Los Angeles (AFP)

"Sound of Metal" candidate for the Oscars with as hero a rock drummer becoming deaf.

A documentary on a hippie camp for young people with disabilities.

A nomination for the first film to star a deaf and blind actor.

The selection of the Oscars this year marks a decisive step towards the development of disability in Hollywood, but the film industry must persevere to maintain its representation at this level, believe professionals interviewed by AFP.

So far, the Hollywood studios "haven't done a very good job, but they know it, we're here to tell them," said Paul Raci, from the "Sound of Metal" film, competing in the Best Supporting Actor category.

The actor, whose parents are deaf and who himself suffered from hearing loss, believes that he is "one of those who must be at the forefront and not let the momentum slip." .

"Remind them of all the deaf artists that we have, all the disabled artists, all the geniuses who are there," he told AFP.

The mistrust is all the more understandable as this is not the first time that the industry has tried to move forward on the subject before falling back into its old ways.

In 1948, Jane Wyman, a hearing actress, won an Oscar for her role as deaf-mute in "Johnny Belinda", a bad casting choice according to Mr. Raci, who likened it to "nails screeching on a slate".

A big step forward was taken in 1987 with the award for best actress to Marlee Matlin, who is deaf, for "The Children of Silence".

But awards for artists with disabilities have remained rare exceptions compared to the progress made in portraying ethnic minorities or LGBTQ on the big screen.

"Very often, the disabled bring up the rear among all these under-represented communities," laments Doug Roland, director of the short film "Feeling Through", selected this year for the Oscars.

He is valid himself, but his film is inspired by his meeting with a deaf and blind man who needed help to cross a New York street.

- "Subhumans" -

For "Feeling Through", Doug Roland hired actor Robert Tarango, who became the first person both deaf and blind to star in a film.

With this short film, which has received support from Marlee Matlin as executive producer, the director wants to make the voices of people with disabilities heard.

A particularly difficult fight in the entertainment industry, where prejudices are "very deep" when people are most of the time not even aware of having them, analyzes Doug Roland.

People with disabilities are "often seen as" inferior "and even" almost sub-human, "he says.

"People are afraid of what they don't know, or they feel threatened," confirms Mr. Raci.

"Deafness is an invisible handicap, nothing in someone says + I am deaf", explains the actor.

For lack of suitable equipment, access to filming is sometimes quite simply impossible for certain artists with disabilities, visually impaired or wheelchair users.

Hollywood stars, including Amy Poehler and Naomie Harris, have just sent the studios an open letter urging them to urgently hire disability specialists to break down these obstacles.

- "The largest minority" -

In an attempt to change things, actor Nic Novicki created a film award in 2013 that requires at least one member of the technical team or the cast to have a disability.

"When I started, we were really under-represented, much more than now," says Mr. Novicki.

He suffers from a form of dwarfism and could no longer be offered roles whose content boiled down to his small size.

Also selected for the Oscars this year is the documentary "Crip Camp", produced by the company created by Barack and Michelle Obama.

It deals with the creation of a summer camp for disabled youth in the 1970s and the determining role that this structure played in defending the rights of disabled people in the United States.

"It's one of the most beautiful and inclusive films I know," says Novicki, praising the work of his wheelchair co-director James LeBrecht.

There are hundreds of millions of people with disabilities around the world, making them "the biggest minority," says Novicki, who believes she should have her rightful place in films.

© 2021 AFP