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It’s time to hire people based purely on talent when building production teams

Hi, I’m Bryanna Angel, a makeup artist and I have severe lupus and partly deaf.

My career as a makeup artist began 20 years ago, just after my son was born, who is also disabled. I wanted to work around his care so I decided to go to college and study beauty.

Centre Stage, the BBC’s makeup school, saw me doing a show as part of my course, and contacted me to ask if I’d train with them. I went in, and from there fell in love straight away. I worked for the BBC for a long time, went over to ITV, and then Channel 4, film work, and finally London theatres.

I’ve worked on many advertising campaigns, everything from Gucci, Fila, and Nike, through to Grosvenor’s London Estates. And, for a long time now, on disability-related campaigns (including, recently, The Valuable 500 initiative). I’m definitely not an activist but more inclusion and access for disabled people in media production is something I’ve really pushed for over the last 15 years because it’s so important.

Understanding accessibility

My career has definitely been challenging at times, some jobs require long hours, multiple locations, and travel demands. I'm also a wheelchair user, which means sometimes, though not often, I can work sitting down, but on the other hand, some jobs have no wheelchair access. So, on those days, my husband comes with me. This requires an understanding that somebody else needs to be on set, which has been difficult since Covid-19 because of the limits on the number of people in studios.

I book my jobs wisely and they often come from word of mouth, so if someone has recommended me, they’ll already have said that I’m disabled so it’s not usually a question that comes up. But I’ve definitely had to adapt to the working environment rather than it being the other way around.

I’m hoping people are becoming more aware, but it’s a long haul. It’s silly things that they don’t consider like walking between locations, and the accessibility of the studio and parking. On travel, they often assume that everybody comes in on the train or tube, and I can’t take the tube.

The benefits of inclusive production

Working on the new “Human Touch” campaign, created by Merkle B2B alongside Annex creative studio, for legal and finance firm Irwin Mitchell, was a fantastic experience.

They bought in a production team including a whole range of people with disabilities and impairments, everybody had all their needs met and, on set, I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. My walking’s terrible but then a lot of people’s walking there was terrible, so I felt less isolated because you were always close to somebody who was in the same boat.

This also meant that teams had to consider multiple disabilities, because it wasn’t just “this person’s in a wheelchair”, it was “that person can’t see”, “that person’s deaf”, so it was a whole range of things and a lot of thought had been put into the whole production.

Beyond that, they offered me an assistant, which doesn’t always happen. The studio had good access - things that takes minutes to do, like having clear walkways, but generally don’t get the attention, were all in place.

In terms of the campaign itself, I don’t think you could create the same message if you didn’t have the blend of people on the team that we did. All of the people who featured in the ads, were Irwin Mitchell customers. Some of them too had disabilities themselves (one young girl had cerebral palsy) so there was an element of comfort knowing that people within the team also face similar problems.

If people are photographing or filming disabled people I think it’s right to have similar people included within the teams, behind the camera, because otherwise I don’t think it has as much meaning and integrity. That’s so important because we’re the ones producing what the public’s seeing, and if we don’t place disabilities within that then things are never going to change.

The path to greater inclusion

My experience on this set really showed me that when hiring people, it’s important to consider them based on talent rather than the level of their ability. If you like someone’s talent you’ll always find a way to include them. Some of the most amazingly talented people I know are in wheelchairs or are blind, these are brilliant people but their disability is seen as an obstacle over talent when that obstacle is really easy to accommodate.

I’m hoping that inclusion gets better, in every way. It’s 2021, we don’t live in the dark ages, we’re addressing so many issues and disability should be part of that. I think that Covid-19 has given everyone a boot up the arse really, people feel like they have to be more politically correct and better behaved. But I hope it goes deeper than this towards acknowledging and including talented, skilled, people no matter their level of impairment.

Watch the full statement film behind the scenes of the Irwin Mitchell campaign here:

 

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