The Ruderman Family Foundation, an international leader in disability inclusion, on Tuesday honored acclaimed filmmakers Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly with the Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion in recognition of their advocacy for the inclusive and authentic representation of people with disabilities in the entertainment industry.
At the same time, the brothers’ leadership on this issue comes at a time when some progress is being made on inclusive casting, as the Ruderman Family Foundation recently released new research showing that over 20% of top show characters with disabilities on TV are played by actors with disabilities compared with only 5% in 2016. Further, Zack Gottsagen, star of “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” last month became the first actor with Down syndrome to present an award at the Oscars.
“After glaringly leaving disability out of the conversation about diversity for far too long, Hollywood is now showing signs of fulfilling its immense potential for leadership in inclusion, social justice and civil rights,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “Changemakers like the Farrelly brothers are indispensable players in efforts to shift the conversation and build momentum towards a more inclusive and authentic casting landscape. With the growing influence of such advocates, there is no limit to what Hollywood can achieve as a paradigm for inclusion in all of society.”
High-profile actors Larry David, Ted Danson, Cheryl Hines, Kevin Pollak and Ron Livingston; a number of actors with disabilities; and New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman were all part of the star-studded group of attendees at Tuesday’s ceremony. During a moderated Q&A with the Farrelly brothers and Emmy Award-winning TV host Zuri Hall of Access Hollywood, the renowned filmmakers described where the entertainment industry is still lacking in diversity and outlined their plans to ensure inclusion for all is a priority across Hollywood.
“This is not a victory lap. This is the beginning of something,” Peter Farrelly said. “This is a forgotten group of people. They have not gotten their time in the sun. You talk about diversity, and disability has to come next. They have to get their rights, they have to get in that door, people have to be seen…We’re aware of black and white, we’re aware of male and female, but we’re not aware of disability.”
In 2018, Peter Farrelly co-wrote and directed the comedy-drama Green Book which won the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay and earned the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. The Farrelly brothers have also been the screenwriters and directors for a wide range of famed motion pictures, including Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, Hall Pass, Me, Myself & Irene, Shallow Hal, Stuck on You, Osmosis Jones, There’s Something About Mary, Fever Pitch, The Heartbreak Kid, The Three Stooges and Dumb and Dumber To.
“We’re not experts on the disability community,” Bobby Farrelly said. “We have included a lot of people with disabilities in our films and TV shows. We did it because that’s the world we know and we wanted to be true to it…Whatever we do for the disabled community, I’d say they’ve given a lot more back.”
The award, now in its sixth year, was named after Morton E. Ruderman, a founder of the Ruderman Family Foundation. A successful entrepreneur, mentor and proud family man, he saw his success as the result of help he received from others and was therefore passionate about providing opportunities for others — including assisting many people in becoming independent and successful in business. In previous years, the award has gone to advocates from several societal sectors, including decorated swimmer Michael Phelps, Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin, former US Senator and driving force behind the Americans with Disability Act, Senator Tom Harkin, disability self-advocate Ari Ne’eman and Harvard Professor Dr. Michael Stein.