The entertainment industry can be brutal and punishing even during the best of times, let alone amid disruptive WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. But it’s even tougher for those with disabilities.
While there have been highly publicized donations to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation from superstars such as Dwayne Johnson, Oprah Winfrey and other A-listers to help their fellow union members through this challenging time, philanthropic organizations such as Inevitable Foundation, launched in 2021, have stepped up while keeping their focus on their mission, helping writers with disabilities.
“The higher up you get up in the industry, the less representation there is offscreen,” says Richie Siegel, the organization’s co-founder and president, noting that America’s largest minority group, the disabled, is the least visible. “We said if you really want to solve this problem, you have to start with the storytellers. You have to start with the writers.”
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Prior to the strikes, Inevitable Foundation worked to help writers with disabilities with direct grants as well as with mentoring opportunities from established writers already working in the industry.
“I feel like a lot of organic mentoring happens within the organization itself between writers,” says the Inevitable Foundation’s co-founder and head of writing programs, Marisa Torelli-Pedevska. “That’s been very exciting to connect the dots between people and build this community that has always been there but didn’t know each other.”
Inevitable Foundation’s programs include fellowships, mentorships, grants, coaching and networking.
One such mentor is showrunner-creator Brandon Sonnier (“The Blacklist,” “L.A.’s Finest”), who also serves on Inevitable Foundation’s board.
“I didn’t know anything about the disability community until I was a part of it,” says Sonnier, who lost a leg during an on-set stunt gone wrong on “L.A.’s Finest.” “I think that’s part of the problem.
It’s a community that is so often overlooked and not seen because no one ever thinks about it until they have to. But then when you have to, you have to all the time, because you don’t get un-disabled.”
Despite a busy schedule, he made time when he got the call from the Inevitable Foundation, first to be a mentor and then to join its board.
“I always say yes to these things because there aren’t a lot of Black, disabled showrunners floating around,” he says. “My involvement then and now has just been one of the great joys of my life, to be able to give back to a community that I didn’t know existed until I was a part of it.”
While providing time for mentorship and making connections for the disabled writers, the dual strikes add even more obstacles to navigate and voids to fill.
The loss of employment opportunities, income and healthcare “is a really big ticking time bomb right now, is horrific and has a material impact,” says Siegel, who estimates close to half of disabled writers have less than six months’ worth of savings on hand, some less. “These are real implications to disabled people, generally twice as likely to live in poverty.”
Despite the daunting and formidable challenges that come with the strikes, the writers that the Inevitable Foundation works with are finding the solidarity of the group and community integral to moving ahead.
“My experience of being a recipient has been really eye-opening,” says Keisha Zollar, a disabled comedian, writer and showrunner who is a member of the organization’s Elevate Collective. “I’ve been able to connect with other filmmakers who are working in advocacy and disability justice and bring me into conversations I’m excited to participate in.”
As for the future, “Our goal is the industry funds the work,” says Siegel. “Not just the studios and streamers, but also the entire ecosystem of other firms, service providers, governments and so forth that have a responsibility to step up and help fix this problem and build a better future.”
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