their access requirements.
So I think as soon as we can get these
some of these experts in subjects beyond disability, then we
can both normalize the disabled experience and then break down
those barriers in in the employment process and beyond. Everyone
is definitely open to having more conversations, but what I

(17:50):
would like to see is more action taken from those conversations.
Definitely seeing more and more organizations popping up that are
doing the work, which is amazing. But I still think
we have this massive issue of pipeline and behind the
camera representation, even though I think we're slowly slowly getting
there with in front of the camera representation, but I

(18:11):
would absolutely love to see this, you know, inequitable systems changed,
and I would like to turn those doubts that people
have into questions. I still think people are very afraid
to ask and to touch on disability just because they're
not familiar with it, and it's um they're just scared.
I think. So as soon as we can kind of

(18:31):
take that fear away, then I think we can move
move forward much quicker. But we're getting there slowly but surely.
Organizations like Keeley's are changing the conversation around disability. But
there are still long held and deeply entrenched stereotypes to confront,
and we don't need to look back far to find them. Historically,
if we look at if we look back to you know,

(18:53):
Captain Hook and the Hunchback of Notre Dame and the
media's perception of disabled people. It's been a villains or
of pity, and I think to bring that back to
society and be like, no, that's not what disability is.
This is what disability is, will be monumental to shift
perceptions in an inclusion. From books to films, TV and theater,

(19:17):
negative portrayals of disability are tightly woven throughout our culture.
Even some of our most iconic characters are made villainous
by their physical or psychological impairments, whether it's Star Wars
as Quadruple and Pute, Darth Vader, Shakespeare's poisonous Hunchback, Richard
the Third, or the wheelchair user doctor Strange Love. As

(19:40):
keenly mentioned, sometimes the representation of disabled people does more
harm than good. The late great comedian and journalist Stella Young,
who happens to be a wheelchair user, in her claimed
ted talk, describes those images you so often see of
disabled people. This is what she says, and in the
par as few years, we've been able to propagate this

(20:02):
lie even further via social media. You know you may
have seen images like this one. The only disability in
life is a bad attitude mm hmm, or this one
your excuse is invalid indeed, or this one before you
quit try. Yeah, you know, you might have seen the

(20:24):
one the little girl with no hands drawing a picture
with a pencil held in her mouth. You might have
seen a child running on carbon fiber prosthetic legs. And
these images, there are lots of them out there. They
are what we call inspiration pawn and I use the
term pawn deliberately because they objectify one group of people

(20:45):
for the benefit of another group of people. So in
this case, we're objectifying disabled people for the benefit of
non disabled people. The purpose of these images is to
inspire you, to motivate you, so that we can look
at them and think, well, however bad my life is,
it could be worse. I could be that person. Some

(21:08):
ads are created to make the viewer cry, and Christina Malon,
head of Inclusive Design at Wonderman Thompson, says, it's a
real problem and to get that emotional gut reaction to
keep your eyes on screen. But these ads do nothing
for the disabled community. They actually hurt the disabled community.

(21:30):
So when we think about inspiration, we should think about
people inspiring to act, not inspiring to cry an inspiration
porn inspires people to cry and pity the community, and
when that is one of the only kind of ads
that is out there about disability, then it makes disability

(21:54):
look like a negative experience. And like in any life experience,
you have positive and negative ones, and that's dis ability.
But it shouldn't just be the one that people see
that is inspiration born. So often we see disabled people
represented in outdated tropes, the pitiful, the vulnerable, the weak,
secondary character or the villain or superhuman. These tropes are

(22:18):
harmful and if unchallenged, leave disabled people trapped. But what
about no representation whatsoever. Aaron Brown is the founder of
one in four, a new disability coalition creating systemic change
for representation and access in Hollywood, and also a partner
at Management three sixty, one of Hollywood's biggest talent agencies.

(22:41):
She told us about the personal cost of feeling unseen,
woralthfully under represented, and, UM, I guess I've always been
subconsciously aware of that, but my real awakening to that
has been in the past couple of years about how
how missing it is um on screen. Um, something you

(23:06):
internalize the disabled person is that you don't deserve to
be portrayed on screen and my awakening is and how
misguided that is. Aaron's story reveals just how much representation matters,
and it can be especially powerful for children growing up
with a disability seeing themselves on TV or in the media.

