By Raya Al Jadir
A disabled actor, artist and activist has criticised the film industry for its continuing failure to address discrimination, after he was dropped from a role and replaced with a non-disabled actor.
Chris Tally Evans (pictured) was originally handed the part of a blind man in the short film In This House, following a successful screen test, after being recommended to film-makers Tree Top Films by Disability Arts Cymru.
Evans was asked to provide a “showreel” of his film and television performances, but his roles had come before he lost his sight and so were on obsolete video formats.
In the early 1990s, after he lost his sight, he found it impossible to take part in casting sessions because of the lack of access, but he was able to provide Tree Top Films with examples of his work in his own films, live performances and appearances on BBC current affairs programmes.
Because he did not have a showreel, the film’s funders, Ffilm Cymru Wales (FCW), asked him to record his own monologue, and then take part in another screen test.
Evans was then told by email by Tree Top Films that he had been dropped from the part because FCW wanted a more “established” actor.
Just 10 days later, he received another email, this time from the equality charity Diverse Cymru, asking him to act as a consultant on the film to help the non-disabled actor playing the part he had originally been given.
Evans admitted to feeling “cheated” out of a role he was deemed to be “not good enough” for, and noted the irony of how he and other disabled actors are overlooked for parts but are then needed as consultants.
He said: “It is a backward attitude and not in the spirit of equality.”
Tree Top Films has now apologised for the way it treated Evans.
Owain Hopkins, creative director of Tree Top Films, said the company had “scoured south Wales” to find a visually-impaired actor to play the part, but had been unsuccessful and so “had no option but to cast a non-visually-impaired actor”.
He admitted that Evans had originally been offered the part, but said: “On viewing the footage from the screen test, we realised that Chris was not the right actor for our film.
“This is not an uncommon practice in the film industry.”
He insisted that “not casting Chris had absolutely nothing to do with his disability”, and that the company was “committed to supporting disabled actors”.
Pauline Burt, chief executive of FCW, said her organisation was “committed to supporting the sector to improve their working practices to encourage greater diversity in the workforce”.
She said: “It is clear that more could be done to facilitate those with disabilities to enter and continue to work in the sector and to that end we are currently working with Diverse Cymru to develop best practice guidance for the sector.
“As a general principle, we would support and prefer to see roles authentically played – however, there is no reason to confine actors with disabilities to disabled roles.
“And it is important to take full consideration of the specific circumstances of any given film: that includes assessment of any inappropriate trauma that might arise from the particular demands of the role, the availability of cast, and their suitability for the role.”
Michael Flynn, director of influencing and partnerships at Diverse Cymru, said Evans’ experience would be included as a case study in the charity’s Diversity in Film and TV project, which will support production companies and funders to diversify their workforce.
Flynn said FCW realised there was a problem and was “taking action to sort it out”.
He said: “They would like us to go through their policies and practices, look at monitoring, and also support them to pass on the messages to the companies that they fund.”
Evans said the incident was “just one of many that occurs more frequently than people think”, although he said the industry had improved in the last decade.
He has been asked by FCW to talk to a group of producers about recruiting disabled actors but said he feared the move could be tokenistic.
He said the industry needed to ensure that disabled characters are played by disabled actors, while such parts should not have to focus on their impairments.
And he said Diverse Cymru was keen to expand a database of minority actors and performers that it uses when approached by production companies, while monitoring how often they are recruited.