I am not now, and never have I been, a visionary. My habit is to observe, consider, delight in, learn from, and seek answers in life on the edge. My family and my style have always kept me not quite fitting into the norm, but always close enough to live in a state of wanting to fit in while wanting to be comfortable standing out.
From this place, I have explored diversity: in my ideas, in the people of my life, in the cultures I live in and visit, and in the stories I choose to watch, read, tell, and believe.
But I am not one who sees clearly outside of the common narrative. Though I am poised to understand because of my positioning, I almost always need a nudge.
Thus, I am one of those people who appreciates with great passion the people (like my mom) who step out and speak up thoughtfully and with passion about what they see, what they don't see, and how they understand it to be affecting us. These people bring me news from the places I see on the horizon, point out connections that are often missing in regular discourse.
When I was young I confess to a fear of believing in these people. These speakers of truth that rattle the status quo. I don't like confrontation and would worry about being challenged, not confident in my own ability to explain an insight I was unsure of, even while knowing that my uncertainty had more to do with my fear of being confronted than the insight itself.
Happily, though, as I've matured I've grown better at listening, doing my darndest to understand, and then diving into my own personal thinking on the subject.
So, I admit it. I didn't always agree or see that there was a lack of diverse storytelling and inclusion in our Hollywood films. I also didn't always see how it was affecting me. How it was teaching me what to expect, who to include, and how to do so.
But I have, over the years, been shifted into an important understanding. I've listened, observed, and considered the lack of true diversity in our mainstream films and am surprised by how clueless I've been!
It's not only the lack of representation in important roles (the stars, the writers, the directors, the producers) who are rarely women, disabled, black or brown, openly gay or transgender. It's also in the stories themselves, what we tell and how we tell them (which, I'm certain, is a by-product of the lack of diversity in the folks being paid to tell the stories).
Inclusion in film is, finally, slowly, growing, which has mostly revealed to me how dangerous it was that we were missing out on it all along.
Our movies aren't just what we watch when we want a respite from life or a night out. They inform our thinking, introduce us to concepts, bring people into our hearts and homes. They help us know a bigger world that we can ever discover on our own, breaking down barriers and building bridges.
Those of us who see ourselves in these stories rarely notice who we aren't seeing. I'm not beautiful*, but I'm an able-bodied pretty enough white girl. I've seen myself represented in the "friend" role of films many times. Heck, I even fashioned my life that way for a long while. Wanting to say the wise things to my beautiful family member or friend when they were struggling with a problem. Wanting to be the one there in the exact right moment to say the thing that would bring the beautiful person's conflict to a close. Because of me but not about me.
*Please note that in this context I'm referring to a type of Hollywood beautiful. I know that I am beautiful. We all are. But this is a story about representation in a visual medium. Okay? Okay. Thanks!
But what happens when the person you are is rarely seen in the stories? Sure, we are all in the main the same - desiring love, acceptance, support, and a bit of stability - but we are vastly different, too.
And so if I was disabled or gay or obese or black or brown (and so on) I wouldn't often see myself in a mainstream starring role or even an important role. I wouldn't see my worries or needs or unique issues discussed and brought to light. And when I was represented on screen it would most often be as a plot device, a person to pity, or a social activist type hero. Not often, almost never, as a good ol' fashion regular person in the starring role of a mainstream film about: FADE IN having a problem, finding love, learning something about myself, and finally fixing my problem, FADE OUT.
At the Oscars last night, which I saw the last half of, there was a bit of diversity. That was nice. But it wasn't until Frances McDormand gave her Oscar-winning acceptance speech that I learned the term "Inclusion Rider" and knew how very many people agree and believe in the need for this shift in filmmaking!
If, like me, you thought she was saying "inclusion writer" and thought, "Well, that's a strange way to put it. I mean, we need writers who are inclusive and stuff, but an inclusion writer makes it sound, I dunno, weird. Plus, it's not that we need writers who include diverse characters and storylines, although we do and that helps, but what we need are writers who are different and diverse themselves. Inclusion writer sounds almost like a way to keep diversity out by writing them in, giving them a pat on the back and saying, 'There ya go, friend.' That's not cool."
Well, no. That's not what she was saying at all! It turns out that actors can insist on an Inclusion Rider clause in their contracts which insists on a certain level of diversity in the cast and crew for that project. That's fantastic!!! I love that!!
Inclusion already makes life better. Imagine how much better our movies will be when we open them up to everyone!!
In a film that stars a character with a disability it would be wonderful to see actors with the disability play the role.
I've been on the set of a film that did just that. I played the role of Sherry (and I did production assistant work) for the pilot film Living with Lynette.
The show's intention is to hire actors, writers, and crew with challenges and disabilities.
The episode I'm in stars actors with autism, bipolar disorder, even a man (my dad) who was dying from cancer. The director/writer is Dr. Lynette Louise ("The Brain Broad"), world-renowned Brain & Behaviour expert. We had a camera operator who had a learning disability, and her brother was on the autism spectrum. He also played, along with his mom, a small role in the film.
Working with autistic actors in Living with Lynette presented challenges. But filmmaking is ALWAYS filled with challenges and filmmakers get beautifully creative when put in a position to problem solve! So, I don't see the problem! ;D
It's important to include everyone in our storytelling and a great way to do that is to encourage, invite, and embrace all types. The idea of an Inclusion Rider is clever. That's something A-List actors can do.
And something audiences can do is demand it. We are ultimately the people filmmakers need to please. It is our money, reviews, money, attention, and money that they are craving. We are their lifeblood. Their nourishment. Let's see the films with the most different than us cast. Seek the stories that represent and hire a more diverse world.
And, when appropriate, we should bring our children! Show them, tell them, believe in them! Make sure they know that they can be our important storytellers, too. Not some of our children, all of our children!
I love film. Heck, I've written a screenplay myself and hope one day to see it on the big screen. (Yes, my screenplay has a diverse group of characters, thanks for asking!) I think that even if we don't want to make movies it is necessary that we remember the role we play in choosing what movies are made.
And in my role as important movie decider I'm signing my own personal moviegoing Inclusion Rider right now. I may not be a visionary or a great leader but I will certainly choose what visions and leaders I want to support.
Feel free to join me!
Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)