Shining the Spotlight on People With Disabilities
Breaking into the entertainment industry is difficult, and for people with disabilities that challenge is even greater as they are underrepresented both in front of and behind the camera. The Easterseals Disability Film Challenge is working to change that narrative by empowering artists through a two-day film competition that showcases talent and jumpstarts careers.
The power of quality storytelling is its ability to influence, inspire and change people’s perceptions about who we are, how we see ourselves and how we understand and empathize with other people.
Since 2018, NBCUniversal has partnered with Easterseals, which is the nation’s leading service provider for people with disabilities, to support the Film Challenge. Each year, aspiring storytellers write, produce and complete a short film within a 55-hour timeframe. Through entertaining films, the Film Challenge aims to break down misperceptions and advance disability inclusion in entertainment – currently, less than two percent of characters in film and television have disabilities and less than five percent of these characters are actually played by people with disabilities.
As part of the prize package, winners of the Best Film category gain the opportunity to meet with Universal Filmed Entertainment Group executives and participate in a behind-the-scenes lot tour at Universal Studios Hollywood, gaining the kind of exposure that, as any filmmaker or actor can attest, is invaluable.
Below meet two talented winners who landed roles on NBC shows including New Amsterdam and Superstore as a result of their participation in Easterseals Disability Film Challenge:
After suffering a spinal cord injury in 2016, actor and model Danny Gomez was slow to recover, despite support from a medical team, family and friends, and struggled to find meaning in his life. Danny said that participating in and winning in the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge changed him forever.
“That moment marked the first time I saw myself in a new and positive light; something I hadn’t felt since before my accident. The energy from the audience in that theater made me feel proud to be connected to a group of people who represented diversity and disability inclusion,” Danny says. “The power of quality storytelling is its ability to influence, inspire and change people’s perceptions about who we are, how we see ourselves and how we understand and empathize with other people. I am a real-life example of how Easterseals and its compassionate partners like Comcast NBCUniversal are advancing careers for people with disabilities in Hollywood, and how it is having a tremendous impact on the way the world defines and views disabilities.”
He’s added a modeling campaign with Zappos Adaptive and a guest appearance on NBC’s hit medical drama New Amsterdam to his growing resume. Click here to see a clip of Danny G. Gomez on New Amsterdam.
With a bachelor’s degree in theater arts and a master’s in fine arts for performance, Nicole Lynn Evans set out to pursue her dream of becoming an actor, but she found that there were few audition opportunities available for people with disabilities. So, she took matters into her own hands. “Eventually, I started writing my own material so I could create roles that were uniquely mine,” Nicole says. “For example, Dr. Vickie Ziegler, a 3’8” dwarf who uses a wheelchair, is a brilliant therapist and doesn’t always practice what she preaches.”
Nicole said that winning the best actor award at Easterseals Disability Film Challenge opened many incredible doors for her. Since the Challenge she has booked a role on NBC's Superstore, as well as a few other reoccurring guest roles on national television series.
While this year’s challenge is postponed as a result of COVID-19, you can watch this PSA from active Film Challenge participants, encouraging everyone to #StayHomeSaveLives.