'Hollywood Remixed': The 'Born This Way' Team on Defying Expectations for People With Cognitive Disability

Adam Taylor

In the sixth episode of The Hollywood Reporter's podcast, hosts Rebecca Ford and Rebecca Sun explore how Hollywood has portrayed and employed people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Welcome to the sixth episode of Hollywood Remixed, The Hollywood Reporter's podcast about culture change and inclusion in entertainment.

Each week, hosts Rebecca Sun (senior reporter) and Rebecca Ford (awards editor) explore a type of character or story that traditionally has been underrepresented or misrepresented in pop culture, and interview a special guest whose work exemplifies a breakthrough in representation. Each episode is dedicated to a single theme, revisiting groundbreaking classics and introducing listeners to hidden gems to better understand how film and television in the past have shaped progress in the present.

In episode six, "Defying Limitations in the Face of Cognitive Disability," debuting Dec. 11, the Rebeccas explore how Hollywood has portrayed and employed people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

This year has seen critical acclaim for the coming-of-age film The Peanut Butter Falcon, starring former Special Olympics athlete Zack Gottsagen and Shia LaBeouf, but projects featuring people with IDD are still fairly rare. Although more than 250,000 Americans have Down syndrome, according to the CDC, only 1.6 percent of all speaking characters in 2018's top 100 movies evinced any sort of disability. And when a character with an IDD is the lead, those roles have traditionally gone to nondisabled actors "going full R-word" (as Tropic Thunder put it) who sometimes go on to earn accolades for the portrayal.

In addition to tracing the industry's history of portraying characters with IDD (which, to be fair, does include highlights such as Chris Burke's authentic Golden Globe-nominated performance in the early '90s family drama Life Goes On), the Rebeccas sit down with Rachel Osterbach and her mother, Laurie, two of the stars of A&E's Emmy-winning docuseries Born This Way, which follows seven adults with Down syndrome, and the show's executive producer Jon Murray.

Hear it all now on Hollywood Remixed, and subscribe on your preferred podcasting platform.

In the next episode, the Rebeccas chat with Star Wars star John Boyega about race in outer space and Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Stephanie Beatriz about LGBTQ Latinas. And check out our first five episodes, featuring Last Christmas star Henry Golding on Asian leading men, This Is Us and Waves star Sterling K. Brown on black fatherhood, The Good Place's William Jackson Harper on black nerds, Hustlers writer-director Lorene Scafaria on female exotic dancers and The L Word: Generation Q showrunner Marja-Lewis Ryan on changing representations of lesbians on TV.