Article: BFI FAN, Signature Entertainment and MenCap put spotlight on learning disability and inclusivity with The Peanut Butter Falcon

Mencap and Signature Entertainment, the UK distribution company for The Peanut Butter Falcon, have teamed up to help address the historic under-representation of people with a learning disability in the film industry with support from BFI FAN New Releases.

There are 1.5 million people in the UK with a learning disability, defined as a reduced intellectual ability which affects people for their whole lives. Yet according to recent research, only 2.7 percent of speaking characters in popular movies between 2007 and 2016 were depicted as having a disability, of which over two thirds of characters were depicted as having a physical disability.[1] While when it comes to the top prizes, 16% of acting Oscars have gone to non-disabled actors playing disabled characters.[2]

Mencap’s ‘HERE I AM’ campaign aims to increase the visibility of people with a learning disability in the media and in society. As part of the campaign, Mencap conducted research in 2016 which revealed that only 12% of the public say they had seen someone with a learning disability in a film in the past year.[3]

By partnering with Mencap, Signature Entertainment has helped increase the representation of people with a learning disability in the film industry – both on-screen and off. The Peanut Butter Falcon stars Zack Gottsagen, who has a learning disability, as the lead character, Zak.

Film critics with a learning disability took to the red carpet to cover the UK premiere of The Peanut Butter Falcon, starring Zack Gottsagen, Shia LeBeouf and Dakota Johnson, and also interviewed the film’s leads at an exclusive UK press junket. Through the partnership, film critic with a learning disability, Amy Clarke, had her review quoted on a promotional film poster which was distributed across the London Underground tube network from Friday 4th October.

While film critics with a learning disability, Harry Roche and Ciara Lawrence, joined fellow critics on the red carpet at the UK premiere of The Peanut Butter Falcon at BFI’s London Film Festival in London on the evening of Thursday 3rd October. Harry Roche also interviewed Zack Gottsagen and Shia LeBeouf at an exclusive press junket in London.

Harry Roche, film critic and Mencap Ambassador who has a learning disability, says: The Peanut Butter Falcon is more than just entertainment. Zack Gottsagen’s character Zak will help change attitudes towards people with a learning disability in society as well as kick start conversations in the film industry about including people with a learning disability more often. Characters with a disability must be played by an actor with that disability, and that’s why Zack’s character is so important. For far too long, people with a learning disability have been largely invisible in film but Zack has shown that we can play these big parts and do it really well. We hope that through our partnership with Signature Entertainment we can also show how other parts of the film industry can be more inclusive of people with a learning disability too. Better representation of people with a learning disability across the film industry, including people with an invisible learning disability, will help change people’s attitudes towards people with a learning disability, like me, and make the world a better place.”

Signature Entertainment’s Claire Loewenthal says: “We are thrilled to be working with Mencap on the release of this very special film. The Peanut Butter Falcon has received an overwhelmingly positive response from audiences and critics around the world. The film is currently the number one independent movie in the US and we are confident that UK audiences will respond similarly when it hits UK screens later this month. Much like Zack’s character in the film, the movie has beaten the odds and achieved what people said was “the impossible”…. Proving that anyone can dream big and succeed. The film has been a labor of love for everyone involved and, together with Mencap and our partners at BFI Fan, we are delighted that not only are we able to offer movie-goers accessible screenings but we are bringing the films, and Mencap’s, very important message to the big screen.”

The Peanut Butter Falcon will be receiving a nationwide theatrical release courtesy of Signature Entertainment and with support from BFI FAN New Releases on October 18th.

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[1] Smith, S., Choueiti, M., and Pieper, K. (2017) Inequality in 900 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race/Ethnicity, LGBT, and Disability from 2007-2016.)

[2] Hijinx (2018) Screen industry embrace recommendations for new standards for casting neurodivergent actors as Hijinx targets Oscar by 2030.

[3] Mencap (2017) Diversity at the Oscars: Disabled actors and organisations publish letter calling for more opportunities for actors with a learning disability. Press release. An online survey was conducted using Ipsos’ online panel (IIS) with a UK sample of 2,002 online panellists aged 16 and over. Ipsos MORI and Mencap worked together to develop the survey questionnaire. Fieldwork took place between 28th April and 10th May 2016.


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