(23:27):
This is r J. Mitty, one of the stars of
hit American drama Breaking Bad and mass media with disability
wasn't really there. No one really talked about disabilities like
I grew up talking about disabilities because my grandparents and
and I having having a disability and all the people
in my life from from physical to internal to to

(23:47):
mental disabilities. Um so I always grew up around it.
I never realized how to the majority of the world
at the time, it was so abnormal. Um And know
when when I was first started acting, I actually technically
don't see myself as disabled. Um I. And even with

(24:08):
like cerebral policy, I don't see myself categorized as having
a disability, even though I I do, um that you was.
I never told him. I never told him, never told him.
So my my my resume, I would submit, it would
just have me. I didn't put cerebral policy. I didn't

(24:30):
and and I didn't think it was relevant. It wasn't
like I it wasn't really relevant. Why why do you
need to know something that really has It's not in
the breakdown, it's not in this it's it's it's not relevant.
And so if they were looking at me a little funny, right,
and they were like, there's something like wrong with this kid,

(24:52):
I would go, oh, by the way, I have cerebral policy. Uh,
And that was just kind of nothing nothing. What do
you what are you going to say? Oh, sorry, we're
not going to see you now. Since Breaking Bad FINALI
are J has gone on to feature in multiple films
and TV shows. And you know, I think everyone has
a right to audition for a role, disabled or non disabled.

(25:16):
You roll should not discriminate on on that. It should
be about the character who that character is. Like, you know,
it's not every character that should have CP, but it
doesn't mean that the character can't have CP. Like it's
these these nuances on just looking past the the the

(25:40):
shell and looking in the more depth characters. But now
from the camera to the catwalk, what about representation in
the fashion industry, Let's go back to che book. I
never saw anybody who looked like me in spaces where
beauty was the underlying narrative because our bodies were not

(26:01):
considered to be beautiful. And it was such a joy
to be able to enter into some of those spaces.
But in time I really began to reflect, is the
system changing? Is it easier for disabled people to enter
into the fashion industry based on the trajectory that I've

(26:21):
been able to gain a build? Or did the system
change for me? M And in some ways I think
a bit of both, but more that it changed for me.
But that's not enough, because there are so few of
us who get to enter these rooms that we cannot
be satisfied by our presence alone. So we cannot be

(26:43):
satisfied by visibility alone. And we can no longer settle
for inaccurate depictions of disability and must hold to account
those who fall back on outdated and damaging cliches. As
Judy Human, star of Crip Camp, says, it's long past
time for this cultural invisibility of disabled people to end.

(27:04):
News outlets, Hollywood, and leading social media platforms must all
work towards authentic inclusion. What's clear is that only by
being in the room where the decisions are made and
power is broken. Can we guarantee accurate representation? So join

(27:24):
us next time for episode four, where we will explore
physical accessibility and how are inaccessible environments mean that too
often disabled people's needs are not met. These podcasts have
been made possible because of the support of Procter and Gamble.

(27:47):
P and G share our ambition to create a more
equal world, a world where everyone can have equal access
and the opportunity to thrive. We are very grateful for
their partnership in making these conversations a reality. Of people
with a direct involvement in the production of the podcast,
including guests identify as disabled. Hi there, I'm shrunk, feel good,

(28:10):
I am sobral palsy, and I'm a junior producer on
this podcast. For me, representation both behind the microphone and
behind the scenes are crucial for more on this story
and vowing as well as to join the discussion, go too,

(28:34):
It's too Wie dot world. This podcast was created by
Greg Nugent, co founder of Harder Than You Think. I'm
Sophie Morgan, your host and executive producer. Fellow executive producers
are Chanaid Burke, Greg Nugent, Barnaby Spurrier, Laura, i'ms, Mark

(28:58):
Pritchard and Kimberly Dobrunner. Thank you to the I p
C and Channel four for their support and use of
archive material. Thanks to our podcast production partner, Stripped Media,
and also to Seneca Women for their assistance with distributing
this show. If you want to follow the equal to
story and join the conversation hashtag equal to, go to

(29:23):
our website ht white E dot world, where you will
also find the transcript and video versions of the podcast,
along with subtitles and a BSL signed version in the
coming days.
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