31 Days of SMA: James Ian

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by Kevin Schaefer |

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Day 30 of 31 Days SMA Topic: Artists with SMA This is @jamesianmusic’s story: My name is James Ian, and I’m an actor living with SMA Type 3. I advocate for authentic representation in tv, film, and other media. The casting of non-disabled actors in roles that call for a disability has become the norm, and I’m trying to change that practice. An actor shouldn’t portray someone who has an attribute that the person didn’t choose, such as disability or race, because people have been discriminated against and suffered tremendously because of some of these attributes. When an actor living without a given disability is cast to try to convey what she thinks the experience may be like, this often leads to the actor perpetuating stereotypes and negative portrayals of the disability. The performance can feel like a parody, which shows the filmmaker doesn’t actually care about the portrayal of the person with the disability. Hollywood doesn’t get to tell OUR stories of living with disabilities without us. In addition to having SMA Type 3, I’m also Black, and belonging to two marginalized groups adds more barriers to landing roles in an already competitive industry. Roles are scarce for Black actors too, and having a disability makes roles even more elusive. Thankfully, I have booked roles, but the scarcity of roles for me (and other actors with disabilities) makes it harder to maintain steady work. When the rare role comes along that I’m a fit for, there is so much pressure to nail the audition. Sometimes I’m competing not only with other actors with disabilities, but I’m competing with non-disabled actors, which is absurd. I’ve auditioned for roles that required a disability that went to non-disabled actors, and each time it felt incredibly insulting because my experience was trivialized. It felt as if auditioning people with disabilities for those roles was pointless. There are many talented actors out there with disabilities, and although we have a long way to go in this fight, I’m committed to keep working to increase our visibility and share our stories and experiences with the world. #SMAAwarenessMonth #SMAAwareness #31daysofsma2020

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