Danny Woodburn Challenges Hollywood Over Inclusion And Diversity

Susan Macdonald

Danny Woodburn is challenging Hollywood. Inclusion and diversity are popular buzzwords in Hollywood these days. Despite the fuss and fury over social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, there's another group Hollywood has been ignoring for decades, and still continues to ignore. Danny Woodburn is accusing Hollywood of ignoring a fifth of the U.S. population. Woodburn is using social media to do it: the Huffington Post, Facebook, and Twitter.

Which minority is ignored the most in Hollywood, according to Danny Woodburn? Approximately 13 percent of the U.S. population is African-American. Roughly 17 percent of the United States is Hispanic. Over 56 million people -- 19 percent of Americans -- have a disability. People with disabilities are seldom considered when scriptwriters create characters and casting directors attempt to fill the roles. Woodburn wants to correct that.

"People with disabilities are systematically excluded from the topic of diversity and inclusion whenever a discussion comes up... The diversity discussion has not been very diverse... You don't get to call it inclusion or diversity and... decide not to mention people with disability. And you have not mentioned them. I've searched. I've read. I've listened. I've watched all the recent media coverage on 'diversity,' and disability is not part of the discussion."
"Why do I need to educate you about access to employment, when you hold a casting call for a person in a wheelchair on the second floor of building without an elevator? Clearly, you had no intention of hiring someone in a wheelchair. Why do I need to educate you about casting a non-amputee person to play an amputee; yet you want advice from the actor who happens to be an amputee, whom you never even auditioned."

Dr. Frances Ryan, in the Guardian, compared casting able-bodied actors to play characters with disabilities to acting in blackface.

"While 'blacking up' is rightly now greeted with outrage, 'cripping up' is still greeted with awards. Is there actually much difference between the two? In both cases, actors use prosthetics or props to alter their appearance in order to look like someone from a minority group. In both cases they often manipulate their voice or body to mimic them. They take a job from an actor who genuinely has that characteristic, and, in doing so, perpetuate that group's under-representation in the industry."
"Due to the increasing use of Computer Generated Imagery to create Computer Generated Impairments, Hollywood is shrinking non-disabled actors to play Hobbits and shrinking our career opportunities... Disabled actors could save Hollywood studios millions of dollars because they wouldn't need to CGI us."

"But in those rare films where disabled actors have played the leads, like Deaf actress Marlee Matlin, so good in Children of a Lesser God in 1986, or Peter Dinklage, who has dwarfism and played the lead in The Station Agent in 2003... their real life disabilities, far from a detraction, give their performances an edge that no CGI could replicate."

"When you who have the media's eyes and ears, effectively the world, and make no mention of your struggling brothers and sisters who meet with a whole set of obstacles everyday that you take for granted or overlook or just don't know about, then you are not speaking of real inclusion."

Actor/director Eli Van Sickel asked HowlRound "if able-bodied actors continue to be cast in these roles, what opportunities are left for disabled actors?" Danny Woodburn -- and an increasing amount of other people -- are asking the same question.

[Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]