Shining a Spotlight on Disability

It’s been a rather testing week for some of our talent. We saw Spotlight add another hurdle for disabled actors to be submitted for acting work, and Warner Brothers release a movie shining an all too familiar light on incorporating disability into the ‘baddie role’. 

Spotlight has come under heavy criticism since its system update. While Agents and Casting Directors are struggling to get to grips with the new interface, it’s nothing in comparison to the set-back that disabled actors are facing yet again.

At Winterson’s we are proud to represent a variety of diverse actors including two of our leading ladies; Athena Stevens and Melissa Johns.  Both of whom have faced struggles unlike that of non-disabled creatives via the platforms that are supposed to make the industry accessible.

This week offered an extra blow when a new ‘tick-box’ system was introduced to Spotlight breakdowns allowing jobs posted to exclude disabled actors from being submitted.

Spotlight have responded since with an apology for their lapse in judgement. Sometimes an apology isn’t enough.

We can only hope that the lessons learned here will provide another level of learning. Encouraging platforms such as Spotlight to include the voices of disabled creatives, especially when making decisions that affect their career opportunities.

Speaking to The Stage about the matter Athena Stevens:

Actor Athena Stevens described it as “a whole new twist on the phrase ‘box ticking’” and said Spotlight had added a feature allowing people the power “to discriminate on the basis of disability”.

Asking how “an institution that is so trusted comes up with an idea to create a feature that actively excludes people with disabilities from job opportunities”, she added: “It is still very hard to see what has happened as anything but another example of an institution standing in the way of vulnerable freelancers, at a time when we risk losing these voices in droves.”

Click here to read Athena’s full article in The Stage

‘We don’t want to get up and fight for our place everyday just for the trusted organisation that we pay money to, to undo all of our work. Unlike many other actors, we can’t just get up each day and do our job. Our job includes educating, explaining, allowing space for people to get it wrong as often as they need to, proving to people that we are good enough and deserve our place in this industry.’

– Melissa Johns speaking directly with Spotlight


In addition to all of this Melissa, using her platform of followers on Twitter spoke out about the release of Warner Brother’s adaptation of The Witches, starring Anne Hathaway. In the adaptation the villainess Witches are depicted with limb differences. While Dahl’s books describes the character in a manner of ways, at no point does he indicate they might have what is effectively a visible disability.

Melissa faced back lash regarding her comments as being too ‘PC’ or hyper-sensitive, in response she had this to say;

“We still live in a world that often has incorrect views on disability. And those views have the biggest impacts on people’s lives. Not just the lives of disabled people but their families too. The debate around The Witches Movie and Limb difference isn’t about “PC gone mad” or people being “overly offended”. It’s a chance for those of us that experience discrimination based on our disabilities/differences to highlight the impact of decisions others make and offer solutions if we feel we can.
I know what it’s like to see a parent in tears when people would call their child a “monster”. Or “diseased”. The pit that a child with a limb difference feels in their tummy when others point and cry and are scared to go near them. I know the ache in their chest when other children won’t play or adults stare and ask what’s wrong.
For me, this is NOT about discouraging people from watching films or shaming actors. It’s about speaking up for something that’s important to so many people.
As disabled people, we rarely see ourselves in film and tv, so when we do see our bodies being represented in a way that will have a huge impact on us, we have to highlight that. It’s ok to not agree but let’s show kindness to those who’s lives do change because of society’s perceptions.”
– Melissa Johns
We were very happy to see leading actor Anne Hathaway respond to the criticisms of the roles characterisation publicly on Instagram;







Niki Winterson CEO of Winterson’s;

‘I’ve learned so much from these two great women and have often got it wrong – using the wrong words and misunderstanding the problems. But they’ve taken time to guide and educate me and I’ve grown. I’m so happy to have my picture with them – they’ve both spoken out clearly against injustice this week.’

For more information on the workings of Melissa and Athena head to their Twitter pages