28 Aug Disabled Filmmaker Margot Cole – Creating Films Representing Disability
by Margot Cole
Disabled Filmmaker Margot Cole discusses casting, representation, and her creative process
I am the creator of Crip Video Productions. My journey as a disabled filmmaker began when my family introduced me to other adults with disabilities who became my mentors. My experiences with my mentors inspired me to write my independent short films Drama Sighted, Only Those Who Limp Allowed, and Crips Not Creeps. I write, direct, produce and cast the films. My films are entirely independent grassroots YouTube videos. All of my films are fictional stories that I base on parts of myself. I learned filmmaking from scratch from a media organization called “DISLABELEDtv”, and then I branched out with my own content.
When writing my films, my main goal is to write three-dimensional characters that are interesting and engaging. Oftentimes when I see a disabled character in a piece of media the character is either depressed, angry, suicidal, or flawless (there are exceptions!). These characteristics are more often than not based on their disability. From my observations and experience as a disabled woman, real disabled people are somewhere in between. They live full vibrant lives, and their flaws usually have nothing to do with their disability. As a disabled filmmaker, I want those experiences and observations in full focus.
Depicting disability itself also requires a balance of showing the good – even joyous parts of disability – and its darker side.
Depicting disability itself also requires a balance of showing the good – even joyous parts of disability – and its darker side. To make sure I depict disability in an accurate way, I speak to a person who has that particular disability in detail during the writing of each film. For example, for my upcoming film A Stroke of Endurance, I spoke to a wonderful lady who had a stroke.
I also like to write disabled characters who are in romantic relationships but in a way that does not objectify. When it comes to sex and disability in media, I often see two extremes. First, the perception that disabled people cannot have sex. Second, when sex and disability are shown, it is, in my opinion, highly objectifying. Neither extremes are accurate and both damage the disability community. I have more of an interest in the relationships and friendships between people and how disability may affect these interactions.
If you want to see something, make it yourself. Don’t sit around and wait for someone else to do it.
I always cast a mix of able-bodied and disabled performers. When it comes to casting disabled actors, I don’t cast a disabled actor to be politically correct. I simply cast who I feel can best get the character’s body language and motivations across to my viewers. As someone with Cerebral Palsy, seeing an able bodied actor imitate my movements comes across as unnatural and certainly not as believable. The disabled actor is more likely to have the physical and emotional understanding of the disability. By casting who I feel can most honestly portray my characters, I also end up with a cast that is racially and ethnically diverse. As a result, I’ve built up a valuable resource of friends and connections in the disability community.
I also hire a diverse crew. My crew is made up of both able-bodied and disabled individuals of different experience levels. Some of my crew are professionals and others are beginners. I feel everyone’s different abilities, not experience, make the film better.
All things considered, I think one of the best ways for us to change disability representation is for the disability community to create its own content. That way, we speak for ourselves, control our own narrative, and create an accurate representation. If you want to see something, make it yourself. Don’t sit around and wait for someone else to do it. That’s what drives me as a disabled filmmaker.
Make sure to check out Disabled Spectator’s previous article about Disability in Hollywood.
Margot Cole is the creator of Crip Video Productions http://cripvideoproductions.com. She is a college student and is also featured in the full-length documentary “Enter The Faun” www.enterthefaun.com created by Tamar Rogoff Performance Projects. She has Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy.