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Web Series Creator’s Novel Concept:
Putting Disabled Actors in PWD Roles

By Mike Ervin

The web television series “Interrogation” takes place in a world in which people with disabilities abound. That’s because the setting is Los Angeles in the year 2098, and series creator Britain Valenti thinks by then it will be common to see disabled people involved in every aspect of life.

But Valenti has no disability, and the show she created isn’t about living with a disability. It’s about an underground band of former soldiers working together to overthrow the totalitarian regime in charge. Their greatest weapon is knowledge gained from their unorthodox interrogations.

Among the rebels is Mikey, the group’s tech wizard, who is almost always staring at a computer screen. He’s played by wheelchair user Scott Rosendall, who said, “Mikey is the type of guy who would rather be vacationing on an island paradise than holed up in some makeshift bunker trying to hack into the government system, but he knows without his tech skills the team and the fate of humanity doesn't stand a chance.”

Another rebel is Lana, the group’s ballistics expert who walks with crutches and rarely speaks. One of the crutches is a gun that looks somewhat like a bazooka. Lana is played by Mallory Kay Nelson, a single-leg amputee.

Valenti said of Lana: “She’s our loose cannon. Nobody really knows where she stands, but she’s on our side for the moment. On a scale of one to 10, she’s a badass – crutch gun included.”

Another disabled actor, Ann Colby Stocking, made a guest appearance as a villain. Behind the scenes, there’s art director Patrick Wells, who is on the autism spectrum. Nelson also designs costumes.

Valenti is happy to hire an abundance of people with disabilities for political as well as artistic reasons. According to the description of the series on its YouTube channel, it is “socially responsible … dedicated to diversity behind and in front of the camera and consistently casts disabled actors as disabled characters …”

Valenti was born and raised in New Orleans, but she moved to Los Angeles in 2013, right after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University with a master of fine arts degree in dramatic writing. The second person she met in Los Angeles was Nelson. “Through her, I found the network of disabled actors and performers. And once I knew I could find people, I knew I had to write something for them.”

Valenti heard the deep frustration that actors with disabilities meaningful roles because of the narrow-mindedness of those who write, produce and cast movies and television programs.

Rosendall moved to Los Angeles in 2006 from his native Grand Rapids, Mich. “I had a strong desire to be a working actor,” he said. “I've experienced everything from star treatment to being downright insulted. While it's likely true there are more characters with disabilities portrayed on television and film today than ever before, the disparity between the percentage of disabled individuals in society and on screen is still glaring.”

Research conducted by I AM PWD, an organization advocating for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the arts and media, concluded that although 20 percent of Americans between the ages of 5 and 64 are living with a disability, they are represented by less than 2 percent of characters on television. It also concluded that only one-half of 1 percent of words spoken on television are done so by a person with a disability.

“It seems in some cases, Hollywood would rather attach a name and hire a coach to teach an actor how to realistically portray disability,” Rosendall said. “Adding insult to injury, we're then supposed to be content with the leftover scraps, playing bit parts and background roles while the bigger names play the leading and supporting disabled roles. I've witnessed a number of actors with disabilities simply get fed up over it after years of accepting next to nothing, until they can't take it anymore and leave L.A. for greener pastures.”

Rosendall said this tide can most thoroughly be reversed by more people with disabilities becoming involved in all aspects of film and television production. “Interrogation” provides a model for that.

Valenti plays Breyson, the brazen leader of the rebel band. But Valenti’s ambition is to create and write a successful television series. These days, she said, the means to that end is to produce a web series that can attract a following.

She loves science fiction. “I was raised on classic ‘Doctor Who.’ My favorite TV show growing up was always some incarnation of ‘Star Trek.’”

She used her own money to produce the seven episodes that compose season one of “Interrogation.”

“I figured I can start paying on the student loans, or I can defer for a bit and make a web series. I wanted to make something full-out, something that just looked and felt and was 100 percent my version of a sci-fi show.”

But Valenti knows she can’t afford to finance another season like that, so she hopes to build enough of an audience to attract investors. Anyone can help, she said, by going to the “Interrogation” YouTube channel and subscribing to www.youtube.com/user/InterrogationWeb.

“Oh, and after you subscribe, you should probably watch the series … and show all your friends,” Valenti said.


Mike Ervin is a writer who lives in Chicago. His blog, "Smart Ass Cripple," appears at smartasscripple.blogspot.com.


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