My Experiences on HLR by Sam Phoenix
Where to start really? Having a physical disability in the entertainment industry is more than challenging, especially when said disability is forever changing. I get discriminated against more than people realise. For instance; right now we’re in the middle of the Black Lives Matter movement which let’s face it has been a long time coming, too long if you ask me, but I wonder what would happen if I started I tried to start a Disabled Lives Matter campaign? I’ll tell you now, not a god damn thing and why... because disabled people have been discriminated against since the beginning of time. Depending on where you were in the world would depend on your actions, but the end result was always the same... death! We were thrown from cliffs, left in the cold or simply discarded to starve. Believe me despite popular belief not much has changed, especially within the arts! How many psychically disabled people do you see on TV? How many disabled artists, writers, comedians, presenters, directors, producers, musicians, how many disabled actors/actresses do you know of in Hollywood? Personally, I can’t name a single one, maybe you’ll do better but I doubt it. You see when people look at the disabled their brain goes straight to what they can’t do. What about what they can do, what they could do? Think of the benefits of using disabled people... there’s diversity for one which would put you on people’s radar especially the disabled! There’s a whole demographic market out there that isn’t being catered for, and why? Is it because we’re not sexy? Are we not as appealing because of our problems, or is it because we don’t matter? We don’t have voices, feelings, likes, dislikes, opinions etc etc.
Disability is hard for me because I wasn’t always this way, however the irony of my situation is that without my disability I wouldn’t have gotten in to acting, writing and painting. Go figure! I can’t say I’ve had to work harder to attain acting jobs, but it’s blatantly obvious that I’ve not been utilised by certain parties because of my condition. It doesn’t really bother me though because when I do get a job I work my ass off, I mean I put everything I have in to it no matter how big or small the role. My work ethic is simple, but effective. It’s all or nothing, and it’s this mindset that’s enabled me to gather a great group around me, introduced me to new people, talented and driven people with whom I connect. My only concern is that I’ll be pigeon holed as a wheel chair bound actor. I’m fearful of this because disability the media disability is usually portrayed in one of two ways; we’re either in a wheelchair or we have a walking stick. Is it really necessary though? Can we not just have a limp or a bad posture? Can our disability not be explained verbally? It’s not that hard, I do it every day of my life, but it’s just another example of discrimination.
In Hate Little Rabbit, my disability was used as a tool to enhance my death scene which I’ve not experienced before, but it was fun. For once I was actually more than happy to use my issues as part of a scenario in a role. I didn’t mind because I wasn’t portrayed as disabled in previous scenes. I know it sounds weird, but I hate acting from a wheelchair because the wheelchair doesn’t define me as a person or an actor contrary to what the world wants you to believe. Speaking with utter conviction and absolute truth if I was only cast in roles where I was in a wheelchair I’d give up acting with no hesitation. I want to show all aspects of disability, not just the flimsy chair sitting on a set of wheels. We’re living in a world of closed eyes, we have the internet in the palm of our hands and yet still ignorant to what’s right in front of us. That’s what I want to change, but only if I can. I don’t want to be the disabled guy who acts, I want to be the actor who happens to be disabled, there’s a MASSIVE difference. One of those scenarios sees me as a third class citizen who dabbles in acting, and the other depicts a person who has talents, someone who is useful to society.
All this in mind I’m always extra grateful for the jobs I get because it makes me feel like an equal, like I fit in again and that’s the best feeling in the world for me. I had fun with the White Raven team, and the actors/actresses I got to work alongside. They didn’t treat me like a disabled person like most have, they saw an equal, a potential colleague and for that I thank them.