ANOUSHA SAKOUI, Los Angeles Times
After her first experience of the Cannes Film Festival in 2008, talent manager Eryn Brown wanted to end her nascent Hollywood career. Attending film markets such as Cannes can be grueling for most attendees, with parties and meetings held in busy hotels, restaurants, theaters, even aboard yachts. For Brown, who has a congenital, unidentified disability and uses leg braces to walk, accessing many of the buildings and events was a struggle. At the iconic red steps at the Palais des Festivals, where women are expected to wear high heels, Brown either had to be carried or use a side entrance and be separated from her clients. Inside, accessible seating was reserved. “I actually contemplated leaving the business,” Brown, 47, said. “I thought, if I have to go through this dehumanization every year, I don’t think I can do it. I want to be the best at what I do, which involves filmmakers, and Cannes is the pinnacle, so how can I do that?”
Brown didn’t quit. Instead, she pushes for greater access for others with disabilities who have been hindered by discrimination in the film and TV industry.
Last month, the Stanford graduate officially launched 1in4, an initiative run from her Los Angeles home, 13 years after her first humiliating experience at Cannes. The grassroots coalition of executives and creatives has called on studios, streaming companies, talent agencies and other businesses to include disabled people in their diversity programs.
“We need to see a commitment from the contractors and vendors that really feed the studios and streamers,” Jim LeBrecht, the Oakland-based co-writer and co-director of this year’s Oscar-nominated disability rights documentary “Crip Camp.” LeBrecht, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, is one of the cofounders of 1in4 and featured in the documentary. Brown represents Nicole Newnham, the film’s co-writer and co-director.
“I’m yearning for this day [when] … we see our representation in comedies and on television and in film and in dramas that really represents our true numbers in society, and really has storylines that are much truer to our everyday lives.”
Of all speaking characters across the top 100 movies of 2019, only 2.3% had a disability, according to a study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. Another study of the top 10 network TV shows for 2018 found just 12% of disabled characters were played by disabled actors, according to the Ruderman Family Foundation.
Brown said she was inspired to start a campaign for the disabled community after last year’s Sundance festival gave “Crip Camp” an audience award and racial justice protests refocused attention on Hollywood to diversify.
“I started to examine this greater rise in consciousness that we’re experiencing about marginalization and systemic discrimination, and in these conversations, I found that disability was always left out,” Brown said. “When I tried to advocate for disability being part of the conversation, I was met with indifference and in some cases hostility.”
Brown reached out to LeBrecht and others to form a group — also called 1in4 — to advocate for change in Hollywood. The name refers to the proportion of the adult U.S. population with visible or invisible disability. The group is in the process of registering as a nonprofit and is being financed by the coalition members, private donations and the pro-bono work of allies, Brown said.
The group has called on studios and others to add disability to their diversity policies, employ disabled people at all levels and create more content about disability by and with disabled people. The group also asks that employers require an accessibility coordinator for productions and that talent representatives work with disabled artists.
So far, Brown said, her group has met with representatives from Netflix, Amazon and talent agencies. She said the meetings have been positive. None of the companies would comment for this article.
One problem is that there are few executives in the industry greenlighting projects from the disabled community, LeBrecht said.
“I don’t think anybody’s really appreciated that the stories don’t have to be these harmful portrayals of people,” LeBrecht said. “There are really unique, compelling stories out there. But … we weren’t able to reach people to pitch them to necessarily.”
LeBrecht cites the 2016 Warner Bros movie “Me Before You,” as an example of harmful ideas about disabled people perpetuated by Hollywood. The film drew criticism of its portrayal of a paralyzed banker. Warner Bros. declined to comment.
Click here to read the full article in the Los Angeles Times.