Web Series Creators Novel Concept:
Disabled Actors in PWD Roles
By Mike Ervin
television series Interrogation takes place in a world in which
people with disabilities abound. Thats 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 isnt about living with a disability. Its 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
groups tech wizard, who is almost always staring at a computer screen.
Hes 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 groups
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: Shes
our loose cannon. Nobody really knows where she stands, but shes on our
side for the moment. On a scale of one to 10, shes a badass crutch
Another disabled actor, Ann Colby
Stocking, made a guest appearance as a villain. Behind the scenes, theres
art director Patrick Wells, who is on the autism spectrum. Nelson also designs
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
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 Valentis 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 cant 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
Oh, and after you subscribe, you
should probably watch the series
and show all your friends,
Mike Ervin is a writer who lives in Chicago. His blog,
"Smart Ass Cripple," appears at smartasscripple.blogspot.com.