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Quendrith Johnson

Quendrith Johnson is Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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Hollywood Gets It Right: 2010 Media Access Awards Return After 3 Years Gone

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent


Friday morning Oct. 8 at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, something huge happened in "Hollywood" -- no, it wasn't a Lohan lapse or star scandal -- it was the Media Access Awards brought to you by Superman with a little help from just about every guild and association in town.


Picture AFTRA, CSA, PGA, SAG, WGAw, and the Christopher Reeve Foundation, in conjunction with Friends of Californians with Disabilities and the Governor's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities and the R.J. Mitte Scholarship, all banding together to resuscitate an awards show that was a victim of budget cuts three years ago. 


Driven and produced by some very dedicated and talented people, the bought-and-paid-for-by-popular-demand Media Access Awards breakfast held in the shadow of the former CAA building was truly Hollywood at its finest. 


Emmy-winning TV presenter Pat Harvey, co-anchor of KCBS News, hosted the show. In the opening moments of the gala, she asked "can I go off script for a moment?" Harvey then shared a person experience about being "a caregiver" for her sister.


"According to a recent GLAAD study, 54 million Americans identify themselves as having some kind of a disability, and they are looking to see their lives reflected in the media," Harvey noted. "We all know someone with a disability. As America ages and this population advances, these numbers will only grow."


While movies like RAIN MAN (Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise), NELL (Jodie Foster), I AM SAM (Sean Penn), THE OTHER SISTER (Juliette Lewis) and MY LEFT FOOT (Daniel Day-Lewis) have shown audiences remarkable portraits of individuals living with challenges through the years, the theme of this year's show was the idea that people living with disabilities do not have to be letter-boxed as "courageous and inspirational" but should be shown in all facets of life.


Actor Danny Woodburn (WATCHMEN), who has appeared in many feature films, played Mikey on "Seinfeld", recurs on "Tracey Takes On" (Tracey Ullman), and guested recently  in "CSI" and "Bones," received the Screen Actors' Guild Harold Russell Award presented by Robert David Hall. 


A union advocate for Little People and a spokesman for performers with disabilities, Woodburn quoted the namesake of SAG's Award. "Harold Russell said: 'My problem was to make the people I met feel at ease... not go hiding my hooks.'" Russell lost his hands in WWII, and was cast by director William Wyler in a role that earned him the Oscar(r) for 1946's THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. 


Woodburn earned huge applause himself by adding, "I was told 'no, you can never be a truck driver, you can't reach your arms around the steering wheel.' 'No, you can never be a doctor, people won't take you seriously.' 'No, you can never be a policeman.' Well I can be all of those things -- I am an ACTOR!"


WGA's Allen Rucker presented "Breaking Bad" show creater Vince Gilligan with the WGA West's Joan Young Memorial Award. Gilligan wrote lead Bryan Cranston's son's character Walter White, Jr. as being someone with cerebral palsy who is intelligent enough to know something is really wrong with Dad in the series.


"Danny's acceptance speech is really hard to follow," award-winning showrunner Gilligan admitted, "but I'll try." 


"I just wrote (R.J. Mitte's) character in 'Breaking Bad' as someone who happened to have CP, cerebral palsy, not as someone who was defined by it."


Written by Allen Rucker, the WGA's disabilities committee leader, the show was brisk, poignant, and included some great footage. One clip was of AFTRA Diversity Award winner Darcy Pohland, a WCCO-TV newscaster in Washington, D.C., who unfortunately passed away in May 2010. Geri Jewell  ("Facts of Life"), an early role model, gave an inspired speech for Darcy Pohland; her award was accepted on behalf of her family by Anita Hollander. 


The Casting Society of America's CSA Award was presented by remarkable "Glee" trio John Autry, Lauren Potter, and Zack Weinstein to UDK's remarkable trio Eric Dawson, Carol Kritzer, and Robert J. Ulrich, who have been casting PWD (people with disabilities) on a regular basis, "even when the script doesn't necessarily call for it."


"This is a movement with a bit of groundspeed," UDK's team was quoted as saying. "We cast roles on ability, not disability... [Showrunner] Ryan Murphy ("Glee") continues to grow people with disabilities in poignant roles... he never writes down to the people."


Lauren Potter (Becky on "Glee") was shown in a clip opposite powerhouse lead cheer-monster Jane Lynch, who reads her the riot act despite Down Syndrome. "You think you have it rough? Try auditioning for 'BAYWATCH' and being told the show is going in another direction! Go hit the showers!"


George Sunga of the PGA presented his eponymous award to film and TV producer Mike Tollin (COACH CARTER, RADIO). A pro with numerous hit shows (e.g; "One Tree Hill, "Smallsville"), Tollin also produced an Emmy-winning documentary featuring 12 Special Olympians who climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa. 


"I will make this DVD available to anyone who wants it -- I mean that," Tollin promised, "because I just want it to be seen. This experience changed my life... I had just met my wife. I said 'Honey, do you want to go to Africa with some people?'"


Ron Livingston presented the Christopher Reeve Acting Scholarship to Chris Thornton ("Brothers & Sisters", "My Name is Earl"), who co-starred in and wrote feature SYMPATHY FOR DELICIOUS, a Mark Ruffalo project that took a decade to make. The film is about a paralyzed DJ and screened for the first time at Sundance earlier this year.


"Christopher Reeve occupies almost a deity-like place for me -- when he got hurt, I felt, like everybody else, that I got hurt with him. His refusal to give in and give up were like superpowers," Thornton said. 


"One of the things Chris Reeve said later in life, when he was in a (wheel) chair, was that it drove him crazy when 'able-bodied' people said they couldn't do something or fulfill their potential. He said 'you don't have to break your neck to realize your potential.'"


R.J. Mitte ("Breaking Bad") presented The R.J. Mitte Diversity Award with his manager Addison Witt to newcomer, and show-stopper, Atticus Shaffer of ABC's "The Middle." After thanking everyone from his "agent at Osbrink" to his mother, the diminutive but high-octane Shaffer said "I know, this kind of sounds like an Oscar acceptance speech."


Departing from his scripted lines, Mitte said "I got up at 3 am to catch a plane from [a shoot in] Oregon to say Good Mornin' to y'all. Atticus, I give it up for you! You're awesome."


In sum, the Media Access Awards entire presentation was awesome. So, keep reading till the end of the credits: the show was produced by Deborah Calla; Production Coordinator was Claire Adams Bennett; Clips were produced by Karyn Benkendorfer and edited by Les Perkins; Amy Gorton of Tower PR handled the press. WGA's press pro Gregg Mitchell was in attendance, as were other guild and association representatives.


The Media Access Awards Committee for 2010 included Ray Bradford, Bryan Burra, Deborah Calla, Pam Dixon, (the legendary) Fern Field, Loree Levy, Tery Lopez, Paul Miller, Kim Myers, Gayle Pacheco, Tari, Hartman Squire, George Sunga, Allen Rucker, and Rebecca Yee. Special Thanks was given to Kevin Bright, "whose kindness helped make this program a reality," also to Sam Maddox, The Reeve Foundation, and Frank Reyes from Sand Art.


Stay tuned for the 2011 Media Access Awards, which, since 1979 "have been honoring individuals and organizations in the entertainment industry for their efforts in promoting the awareness of the disability experience, accessibility for people with disabilities, and the accurate depiction of characters with disabilities."


# # #


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About Quendrith Johnson

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