“If I Can’t Play Beyonce, Beyonce Cant Play Me” this is a quote that has stuck with me, not only because I am a member of the Beyhive, but because I heard it from an amazingly talented actor and stand-up comic named Mason Zayid, who is living with Cerebral Palsy. she said this because opportunities for people with disabilities are far and few between in the media. Often film and TV get able-body people to portray someone with a disability. It can be an opportunity to show the true diversity and hire disabled actors and, also help us to be gainfully employed. I think it was very fitting for the fun I had this past week. It was truly my pleasure to meet some awesome new people and a few familiar ones. We all came together for our love of diversity in the media. Which you know I’m very passionate about. It’s nice to see they’re others that feel passionate about the very thing I’ve dreamt about since I was a lil girl. I use to think I was the only one. It’s nice to find out I’m not alone. First I met Donna Walton, she is a dynamic woman who started an online organization called Divas With Disabilities, and I had heard about this group but it was such a pleasure to meet the founder, especially since you know I’ve always considered myself a diva who happens to have a disability! ;p She came along with Lauren Applebaum who is the Communications Director of RespectAbility which is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Donna also serves on the board of RespectAbility.
I accompanied Donna, Lauren and a few other divas that are based here in LA, to a few networking events to bring awareness to the fact that we are female black actors with disabilities and what can we do to let Hollywood know we are here and ready to work. The main event I attended along with the divas was Engage: Navigating Hollywoods Shifting Landscape. This event was run by Pepperdine University. At the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, in the Starlight Room. When I got to the hotel which was beautiful by the way, getting into the hotel was a bit of a challenge as far as hills. The Starlight ballroom was off to the side of the hotel and you had to climb a very steep ramp just to get inside. A gentleman offered to help me get in because the ramp was such a challenge. Once I entered the accessibility was do-able. One suggestion for the people who organized the event. It would have been great to have a designated spots for wheelchairs, but it was plenty of room to remove a chair or two and slide in. It required some help, so a gentleman offered to help me.
While I was there I got a lot of great advice from some of the top producers, actors, in the tv and film industry. We got to talk to a lot of them about hiring actors with disabilities and telling positive stories of us. One of the panelists James Lopez (Producer, Head of Motion Pictures, Will Packer Productions) who I asked a question to about hiring actors with disabilities, and he actually said, “I never really thought about actively going out and seeking to hire people with disabilities”, and he followed up with saying, “Maybe I need to do better” This was so alarming. I hope this is something that stays on their minds, and It’s why I love what I do because not only are people with disabilities not getting hired for roles, minority actors with disabilities are least likely to get hired. Then our own people,( other people of color) don’t even think about hiring us either. We cant talk about diversity and forget about the diversity of our own people and exclude them. All in all, I’m glad the conversation is happening and that I can be an active participant in the change I’ve always wanted to see.
Until next time Thanks for reading. Check out photos below!! 🙂
Tatiana A. Lee