The Hero’s Journey: From LA to DC
August 25, 2017 | April Caputi, 2017 AAPD Summer Intern
I’ve always dreamed of visiting Washington D.C. Walking around the historic place reminds me of certain people who inspire me. As I glance towards the Washington Monument, I think of the sweet reunion between Forrest Gump and Jenny. I also think of Martin Luther King Jr. and how he fought so relentlessly for civil rights. As I walk on the lawn of Capitol Hill, I am reminded of Elle Woods’ fierce determination as she graduated Harvard Law School. I also reflect on all the efforts and sacrifices citizens with disabilities made in advocating for their rights.
Washington D.C. holds the history of this country’s formation while being a place of nostalgia as audiences are captured by the hero’s journey in a film. Like these fictional and historical characters, we are all heroes navigating a journey of our own. Mine made sense for a long time as I graduated with a degree in film and completed an internship at Paramount Pictures. But then suddenly I find myself in D.C., interning for the National Archives. Talk about a plot twist!
It wasn’t until I took ASL classes in college that I was exposed to how Deaf people and others with disabilities are often misrepresented in the media. If you know Hollywood, then you would know that while there has been little progress in reducing the stigma around disability, it’s far behind in its time compared to other industries. Personally impacted by this as a Deaf person, I sought ways to change this.
I started casting for my peers’ student films and learned a few tricks of the trade. Casting is deciding which actor you would like to portray a character in a film. As I shuffled through countless headshots and resumes, I was disappointed at how practically none of these people who auditioned had disabilities. My hunger to learn more led me to volunteer at two prestigious events in L.A., where professional casting directors and actors with disabilities discussed this issue. As I listened and observed, I realized I had a passion for diversity & inclusion and incorporating that with casting, and the media in general.
Then, a little of Elle Woods’ spirit sparked inside of me. For my senior thesis film, I was intentional in recruiting a diverse cast. Using a “Schedule A” type of method on my own, I automatically booked a talented actor who is Deaf. The other two leads I booked were minorities in their own ways. I wanted to learn how to accommodate people with disabilities in the entertainment field, so I became the contact point for that among my crew. It was a challenge to pull all the ASL interpreters, schedules, and basic disability training at the last minute as well as assist the director in getting all the film logistics together. But it was all so rewarding. I marveled at how well it all came together and how all my fellow peers from college were being influenced by this diversity touch in one way or another. I felt like a proud mom.
Then the real challenge came when I interned for Paramount. Here and there, I struggled with finding my voice and having certain colleagues understand my needs as a person with a disability. But again, I noticed influences being rippled across as I asked for captions for their film screenings. It was a long process, but it eventually worked out and the responses I received from the people who worked at the studio were all positive. An employee even said that accessibility was a topic that needed to be more highlighted within the studio. While this experience was not without its trials, I completed the internship with my eyes more open than ever before and with the understanding that a small step in the right direction can have a lasting impact on others.
So what does being in D.C. have to do with all of this? I felt like I needed to learn more about how to professionally accommodate people with disabilities while learning in depth about disability rights, and I wanted to bring those skills back to Hollywood. At the National Archives, I am interning in their Diversity & Inclusion department. I work on media projects that promote accessibility awareness and improve the museum experience for all people with disabilities. Here’s a little known fun fact about me. In middle school, I decided that I wanted to pursue Library Science and work for the Archives. Instead, life brought me here with a background in film. I’m often amused at where my journey takes me. I never imagined that I would actually work for the federal government in this capacity. While this is a different experience and environment, I am thankful for all the steps I took to make it to where I am today.
While this transition has not been easy, and my post-grad crisis sometimes leads to meltdowns, I take this as a learning experience in all aspects of my life. Living in the transitional in-between phase of life is normal, and I realized that in some way, this experience will shape me to become a better, more rounded person. Forrest and Elle had gone through these stages. So did Martin Luther King Jr. and many disability advocates. We can all use our own journeys to connect with each other while our stories serve as catalysts to promote change. It is in this in-between stage that we make meaningful connections, struggle together, and create something beautiful out of it. I guess it’s true what Forrest Gump’s mama always said in the film: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
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April Caputi was a 2017 AAPD Summer Intern. This summer she interned with the National Archives and Records Administration.