EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures Entertainment has become the fourth major studio to sign the Ruderman Family Foundation’s pledge to audition actors with disabilities for each of its new productions. The Foundation says that SPE’s commitment also furthers its campaign to continue to improve the portrayal of disabilities in films and TV shows.
“Sony Pictures values the partnership and relationship we have with the Ruderman Family Foundation and their tremendous support in furthering opportunity for the disability community,” said Paul Martin, SPE’s chief diversity officer.
The Ruderman Foundation is one of the nation’s leading advocates for the disabled – and, for many years, was one of the harshest critics of Hollywood’s portrayal of people with disabilities.
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CBS Entertainment was the first to sign the pledge, in June 2019, followed by NBCUniversal in January of this year, and Paramount Pictures in May.
The pledge states that “We recognize that disability is central to diversity, that the disability community comprises one of the largest minority groups in our country, and that people with disabilities face exclusion in front of and behind the camera. We understand that increasing auditions, no matter the size of the role, is a critical step towards achieving inclusion in the industry. We will continue to champion and encourage more auditions for actors and actresses with disabilities on television and film.”
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“We applaud Sony Pictures Entertainment for joining a fast-growing movement that affirms disability as part of Hollywood’s definition of diversity and positions the entertainment industry as a force for prosocial change in all its forms,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Foundation. “In making this commitment, Sony will quickly realize that auditioning people with disabilities makes sense from both a values perspective and a business perspective. Authentic representation not only uplifts the quality of studio productions, but also enables Hollywood to tap into a largely untapped source of talent. We look forward to continuing to work towards motivating this tide of progress and disruptive change in entertainment, through Sony and other high-profile industry partners.”
The Foundation noted that SPE’s “commitment to authentic representation” has previously been demonstrated in shows that include Atypical and the recent casting of Matthew Duckett in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Since 2019, the Foundation has awarded 34 films and TV shows with its Seal of Approval for authentic representation.
Over the past five years, the Ruderman Family Foundation has pushed to change the landscape in Hollywood for people with disabilities. The recent announcement from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on new inclusion requirements for Best Picture nominations follows a partnership with the Foundation earlier this year to ensure that aspiring young actors with disabilities are able to get a head start in the entertainment industry.
A white paper study in 2019 found that half of U.S. households want to see accurate portrayals of characters with disabilities. The Foundation, however, says that only 22% of characters with disabilities are authentically portrayed on television. “Despite these discrepancies, there has been significant progress towards reaching authentic representation within the industry, with Sony now the latest major studio to commit to this mission,” the Foundation said.
In addition to garnering the support of major studios, a separate Foundation-initiated pledge has been signed by numerous A-list actors and directors who called on studio, production, and network executives to pledge to create more opportunities for people with disabilities. Among those who signed the pledge were Oscar winners George Clooney and Joaquin Phoenix, Oscar nominees Ed Norton, Bryan Cranston and Mark Ruffalo, actors Glenn Close and Eva Longoria, and Oscar-winning director Peter Farrelly. The Foundation has also partnered with Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer, calling on the entertainment industry to increase the casting of people with disabilities.