While the Writers Guild strike is going on for film and TV writers to get paid their worth, there’s an entire demographic that is being kept from getting paid their worth, with or without a strike, and the fault lies on both sides.
A lot of times if a writer is writing about a historic event, place, or job occupation, they might hire or find a free consultant who is an ‘expert’ in that field to ensure they get an accurate script. Experts who’ve lived through the holocaust, the landing on the moon, or the tedious everyday tasks of a neurosurgeon. This is understandable.
Although in the past, there were people stepping on other cultures and writing about the struggles and stereotypes of someone’s natural lived experience. We’ve mostly all learned from that, and it’s very much shamed today in the industry. Just write a great story and let casting and producers cast it. Don’t write about someone’s physical, ethnic, or other backgrounds that you don’t belong to. It’s highly offensive and wrong.
However, there are still those who ask a person with a disability to consult. No one is standing up for the community. It’s just happening. The writer gets a ‘groundbreaking’ new script, while there are loads of educated, trained, and experienced writers who happen to have a disability from birth, degenerative disorders, or accidents. These folks who are in the know in entertainment, are anxious for a seat in the writers’ room, which is tough for anyone to break into, but a million times tougher through the discrimination of a cane, chair, ASL, or physical or verbal difference. These ‘consultants’ jump at the chance to consult, praying it will lead to an opportunity to a writing job. And it doesn’t. That job turns out to be merely $100-500 tops to talk about their body, and goodbye, maybe a Thanks To in the credits. Meanwhile, the abled writer is getting big bucks, residuals, and possibly multiple seasons. They are getting paid for your story, that they didn’t feel you were able enough to join the team to tell.
Hiring ‘disability consultants’ is another way to keep jobs out of the hands of folks with a disability, keeping them in the system. “We’ll ask you about your story, but you can’t join us’. And no one will ever take you seriously as a writer, if you’re a consultant. Besides that, you need to take yourself seriously as a writer. Go on your own strike and DO NOT consult. As any performer’s agent will tell you, “if you do background work, you’ll always be a background actor”. Regardless of your training, people will see you as that. While it does happen, it’s rare that an extra is plucked from the background and shoots to stardom.
Back to film and TV writers, the ‘consultant’ is just as much at fault. No matter if you’re a struggling actor hoping to get noticed, a hopeful writer, or a person with a disability who cares nothing about the industry, you are keeping the community-our community unemployed. For $250 you can get maybe a couple weeks of groceries if you’re a single person. It won’t pay half a month’s rent. It won’t pay for a new tire plus labor on your wheelchair. It might be enough for an ASL interpreter that you have to hire for your event that you put together hoping to get you noticed. It sure as hell won’t get you the house you’re hoping to buy that you can make completely accessible and make life a little easier.
Just stop consulting. Not only is it keeping all writers with a disability out of jobs, it’s continuing the stigma of ‘they can’t possibly do this’. Like with any field, if and on the rare occasion if, a person with a visible disability gets hired, lots of times it’s for a role way underqualified and you’re not even in mind when it comes to moving up the ladder. Yes, there are rare exceptions, but for the most part, you know it’s not. So, while you might not be an aspiring writer, you are hurting your own community by taking disability consulting jobs. Plus, you’ll never get to enjoy authentic content for yourself and society to truly understand us. It will continue to be written by others and how societal others see us, thus carrying on the stigma.
One very popular industry fellowship for people with disabilities, that isn’t even based out of Hollywood, has built a great name for themselves with studios. Hopefuls with disabilities anxiously apply to their fellowship and most are accepted. Underneath their photos of visibly disabled fellows, is a disability consulting firm. While they are advertising getting this season’s group of writers with disabilities jobs, they are advertising their consulting services, and asking their fellows to consult. It’s false advertising, my friends.
Consulting is basically – NOT “you can wine and dine me and I’ll sleep with you and we both get pleasure and a lasting relationship and you’ll boast about how wonderful I am”, but it IS “I’ll sleep with you for free and only to give you pleasure and you’ll never call me again, get a round of applause from the gang, then I feel used and worthless, but that’s just fine with me”.
So, while we’re rooting for the Writers Guild of America and every branch that is affected by the strike, start respecting your fellows and saying “Hell No” when it comes to disability consulting. Leave it up to the film and TV writers who have a disability. We promise, we’ll make you proud. And if you are an aspiring writer with a disability, you deserve to live the life you dream of – not watching from the wings. Consulting is keeping yourself in the shadows of people who are living your dream job. Say ‘No, I’m a writer’ and you will be part of the guild before you know it.