29 December 2016

Talking authentic disability representation in media on the Neighbuzz podcast


A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed for the Neighbuzz podcast. It was a special bonus episode focused on disability.  Neighbuzz is hosted and produced by Vaya Pashos, who I've been chatting to on Twitter for years. It was so good to finally meet in real life! I love Neighbuzz because it's more than just recapping the show. It's bloody funny, and Vaya and her team often talk about serious current affairs such as consent, victim blaming and of course, diverse casting. It's also really well produced.

I put Vaya and my friend Kate Hood in touch - Kate recently joined the Neighbours cast for a month. Sancia Robinson - who played Elaine, a quadriplegic woman in 2013 - also joined us for the podcast. Sancia currently works as a casting director and I truly think our discussion will influence the way she makes decisions about diverse casting.

Listen to our podcast
I watch Neighbours most days - it's a soap I've been watching for years. And so I was excited to see Kate Hood joining Neighbours. This is a pivotal moment in Australian TV history - Kate is an actually disabled woman playing a disabled character - Maxine Cowper. 

Kate and I met at Quippings in 2014 - she is a wonderful writer, accomplished actor (she used to be on Prisoner), director and producer at Raspberry Ripple Productions, and has a beautiful voice. She narrates a lot of audiobooks. Kate's character Maxine is from the wrong side of the tracks - tough talking, and enmeshed in Paul Robinson's crookery from her first episode. 

Her opening scene: "I may be in a wheelchair, but I can still put away a few tinnies."

You're probably aware that talking about disability and media representation is one of the things I love to do. So it was a brilliant opportunity to talk to people who get it - who are directly involved in making their own media and influencing  We joked that four women on a podcast would make it so hard for listeners - a la the commercial radio fable that women can't host their own radio show. 


It was also great to chat about Me Before You and the reason we protested online and in front of cinemas  Many non disabled people didn't understand our reasons, and defended the book and film as fiction. A few "friends" actually defriended me because apparently my involvement was OTT. But the truth is, representation matters. The narrative that being disabled means a life is not worth living shapes how disabled people see ourselves, and of course, how disability is perceived in real life. 

Representation matters. Fiction can damage people. A friend who has a disability told me the film impacted them so much they felt worthless, and was made to feel suicidal. They were thankful for us speaking out about the film - our actions helped save them. My friend told me they have no doubt others with spinal cord injuries felt the same watching and reading about Me Before You. 

We all discussed the idea of "cripping up" - when a non disabled actor plays a disabled character - and how it's not acceptable to black up, so why is it ok to crip up? You'll hear that Sancia felt very uncomfortable playing a disabled person, but took the role very seriously. 

I also talked about how disability is the last taboo with jokes in the media. A month ago I watched half of How to Be Single and was disgusted. Rebel Wilson's character joked about dating "midgets and albinos". I wondered when the day will come when actors can opt out of ableist lines and script writers will avoid writing them? Will media makers ever realise that ableism is as bad a racism and homophobia? Perhaps a better question to ask is, when will they even recognise what's ableist, and the impact ableism has on disabled people?

Kate and Sancia bonded straight away. They chatted like old friends. 

The Neighbuzz chat was lots of fun, and very well considered.  I hope helps make people think about the positive impacts of authentic casting. It was so lovely to meet Vaya and Sancia, and to hear what a great experience Neighbours has been for Kate. Thanks for having me Vaya! 

All the links: 

Listen to our episode of Neighbuzz here:

Keep up with Neighbuzz on Facebook 
Visit the Neighbuzz website 
Follow Neighbozz on Twitter
Chat to Vaya on Twitter

Follow Sancia on Twitter 
Watch Sancia's play What's the Matter Mary Jane?

Follow Kate on TwitterFacebook and her website  
Find out more about Raspberry Ripple Productions 

Has this blog post helped you or made you think? Please consider buying me a drink. 

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