EXCLUSIVE: Disability rights group the Ruderman Family Foundation has honored the final season of the Will & Grace revival as well as Fear the Walking Dead, Sex Education, Emmerdale and Call the Midwife with the latest round of recipients for the Seal of Authentic Representation.
“After witnessing significant progress on authentic casting decisions in Hollywood in recent years, we are particularly gratified to see the international momentum that has been generated in this high-priority area,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “With several British series joining American productions in our latest round of honorees, it is clearer than ever that the entertainment industry increasingly considers disability as an important part of diversity.”
This marks the sixth time the Seal of Authentic Representation has given honors to TV series and films. The current group of honorees includes:
- NBC’s Will & Grace revival for casting Christopher Thornton, an actor with paraplegia, as Luke, a character who uses a wheelchair.
- The AMC horror drama series Fear the Walking Dead, for casting Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, who has paralysis from the waist down due to a motorcycle crash 20 years ago, as Wendell, a character who became paralyzed at age 10 after saving another boy from being hit by a car.
- The UK-based Eleven Film comedy series Sex Education, which premiered on Netflix, for casting George Robinson, who has paraplegia, as Isaac Goodwin, a wheelchair-bound character.
- The British-based ITV Studios soap opera Emmerdale for casting James Moore, who has ataxic cerebral palsy, as Ryan Stocks, a character with the same disability.
- The Neal Street Production drama series for BBC and PBS, Call the Midwife for casting Daniel Laurie, who has Down’s syndrome, as Reggie Jackson and Ellie Wallwork, who is blind, as Marion Irmsby, among other roles authentically cast.
“Receiving this Foundation’s Seal of Authentic Representation is extremely meaningful for Will & Grace, as we all take pride in casting actors authentically, especially in this new era,” said series casting director Julie Ashton. “Casting Christopher Thornton in our final season of Will & Grace was truly an honor. He is a brilliant actor who is extremely gifted. In fact, our producers were so impressed by Christopher they decided to bring him back after his first episode and make his role recurring. We hope the entertainment community will continue this inclusiveness and we are able to see more of Christopher Thornton and other gifted actors on our TV and movie screens.”
“Everyone at Call The Midwife is absolutely delighted by this honour. For many years we have been passionate about bringing our audience the very best in diverse and inclusive storytelling. A key part of this is appropriate casting, and the talents of actors who are hearing or sight impaired, or have conditions such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and achondroplasia have enriched our show beyond measure,” said Heidi Thomas, series creator, writer and executive producer. “There is always something new to celebrate, to share, or to learn. In turn, we would like to applaud the Ruderman Family Foundation for shining a light on the importance of authentic representation. The opening of hearts begins with the opening of minds, and the Foundation’s mission is vital, beautiful, and makes a real difference.”
Fear the Walking Dead casting director Sharon Bialy said that Bialy/Thomas & Associates has always set out to be inclusive in their casting with respect to diversity and disabilities “We are incredibly proud to have cast ‘Chill’ and have been huge fans of his for a long time,” said Bialy. “We are so proud of our showrunners and AMC to do whatever was needed to get ‘Chill’ to set without one bit of resistance. He brought his talent, personality, and great joy to the role and all those who work with him.”
“Receiving the Foundation’s Seal of Authentic Representation is an unexpected honor and very special to us as a show,” said Ben Taylor, director and executive producer of Sex Education. “We did a very extensive search in casting Isaac, and when George auditioned, we knew we’d found someone extraordinary who not only inhabited the part, but elevated it. We are delighted that he, and the show, have been recognized in this way.”
Emmerdale actor James Moore is extremely honored to receive the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Seal of Authentic Representation. He added, “I have been following them for a long time and I am so grateful for their work continuing to advocate for the fair representation of disability in media. It is amazing to have recognition from an international organization, especially one that I have such high respect and admiration for.”
The Seal of Authentic Representation is awarded when productions meet two criteria: they feature actors with disabilities with a speaking role of at least five lines; and they are in, or on the verge of, general release. The Foundation announces the honor whenever a film or TV series meets those standards. In October 2020, the previous round of honorees included the TV series Grey’s Anatomy, Locke & Key, Little Voice and Away as well as the independent film Sam & Mattie Make a Zombie Movie.
After a study conducted by the Ruderman Family Foundation in 2016 had discovered that an astonishing 95 percent of top show characters with disabilities on TV were played by actors without disabilities, a new study released by the Foundation in February 2020 documented progress, revealing that 22% of all characters with disabilities on network television are portrayed authentically by an actor with the same disability. According to the new study, 20% of characters with disabilities are authentically cast on streaming services.