Press Reset: BFI renews urgent call for change for disabled talent in the screen industries

We’re also establishing a Disability and Visible Difference Representation Panel to provide guidance on BFI Audience Fund applications.

2 December 2021

Aimée Victoria (2021)

The BFI, together with its Disability Screen Advisory Group, today launches Press Reset on the eve of the International Day of Disability. The second iteration of this digital campaign, Press Reset 2021 tackles the damaging impacts of ableism, and urgently calls for the screen sector to change how it engages with Disabled talent behind and in front of the camera. The BFI also announces its new Disability and Visible Difference Representation Panel which will offer guidance to the BFI Audience Fund, ensuring it only supports the distribution of films with authentic portrayals of Disability and visible difference. 

The Press Reset film offers powerful testimony from Disabled creatives about ableism, the different forms it takes and its oppressive impacts. It aims to inspire decision makers in film and television to recognise, tackle and prevent ableism, and offers clear and concise steps on practical ways to “Reset” their practices to establish a new normal for Disabled people in the industry. These steps are: recruit responsibly; engage with the Disabled community; set targets; equal pay; think about access; and be an ally. The BFI also provides an approved list of organisations which can guide and support people to carry out these steps across every stage of production.

Ableism is rooted in the assumption that Disabled people require ‘fixing’ and defines people by their Disability. It leads to the creation of discriminatory barriers (physical or otherwise), which mean Disabled people are unable to operate equally in the world. In the screen industries, this spans issues around access – be that sets, cinemas or make-up trailers – through to harmful and offensive depictions of disability on screen, and the general and persistent perception that working with Disabled talent is difficult and expensive. 

The Press Reset film will also screen at Busting the Bias, a weekend of events and screenings celebrating Disabled practitioners at BFI Southbank running from Friday 3-Sunday 5 December.

The introduction of the Disability and Visible Difference Representation Panel will ensure the BFI Audience Fund only supports the release of films with authentic portrayals of Disability and visible difference, by calling on the expertise of those with lived experience. Any film seeking support through the Fund that has aspects of Disability in the narrative or where a non-disabled actor portrays a Disabled character or where visible difference is employed as a shorthand for negative representation, will be subject to review by the panel, whose members will be drawn from the Disability Screen Advisory Group. 

This builds on commitments already made by the BFI Film Fund to avoid supporting projects where “cripping up” (the practice of nondisabled actors playing disabled characters) is used, or where visible difference is employed as a shorthand for villainy/negative representations. Moving forward, the Film Fund and Audience Fund will now both adhere to those principles. 

“Press Reset should act as a stark reminder to us all that Disabled representation in our industry is woefully lacking,” says Jennifer Smith, Head of Inclusion at the BFI. “As individuals, or as part of networks, organisations and businesses, we have the power to instigate change, and Press Reset calls on us all to embrace and implement more inclusive ways of working. And while the Disability and Visible Difference Representation Panel can offer real life interventions in our funding practises, our longer term ambition is for it to act as a model of best practice, which we invite content creators, funders and producers to employ when their projects depict Disabled characters and narratives on screen.” 

Andrew Miller, Chair of the Disability Screen Advisory Group, says: “Disabled film and television talent have long been waiting for the screen industries to recognise the discrimination and hurt caused by ableism. So I warmly welcome the lead the BFI offers by embracing anti-ableism and the global first established by the Disability and Visible Difference Representation Panel. Recognising ableism and understanding appropriate representation are the vital next steps to ensure equality for Disabled people in film and television. I strongly believe the initiatives announced today will assist the industry we all love to ‘Press Reset’.”

“The introduction of Disability and Visible Difference Representation Panel provides the Audience Fund team additional confidence that our awards are being made to truly inclusive projects,” says Laura Glanville, Audiences Manager, UK Wide Audiences. “The Panel will act as a mechanism to bring people with lived experience into the assessment process to ensure we don’t support films with damaging, careless or offensive representation of Disability or visible difference on screen. If successful, this model can be rolled out to support other relevant funding decisions across the organisation.”

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