The annual Media Access Awards, Hollywood’s most sustained effort to recognize those who promote characters, storylines, and actors with disabilities in film and television, has had a checkered history of late. Begun in the late 1970’s by Norman Lear and others to simply introduce the idea that people with disabilities belong on the big canvas of American entertainment, the event has been through a dizzying array of formats and funding over the decades. In the middle of the current decade, it was run out of Sacramento by the California Economic Development Department, good people but completely unskilled in doing show biz events. In 2007, like everyone else, the EDD ran out of money and cancelled the Media Access Awards. For two years they were gone and forgotten. Award shows are a dime a dozen in Hollywood and they die every day – remember the CableAce Awards or the Hollywood Pet Awards?
But the MAAs didn’t die. A number of disabled activists, along with the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA, now merged as SAG-AFTRA, the Producers Guild, the Writers Guild, and the Casting Society of America, took the matter into their own hands. They streamline the awards, turned the event into a press breakfast instead of a dragged-out, black-tie evening affair, and started raising funds. The guilds all kicked in and the ever-dependable Reeve Foundation, through the efforts of Sam Maddox, both made a generous contribution and reinstated an annual Acting Scholarship for a deserving young performer with a disability. And heading up the whole operation was a real producer, Deborah Calla, associated with the Producers Guild.
People outside of Hollywood are always asking what does the producer actually “do”? In the simplest terms, the producer makes the whole thing happen. Deborah Calla, co-chairing these awards with me, stepped up and produced the Media Access Awards back into existence.
That was three years ago. Cut to the 2012 edition of the awards, held two weeks ago at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. With support from industry stalwarts like NBCU, William Morris Endeavor, the Starz network, as well as Reeve, an SRO crowd showed up to munch croissants and rub elbows with the stars. Jimmy Kimmel, the TV man of the hour, hosted and notables like Jane Lynch, William H. Macy, John Hawkes, and the Push Girls help hand out the trophies.
And the winners were every bit as impressive as the presenters.
Ben Lewin, himself disabled from polio, won the WGA Evan Somers Award as the writer – as well as the director – of “The Sessions,” the real-life story of the late, severely disabled writer, Mark O’Brien, and his quest to lose his virginity. Go see “The Sessions.” When Oscars time comes around, you’ll be way ahead of the crowd.
Lauren Potter, the cheerleader with Downs on “Glee,” received the SAG-AFTRA Harold Russell Award from her weekly tormenter on the show, Jane Lynch. The Producers Guild George Sunga Award went to Shondra Rhymes, creator of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” and a long-time proponent of authentic characters with disabilities. To learn more, just Google “2012 Media Access Awards” and check out the 5000 entries.
You know you have arrived in Hollywood when you can’t count the number of paparazzi flashing off photos at blinding speed and yelling, “Jimmy, over here, Lauren, please look up, Shondra, to the right!” If you hold an event in this image-crazed place and cameras don’t show up, you’re wasting your time.
In year three of the new and revived Media Access Awards, the cameras were there, the stars were there, an impressive list of honorees were there, and the message of disability inclusion reached millions. If the Grammys are the annual media parade of the music industry and the Emmys are that of TV, the Hollywood disability community now has its own unique and ever-burgeoning showcase. And this time it won’t go away.
© 2012 Allen Rucker |