When my husband’s Aunt Annie was pregnant she devised and performed a one woman show “From Here to Maternity”
You could say that my cousin-in-law Daniel Monk’s stage debut was at 7.5 months in-utero. Being on stage in the womb was just his first foray into the world of performance; when he was 6 months old he appeared and acted with Annie once again in a film “Poor Bludgers”.
With an actress for a mother, being on stage in-utero, and then in the film as a baby he must have caught the “acting/directing bug”. Throughout primary school he organised his classmates to put on performances and at 11 he was shortlisted for a lead role in a national children’s TV series.
Sadly a spinal cord tumour was discovered in his young body a short time later, then to make matters worse a biopsy went wrong. It left Daniel paralysed and those performing dreams were pretty well crushed. Surviving and learning how to move, walk and function were the only focus.
Thankfully brilliant neurosurgeon Charlie Teo removed the tumour after a surgeon told Annie and her husband it was inoperable and incurable. Charlie Teo saved his life, but Daniel was now disabled – he had no movement down one whole side of his body.
But Daniel didn’t let his new disabilities stop him. He was voted Head Boy in year 12 by his fellow students, travelled the world with a crutch and a backpack in his gap year, including a trip to Japan with my husband and I, and volunteering in Kenya.
When he returned home he was accepted into AFTRS (a leading national film school) and went on to make 10 short films which have been accepted into festivals around the world.
Now he has written and hopes to act in his first feature film Pulse. It’s a story of a gay disabled teenager who turns into a beautiful woman to feel loved.
I tell you this, not only because our whole family are incredibly proud of Daniel and what he has achieved, and many of us have donated to help the film come to life, but also because Daniel’s story is an interesting one.
Right now in Hollywood there is a push to highlight a big inequality, and it’s not the right for same sex couples to marry. There is another one happening right in front of our eyes and it is disabled actors playing disabled roles. They rarely do.
Scott Jordan Harris of Balder and Dash writes
‘Able-bodied actors should not play disabled characters. That they so often do should be a scandal. But it is not a scandal because we do not grant people with disabilities the same right to self-representation onscreen that we demand for members of other groups who struggle for social equality.
Consider “Glee”, a TV show unmistakably self-satisfied with its inclusiveness. Its makers would never have considered having Rachel, the female lead, played by a man in drag. They would not have considered having Mercedes, the most prominent black character, played by a white actress in blackface. But when they cast Artie, the main disabled character, they chose an able-bodied actor and had him sit in a wheelchair and act the appearance of a disabled person.
Women were once prohibited from performing onstage. The female characters in Shakespeare’s plays were, in their first incarnations, played by boys doing their best impressions of women—and continued to be, until society deemed this offensive, self-defeating and absurd.
Black and Asian characters were once often played by white actors.
Those actors observed black people and Asian people, and they tried to walk like them and talk like them. They used make-up and prosthetics to imitate their physical characteristics, and took roles that would have been better played by black or Asian actors, two groups for which opportunities were already disproportionately limited. Today, just the idea of this is distasteful to us.
But able-bodied actors do all these things in efforts to imitate disabled people, and we do not protest’.
He goes on to make many more points including how we applaud able actors who play disabled characters, but would never do so to any of the above-any more. Yet disabled actors are often looked over for disabled parts, even though they are quite literally perfect for the part. Of course some do, for example actors with downs syndrome, but more often than not it doesn’t happen. It’s inequality right under our nose, and until I met and got to know Daniel, I didn’t even realize it was a problem, but it is.
And so I write this, not only to highlight to you an amazing Mum who against all odds did all she could to able her disabled son; not only to draw your attention to an issue you probably didn’t even realize existed; but also to applaud my cousin for breaking down barriers and to ask for you to look out for the film when it is made and simply support it. As Annie said in an email to the family garnering our support:
“We have immense gratitude that the universe has allowed him to keep following his passion and not stop dreaming”.
You can follow the film on the links below and who knows, this could be a small step in solving an even bigger problem, and my amazing cousin will be part of the ‘Pulse’ of the movement.