Diversity has stepped into the spotlight during this year’s film award season, with four of the nine film nominations for “Best Picture” Oscar featuring disability-related themes. Academy Awards are highly coveted by actors and filmakers, but the ceremony has been criticised in the past for their conservatism in recognising achievement in film.
Diversity wins the day
This year seems to have reflected a change in the status quo, with a nod to films that incorporate diverse themes like disability, mental health, addiction and racial diversity. Of the nine films nominated for Best Picture, four have themes or sub-plots related to disability: Manchester by the Seadeals with mental health, alcoholism and drug use. Moonlight shines the spotlight on drug addiction, and science fiction film Arrival includes a child who dies from cancer.
Fences is another hot contender this awards season, receiving a number of accolades for its disability related storyline, with the main character sustaining a brain injury during World War II. Also nominated was the documentary Life, Animated a film about a boy called Owen who has autism. The film centres around Owen and his dad, who form a unique connection through Disney films.
Dory wins hearts instead of awards
Another disability-related film not nominated was Finding Dory, the sequel to the hit film Finding Nemo. It was the surprise smash of the summer, and people fell in love with its positive portrayal of disability. Whilst not up for an Academy Award, Finding Dory is a great example of the way that disability-related themes can capture the hearts and minds of the viewing public – sending a message to the film industry that people are craving more diverse representation.
People with disabilities are the largest minority in the United States, with almost one-in-five Americans having a disability. Despite this, the disability community is often forgotten or overlooked in diversity conversations, so for Hollywood to embrace these themes speaks to a willingness to engage with minority communities and to share their stories.
Hollywood’s acknowledgement of disability themes is important because increasing positive and accurate portrayals of people with disabilities can help heal social stigmas, and ensure that the disabled community are recognised as part of the community. Film representation is one small but influential piece of the puzzle, and it’s heartening that the movie industry is finally improving when it comes to showcasing diversity.