'Peanut Butter Falcon,' 'The Good Doctor' Creatives on Disability Representation in Hollywood: "I'm Optimistic"

Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Media Access Awards
From left: Daryl Mitchell, Katherin Beattie and Kurt Yaeger

The 40th Annual Media Access Awards collaborated with nonprofit Easterseals to honor and represent diversity and disability in Hollywood on Thursday night.

Cheers and applause broke out at the 2019 Media Access Awards when presenter Daryl “Chill” Mitchell from NCIS: New Orleans started singing and rapping onstage. But that wasn’t the only cause for celebration Thursday night. 

This year the awards ceremony, now in its 40th year, partnered with nonprofit disability services provider Easterseals to highlight its honorees, as well as to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of Easterseals. 

The event aimed to honor TV shows with diverse representations of disability such as The Good Doctor, New Amsterdam, NCIS: New Orleans and films and figures such as The Peanut Butter Falcon and Nyle DiMarco, along with honorees chosen by their respective guilds. “[The] media is the most important tool we have to create accessibility, representation,” Deborah Calla, co-CEO of the Media Access Awards, told The Hollywood Reporter. “There are 61 million Americans living with a disability today and right now, they are invisible.” 

Attending the event was significant for this year’s honorees, hosts, presenters, actors and performers, most of whom have a personal connection to disability awareness. "I have a daughter with autism, so I understand what it’s like to live with people with special needs, in their homes and in their families. That alone makes me sensitive to what this is all about,” said Joe Mantegna, Criminal Minds actor and co-host of the Media Access Awards. “I’ve been in show business 50 years. If my own industry can’t be inclusive, who should be?”

Similarly, Nyle DiMarco from Dancing With the Stars and America’s Next Top Model echoed the necessity of broadcasting those with disabilities. “[This event] is very close to my heart as a deaf person,” DiMarco told THR. “We’ve all been fighting for the same battle. We want representation, we want our stories to be told in the most authentic way.” 

During the ceremony, Easterseals announced that it was partnering with both The Black List and the Writers Guild of America to roll out The Disability List, which showcases 10 screenplays that haven’t yet been produced that all feature at least one character with a disability. 

The event was also an inclusive space for talent to talk about exciting upcoming projects. “I’m going to be on a Netflix Original called Locke & Key. I can’t say the date, but it’s coming out the beginning of next year,” Coby Bird, actor from The Good Doctor, told THR. 

The Media Access Awards furthered its goal of increasing visibility for the disabled community with moments that allowed project participants to recall touching stories about co-workers and showed clips from works in which the disabled community has starred, such as The Peanut Butter Falcon, starring Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen and Dakota Johnson. 

Disability representation in Hollywood has had a slow start, but the attendees at the Media Access Awards are hopeful about the future. “I’m optimistic about the changes [in Hollywood],” Shoshanna Stern, co-host, actor and previous honoree, said through a sign language interpreter. “There is change, and for a long time I felt like there wasn’t change happening.... Hollywood really needs to recognize diversity, but they have to incorporate disability in that diversity conversation.”