WSU grad, director shines light on film industry issues

Domnick Evans believes those with disabilities are an under-represented group in the film industry and the Wright State University graduate is out to change that.

Evans, a writer and director who recently spoke at a FilmDayton event, is working to bring to light two distinct issues with the film industry: opportunities for people with disabilities and proper representation of those with disabilities on screen.

While some of the movies that star an able-bodied person as the disabled have gone on to be successful, Evans said it’s the in-authenticity of the disabilities portrayed that create an issue for those in the disabled community.

“If I can’t tell you as a disabled person how to play disabled, how are you going to be authentic?” he said. “When you’ve been stigmatized, oppressed and treated as a second class citizen, you have a different understanding of the world. When you don’t have that stigma, you can’t understand it. Why can’t we at least have an opportunity to audition for those specific roles?”

Evans spoke to a room of filmmakers and actors during FilmDayton’s “FilmConnections” event Jan. 27 at the ThinkTV studios in downtown Dayton. His work can be found in several works including being credited as director and actor for the TV series “FaceSpace,” an actor in the film “…The Making Of…” and the writer and director of the short film “Trip.”

Evans, 34, was born with progressive muscular atrophy disease, a condition that has confined him to a wheelchair at age 16. He started his acting career at age 10, but an accident on the set got him thinking about how he “would rather be making films, instead of acting in films.”

As a young actor with a condition that slowly took away his free mobility, Evans faced challenges that were not always physical. The inability to identify with someone who shared the same characteristics, Evans felt not only under-represented, but “invisible.”

“It’s really hard growing up, looking at the TV and not seeing anyone who looks like you,” he said.

Even as a director, Evans is still faced with difficulties in collaborating with others.

“When you’re the one person with a difference, you’re not always the person people want to work with,” he said. “I struggled a lot with people not wanting to work with me, people seeing me as a weak link.”

Wright State student and aspiring filmmaker Edward Sevillano was on hand for FilmConnections and believes in casting the more deserving person for the role.

“With no disrespect to Evans, I don’t have any problems casting able-bodied actors in roles of disabled characters,” said Sevillano, 27. “If I see an able-bodied actor who is deserving of the role, I won’t take that opportunity away from him or her.”

Evans’ message wasn’t lost entirely on Sevillano though.

“He made me aware of what artists with disabilities have to go through to have the same opportunities as others,” said Sevillano. “I admire him for standing up for what he believes in: equality for all, abled or disabled.”

While the attempts to create more opportunities for those with disabilities have been an uphill battle, progress has been limited to creating awareness.

“It’s a slow process, but there is SAG, the Screen Actors Guild, which is trying to work really hard to get more opportunities for people with disabilities,” Evans said. “We’re very early in the process, toward seeing any real progress.”

Evans said he hopes that those who face similar adversities keep chasing their dreams.

“Never give up,” he said. “It’s hard, but if it’s really what you want to do, it’s all worth it.”