Brian Grazer: Hollywood Is Making Progress Portraying Disabilities

Brian Grazer: Hollywood Is Making Progress Portraying Disabilities

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“Hollywood is predisposed to help,” Grazer tells TheWrap. “When they see that it works, they are into it”

Hollywood has long struggled to depict different races, genders and faiths on screen. There is another group, just as large as many ethnic minorities, that operates on the margins of Hollywood: the disabled.

“A Beautiful Mind,” a 2001 movie about a brilliant but disturbed scientist named John Nash, was a landmark in this realm, helping pave the way for Claire Danes’ bipolar character on “Homeland” and a James Brown movie.

In addition to winning filmmaker awards, it caught the attention of the Child Mind Institute, an organizations eager to help kids grappling with disabilities. “A Beautiful Mind” producer Brian Grazer, who is dyslexic, began working with the organization, and wanted to host an event in Los Angeles.

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Grazer called some friends, and Thursday he will speak at the PaleyCenter alongside Netflix's Ted Sarandos, director David O. Russell and television impresario Jason Katims about Hollywood's role in helping young kids.

TheWrap spoke with Grazer in advance of the event about stigmas associated with mental disability and Hollywood's responsibility.

What role do films and television play in helping kids with disabilities?
“A Beautiful Mind” was specifically generated out of my desire to make a movie that could help destigmatize mental disability. That was our goal. It's our responsibility to make movies and TV that are entertaining, but if it can reach you on some level it's a great thing for our society.

[Participant Media founder] Jeff Skoll does this quite often; he's my idol. He's so much about goodness. “Parenthood” does this. David O. Russell, whom we invited, has personal experience in this area.

Also read: Hollywood's Disabled Actors Protest NBC's ‘Ironside’ Casting – When Is It Their Turn?

What are the stigmas?
It begins very small, with being picked on and being invisible. Feeling like an outsider is not a natural human place you want to be. Humanity thrives and is maximized through socialization.

It's a good thing any time we can have a role in a movie or TV shows that shows a disabled person or person of any disability that has any virtues or strong characteristics.

Claire Danes does that on a show ["Homeland"] I have nothing to do with.

Has the portrayal changed?
The platforms have changed and the tone has changed. When we did “A Beautiful Mind,” I don't remember if there were iPads.

There were not.
The tone has changed. Delivery systems have changed. Platforms connect to tone — what it looks like visually and sonically. I'm sure someone will do things that work on mobile platforms.

How do the new devices and platforms change the message?
It becomes a more immersive experience. There are more mobile phones all over the planet, in Africa. If you tell an emotional story that contains this kind of subject matter, it's going to reach people.

Jeffrey Katzenberg got some headlines last week for saying the movie business is no long a growth industry. I guess you disagree.
I've been asked that question for 30 years and I always say no. I've been in the industry since the days of big goofy cassettes and cellphones that weigh five pounds. Stories are always of high value. Since the beginning of man. The platforms might change, but there's no end to movies or storytelling.

Also read: Universal Chief Jeff Shell: Jeffrey Katzenberg Is Wrong About Future of the Movie Biz

At what point did you become more invested in tackling this subject on screen?
If you're dealing with this yourself — either you have any type of disability or your family member or dear friend — it's a pretty big radius. You get to a point where you feel something needs to happen. Once you feel that, you become empowered and create messages to reach people and help people.

You helped organize this event?
I did. I was given an award a few years ago. Prior to that Ari Emanuel, whom I have great respect for, was honored, so I said I'll accept this honor. As did Ari. Then they asked if they could do one of these in Los Angeles. Yeah, you probably can. I didn't know I'd have to organize the thing. All of a sudden I was inviting everyone on.

What comes from this conversation?
One brick leads to another brick. What I hope is that we can affect a few people that matter to integrate empowering characters.

Having Sarandos on, he's pioneered an entire new platform. He courageously put “House of Cards” on and even more courageously put “Arrested Development” on. I know he cares a lot about Best Buddies.

Now you just need to him to order some shows featuring characters with disabilities.
Executives, writers and artists are much more open to having characters that have full spectrum disabilities become protagonists in their shows. There's so much evidence at work when it's done right. Hollywood is predisposed to help. When they see that it works, they are into it.

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What's your next movie?
James Brown.

Oh, “Get on Up.”
Incidentally it is in the range of what we're talking about. His disability was emotional and conditional. He was beaten in a burlap sack at five years old. He grew in a whorehouse and was abandoned by his family. These are stories that are important because of course he had enormous triumph being one of the most sampled artists in the world.