Australian women with disabilities break through Hollywood film industry ranks – ABC News

Australian women with disabilities break through Hollywood film industry ranks
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When Chanel Bowen was recovering in a hospital bed, she couldn't know that she would be in Los Angeles in three years working for the biggest family animation business in Hollywood.
Originally from Dunsborough in Western Australia's South West, Ms Bowen was injured in a horseriding accident and left with brain damage, which made her hearing impaired and prone to overheating.
Despite the effects of the injury, Ms Bowen still rides horses and has a successful career as a director, including for popular series like Mystery Road: Origin.
She won a spot in the Screenworks' Regional Screen In LA program, which gives Aussies from regional areas access to the Hollywood industry,  just two months after leaving hospital. 
Ms Bowen said the brush with death gave her the push to apply and start learning about making the stories she was interested in.
"I was still bedridden, I'd get really stoked if I'd walk to the kitchen that day, that kind of thing," she said.
"I was really dissatisfied with what kind of things I was doing each day. Because prior to that, I was a very ambitious person, a very, maybe painfully over-achiever."
Now Ms Bowen is living in Los Angeles working for animation film company Animal Logic Entertainment, which makes popular family-friendly movies like Happy Feet, and she is an advocate for the inclusion of women and people with disabilities in media.
The film industry has been restricted and exclusionary for many years, but Ms Bowen said she felt it was becoming more inclusive of people with disabilities.
Netflix Australia's recent series Heartbreak High has been praised for its portrayal of diverse characters, especially those with disability.
Quinni Gallagher-Jones, performed by openly autistic activist and writer Chloe Hayden, is the main character with autism in the hit comedy-drama.
Ms Hayden helped write a lot of Quinni's character and she said the authenticity came down to the diverse writers.
"Some of it was intentional, but there was a lot of my own life experiences that were kind of written into the story that was unintentional," she explained.
"She [Quinni] was written to be neurodiverse, but they never actually specified what that meant. And I think after the casting directors and the writers of the show saw how passionate I was about this … there wasn't any other option.
"There's definitely a lot of experiences in it that are very much my own story, but also very much the story of the writers of the show who are autistic, and there were autism consultants too and it's their story."
There are still many barriers to neurodiverse and disabled people getting positions in the film industry, something Bus Stop Films CEO Tracey Corbin-Matchett is committed to breaking down.
"Within the screen industry and getting a job, it's really based on who you know," Ms Corbin-Matchett said.
"And it's also an industry that's based on networking. And so, for people with disability, if you don't get invited to the drinks, you don't get invited to the opening night, cinemas [are] inaccessible, then you're not seen and you're not considered and you're not part of the conversation where the opportunities come through."
Bus Stop Films is a not-for-profit organisation that supports and educates people with disabilities in filmmaking, and has recently started an employment service to help their students find jobs in the industry.
Ms Bowen has worked with Bus Stop Films, which has outlets across Australia and have recently expanded to WA.
Both Ms Hayden and Ms Bowen have tales to tell about experiencing discrimination in the film business.
Ms Hayden said before she auditioned for Heartbreak High, she lost several roles when casting directors found out she was autistic.
"The casting director would call me up after I've gotten the role and be like, 'Hey, we just found out you are autistic, we can't offer you the role anymore'," she said.
"That happened to me at least a dozen times.
"It's not a great feeling, it just shows that there is a place for us. It's just about finding those good people and not letting those bad experiences alter you."
Ms Bowen said after her accident, she was labelled "an insurance liability" by a producer when she applied to join a production team.
"It was a shame that my first experience trying to come back to a set after obtaining my disability was so negative, and I never stepped foot onto that set," she said.
"The producer, she eventually said, 'Oh, no, you can come' … and I didn't want to.
"I knew what kind of a person was running that set, I knew that I didn't want to be in that culture."
But her experience could not have been more different when she returned to the Mystery Road team to make the prequel series Mystery Road: Origin.
Dylan River, director and head writer for Mystery Road: Origin, said when Ms Bowen returned to the set, he did not realise she'd had a head injury.
He said it was helpful Ms Bowen was open about the constraints of her disability, and he was willing to compensate for her needs.
"But for me, the best thing was being aware of it, because otherwise I would have not thought differently," he said.
Ms Bowen said she felt respected by Mr River and enjoyed working on Mystery Road, despite the Kalgoorlie climate presenting a challenge for her overheating issue.
"There was just so much trust there from Dylan River. He had so much faith, and we'd worked together before," she said.
"He would turn to me and he'd go, 'What do you think about this? You go do that, you tell this mob that', and I loved that trust and that faith."
Mr River said he jumped at the opportunity to work with Ms Bowen again.
"She's fantastic at her job," he said.
He said it was important that what was behind the scenes reflected what was on the screen, aiming to have diversity within his film crews.
"The industry has realised that we need people making films that are multicultural and inclusive of our society," Mr River said.
Despite the barriers against diversity in film and television, people like Ms Hayden and Ms Bowen have been trailblazers in changing attitudes both in content making and acting.
"I think it is so overdue that we see more representation … if you're not going to do it 100 per cent accurately, there's no point in doing it at all," Ms Hayden said.
"If you're going to have disabled characters, disabled people need to be in all aspects of that process."
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