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“Never Have I Ever,” “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,” “The One,” and “9-1-1” also honored for authentically casting actors with disabilities
Boston, November 3, 2021 – The Apple TV+ comedy-drama and Sundance Film Festival hit “CODA,” whose cast includes Academy Award-winning actor Marlee Matlin, is among the five productions honored today by the Ruderman Family Foundation for practicing the inclusion and authentic representation of people with disabilities in the entertainment industry.
Matlin is the only actor who is deaf to win the Oscar for Best Actress (“Children of a Lesser God,” 1987). In 2017, she received the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion for her lifelong activism for people with disabilities.
“Full inclusiveness and authentic representation is so important to me,” said Matlin on learning that CODA had been honored with the award. “My first theatrical film, Children of a Lesser God, was the first to star a deaf actor in a leading role. Though it has been 34 years, CODA has broken barriers in the feature world just like my first film, this time featuring not one but three Deaf actors in leading roles, playing each authentically. I hope that this recognition will serve as an example of how films can be authentically cast while being entertaining and profitable!”
The Foundation’s Seal of Authentic Representation award recognizes films and television series whose casting decisions demonstrate a commitment toward full inclusiveness in popular culture. The current group of honorees includes:
“It is particularly poignant to see the latest studio productions that are implementing these inclusive practices do so by casting actors with disabilities from across generations, from a trailblazer such as Marlee, to Nadia, to young and up-and-coming actors like Lily, Kayla, and Gavin,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “This once again reflects Hollywood’s growing shift toward authentic representation and the entertainment industry’s long-awaited adoption of disability as part of the definition of diversity.”
“I’m so thrilled ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Okay’ is receiving this incredible and well-deserved honor,” said Deanna Brigidi, the show’s casting director. “It is my belief that inclusivity in casting needs to start from the very top — with the studio & network executives, show creators, and show runners making a commitment to authenticity. From the start, Josh Thomas and Stephanie Swedlove emphasized their commitment to not only casting an autistic actor as Matilda, but also to giving opportunities to autistic actors to play Matilda’s classmates, friends, and love interest. Josh and Stephanie were prepared to use any and every resource in order to find the right Matilda and we certainly did in Kayla Cromer. Her poignant performance in the series unquestionably demonstrates that representation matters and that people with disabilities are ready to tell their own stories.”
“I remember I was sad because my sister always had auditions and I wanted to do it too. I didn’t really think it would ever happen but one day my mom said, ‘Gavin you have an audition,’” Gavin McHugh said. “I was so excited, and I couldn’t believe it when ‘9-1-1’ picked me. Sometimes it’s hard but everyone at ‘9-1-1’ does everything they can to help me. I even have a cool trailer with an elevator so I can get to set quickly. I am very honored and excited to receive this award!”
“I was delighted to be cast as Amy in ‘The One’. I loved the concept of the show and playing her was a real joy,” said Nadia Albina. “I have seen a lot of progress in the industry in the last ten years, with casting directors fighting to see better representation on screen and producers following suite. I really hope this continues and becomes even bolder in casting actors with disabilities in a range of complex, challenging roles.”
“Nadia is an exceptionally talented actor and in casting her as Amy in ‘The One’, we were acutely aware of the soul and depth she would bring to the role and to the series as a whole,” said Lauren Evans, casting director for show. “It was very important to us that Nadia’s disability didn’t define the role of Amy and that the script didn’t seek to reference it in any way. To receive the Foundation’s Seal of Authentic Representation has highlighted again just how crucial this approach is when fighting for better representation and inclusion on our screens.”
“It is an amazing honor that ‘Never Have I Ever’ acknowledges that people like me deserve a voice in the world. I’m glad they see we are unique, beautiful, and brave!” said Lily D. Moore.
The Seal of Authentic Representation is awarded when productions meet two criteria: they feature actors with disabilities with a speaking role of at least five lines; and they are in, or on the verge of, general release. The Foundation announces the honor whenever a film or TV series meets those standards.
After a groundbreaking study conducted by the Ruderman Family Foundation in 2016 had discovered that an astonishing 95 percent of top show characters with disabilities on TV were played by actors without disabilities, a new study released by the Foundation in February 2020 documented progress, revealing that 22 percent of all characters with disabilities on network television are portrayed authentically by an actor with the same disability. According to the same study, 20 percent of characters with disabilities are authentically casted on streaming services.