According to last year’s WGAW Inclusion Report, self-identified writers with disabilities comprise only 0.7 percent of current active Writers Guild of America West members. In contrast, about a quarter of adults in the U.S. live with a disability. A new organization, founded by screenwriter Marisa Torelli-Pedevska and Richie Siegel, is addressing this disparity. Per Variety, the Inevitable Foundation has launched with the mission of providing mentorship and funding to emerging disabled screenwriters.
Torelli-Pedevska, who counts short films “No Small Talk” and “My Sister Harper” among her credits, and Siegel both have personal connections to people living with disabilities. The former often focuses on disabled characters in her storytelling and previously worked at a residential summer camp for people with developmental disabilities; the latter has a young sister with developmental disabilities. The duo see screenwriting as a way to address the lack of disability representation on both sides of the camera.
“To us, it all starts with the writing and the story,” said Torelli-Pedevska. “Without disabled screenwriters telling stories that include authentic disabled characters, our lack of representation in film and television will never be resolved.”
Inevitable Foundation recently named its first two screenwriting fellows after receiving hundreds of applications — 55 percent of which were from women and non-binary folks and 45 percent from people of color. Shani Am. Moore and Kalen Feeney will receive $25,000 grants and “assistance in building relationships they need to succeed in the industry.”
“Our goal is to drive impact now,” Siegel explained. “Our Fellows are writers that you can staff and buy projects from today, not five to 10 years from now. We’re investing significant financial resources in and leveraging relationships for writers who will help diversify your writers rooms immediately and tell more compelling stories as a result.”
An alumna of Princeton, UC Berkeley, and Stanford Law School, Moore was the first Black lead exec at Dolby before pivoting to screenwriting. Her credits include “The Bold Type” and “Sweet Magnolias.” She lives with Multiple Sclerosis.
“Being disabled can be costly, and this generous grant, along with personalized mentoring, allows us to create in a way that serves us best: with an unstressed eye towards progress,” Moore emphasized.
Feeney, who is Deaf, received a Master’s degree in screenwriting from the U.K.’s Leeds Beckett University. She has served as a creative consultant on “CSI:NY” and an ASL consultant on “Switched At Birth.”
“I am honored and excited to receive this special Inevitable Foundation Fellowship, which will enable me to pursue my vision of improving representation of Deaf and disabled characters on-screen through writing,” Feeney said.
In a guest post for Women and Hollywood, filmmaker Anna Pakman, who lives with Cerebral Palsy, said, “Some things have changed, but many are still the same. In 2019, Ali Stroker accepted a Tony Award for her performance in ‘Oklahoma!’ from a wheelchair. And yet, the Tony stage did not have a ramp.” She continued, “Netflix has become home to revolutionary projects like Ryan O’Connell’s ‘Special,’ a semi-autobiographical comedy series about a man with Cerebral Palsy who changes his life in the wake of an accident, and the Oscar-nominated documentary ‘Crip Camp,’ which features the stories of the advocates like Judy Heumann whose work was the precursor to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. ‘Special’ and ‘Crip Camp’ mark progress, but we still have so far to go.”
Inevitable Foundation is now accepting applications for its Fall 2021 Screenwriting Fellowship. Head over to the org’s website to find out more.