An Open Letter to Benj Pasekand Justin Paul, song writers; Keala Settle and Hugh Jackman, actors and singers; Lawrence Mark, Jenno Topping, Peter Chernin, producers.
I went to see The Greatest Showman not knowing what the story was really about. We went because we had two children to take to a movie and this seemed like a good fit for time we had available. I took my seat near the front, in one of the spots for disabled people. I am a wheelchair user and my choices for seating are both diminished and often made for me. We, along with the kids mom, took up a fair number of seats and got settled early. We love movies. We love the pre show and the previews.
The movie started.
I have been stared at all my life. Almost every day of my life. I have never felt part of the world around me. The messages I have gotten about my right to be, here, now, have been harsh and exclusionary. From looks of disgust to open mocking, I do not meet welcome outside my door. You can imagine how this movie struck me. It hit too close to home and it felt ... wonderful. Then the song came on 'This Is Me' and I sat quietly in my wheelchair and wept. This was for us, the different, the disabled, the visually different. It was our anthem, written with us in mind. I didn't know, then who wrote it, but I loved them in that moment.
I have showed the lyric video to almost everyone I know. I wanted them to see in there what I felt in my heart. Acknowledgement. Welcome. Understanding. And they did.
Then I watched a performance of Ms Settle in Melbourne I think it was. The performance was impeccable but ... the chorus was made up of beautiful, thin, able bodied people. Instantly we, the disabled and different, were eradicated. I wondered who made that decision? I wondered if anyone cared about that decision.
We already know that people with disabilities are underrepresented in entertainment. Vastly so. Here was an opportunity to diversify a performance in service to the performance and it was cast away. It hurt. It made me wonder if you all learned anything from the roles you played or the songs you wrote. But I believe you did, you couldn't have moved me like you moved me in the theatre.
Here's why I'm writing. Maybe you could do something for the disability community, those of us who wear the differences that live at the other end of pointing fingers. Maybe you could insist that when the song is song there is someone in the chorus, someone on stage, who IS different. Who embodies the meaning of the song from the movie you worked on.
Maybe the Oscar performance could have at least one disabled singer or dancer on stage.(I can send you a list). Maybe you could push the boundaries of Hollywood, maybe you could increase the chances for disabled actors and singers and dancers to get work.
Why not just say this song requires one of us, a talented one yes, but one of us on stage?
Reaching you will be difficult. Getting this read by someone that matters will be difficult.
But we are warriors.
And because of that, I'm trying.