Seven new guidelines on the casting of actors with learning and developmental disabilities for film and TV have been proposed and backed by senior screen industry representatives and politicians in Wales today.
Hijinx, who developed the guidelines, is a pioneer in the field of inclusive film and theatre, running a non-profit actor training academy and casting agency for neurodivergent actors. They include advice on avoiding stereotypes and auditioning appropriately in a bid to promote ethical casting, ensuring that learning disabled characters are fairly represented on screen.
"We believe that our goal of a neurodivergent actor winning an Oscar by 2030 is achievable."
Hijinx announced their recommendations at the Casting Neurodivergent Actors in Film & TV Seminar which was attended by senior screen industry representatives and politicians. The debate addressed the barriers to casting learning disabled actors as well as how casting neurodivergent actors could become the norm. The seminar offered constructive support and advice on how to cast a neurodivergent actor, how to cast authentically, and how to avoid stereotypes, with an ultimate goal of ending the casting of neurotypical actors as neurodivergent characters.
"We believe that our goal of a neurodivergent actor winning an Oscar by 2030 is achievable through effective partnerships between the screen industries and learning disabled-led organisations such as Hijinx," said Clare Williams, Chief Executive of Hijinx. "For each of the seven recommended new industry standards, we offer a solution and support. Today we are letting the screen industry know that we are here to help."
- Reflect diversity of society in film and TV productions, creating more storylines involving learning disabled (LD) characters
- Avoid stereotypes: develop nuanced, true-to-life LD characters
- Cast authentically: bring an end to casting non-disabled actors as learning disabled characters
- Audition appropriately: offer non-script-based auditions to actors who find reading challenging, and relaxed auditions to actors who find both time pressure and waiting distressing
- Work in partnership with experts in the field of learning disability to understand and meet the needs of LD actors
- Invest in training: Upskill staff to know how to communicate well with LD actors and freelancers
- Provide experience for LD actors to experience life on set
During the seminar Llyr Morus, producer of Welsh soap opera Pobol y Cwm, was praised for having a learning disabled actor cast as a learning disabled character. Pobol y Cwm approached Hijinx early on in the storyline process; this enabled them to build in the necessary arrangements for casting and rehearsals. Sian Fouladi, a 28-year-old actor with Down’s syndrome, has played the character Ceri since 2017. She was supported in rehearsals and on set by a Neurodivergent Artist’s assistant from Hijinx.
- See also: Disability is not a character trait
- See also: Learning Disability Today 2018 Exhibition and Learning Day
Following the seminar, the audience were given a short presentation from Hijinx actors outlining the new standards. Danny Mannings, 30, an actor with Autism, asked those present to “give us a chance to be on set or in the studio, show us how you work, let us understand your expectations.”
Minister for Culture, Tourism, and Sport, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, also supported Hijinx’s recommendations: “I admire the boldness of Hijinx’s call for action within the screen industry and wholeheartedly support their aims of truly reflecting our society on our screens. I’m heartened by the turn out and backing from the screen industry and confident that with the support of learning disabled-led organisations Wales can be pioneers in changing the face of who’s represented on the small and big screen.”
While only receiving 16% revenue funding from Welsh Government and Arts Council of Wales, Hijinx has an expansive, ambitious mission to make it commonplace to see more learning disabled actors on stage and screen. Having recently secured a £235,000 cash injection from Morrisons Foundation to develop their Film strand, part of the six figure sum will enable Hijinx to match-fund three short films featuring neurodiverse casts over a three year period.
For more information on the recommendations and support available go to www.hijinxactors.co.uk