There’s a point in the first episode of Perspective Shift that equally broke my heart and frustrated me. Daniel Monks, actor, director, writer, all round talented guy, is talking about the lengthy production and release of his (and filmmaker partner Stevie Cruz-Martin) first feature film, Pulse. He mentions about how every producer turned down the production, and eventually, Monks and Cruz-Martin had to pour their own money into the production to make it a reality. Then, after spending an age editing the film, no festival would accept it. It wasn’t until the Busan Film Festival accepted Pulse for an international debut that the film finally took off.
It broke my heart and frustrated me because Pulse is a genuinely great film. It’s a film that comes from a lived-in experience that Daniel has as a disabled gay man, and is a film that challenges social ableism. What that means is the way that society encourages or forces those who live with a disability to feel like they should be ‘normal’. Pulse has Daniel’s character going through a radical surgery where he is able to leave his disabled body behind and become a blonde woman. While this means leaving his body behind, it also means that he can be open to the guy that he’s fallen for. In a dual act of cruelty, society has moulded a person who is unable to love himself because of his disability, and has made him uncomfortable about his sexuality.
To have Pulse rejected by the festivals that should be accepting this kind of art feels like one final blow.
But, as Daniel mentions, this was in an era before the push for diversity in media. While attitudes have changed rapidly, and there are still a lot of gains to be made for disabled actors.
Enter Perspective Shift: a three part series on SBS that was created to drive a change in attitudes toward disability in Australia. Each episode focuses on an Australian artist who happen to have a disability. The first episode is Daniel, the second is artist Prue Stevenson, and the third focuses on dancer Jana Castillo. All episodes highlight how these artists have excelled in their area of art, showing how they have succeeded where society has often deemed them suitable to fail.
This is reflected when Daniel talks about his dream of being an actor, and calling up an acting school to apply to be a student and advising them that he had a disability. Their response, as recounted by Daniel, is upsetting, as they advise him that they want to provide a platform to create careers, and because of his disability, they cannot guarantee a career for him. Instead of helping give him the tools to break down that mentality, they deny him outright.
Early, Daniel talks about not having any disabled gay icons to look up to when he was growing up, but it’s clear that once his episode has wrapped up that he has become that figure for the many disabled gay people out there in society. With an AACTA Award nomination, and a Helpmann Award nomination under his belt, he has become the figure that he needed and desired growing up. Success is slow, but Daniel has gotten there, and he has become part of the change that the industry needs.
The way that society perceive those who they label ‘different’ is one of the silent injustices that occurs all around us. While Daniel’s story covers how disability is invisible or forgotten due to the way that these stories aren’t told in media, it’s Prue’s story that invites viewers to understand and appreciate her autistic culture. As Prue puts it, ‘I don’t have autism. I am autistic. I’m the Prue version of autism’. And it’s through her artwork that we get to see the Prue version of autism come to life.
Prue Stevenson is one of Australia’s top emerging visual artists, with her art coming from her identity as an autistic woman. Her art pieces show how she connects with the world, and through this, she invites those who engage with her art to see and empathise with how she connects with the world. In a curious way, Prue’s art came about from being told to watch people on a bus and learn how they act so she can ‘act normal’. As she watched the passengers, she sketched their posture, and in turn created art from there.
Through Prue’s art, she finds an outlet to engage in the act of ‘stimming’. The act of ‘stimming’ is where one ‘self-stimulates’ to protect themselves against over-stimulation, with the intention of creating a calming effect. In turn, Prue’s art becomes a result of her own self-care, a way of Prue recognising how to help herself when she has an autism attack. As such she creates a 30 metre scarf which is the result of her stimming, and as her father mentions, when rolled up this scarf becomes a way to feel the weight of anxiety.
Prue’s art evolves to a point where she can create a space that helps her turns the act of stimming into an art event. As such, the understanding of what a version of autism looks like is brought to the public, and the barriers of acceptance are broken down.
Commissioned by Attitude Foundation, the core thesis of Perspective Shift is to give society the tools to move forward on a path to inclusion. Daniel and Prue’s stories show two people breaking down barriers, forcing the world to change around them so they can be themselves. And once they are able to be themselves, it’s clear that society becomes more accepting of them. I truly hope that Perspective Shift helps break down barriers for others so the next Daniel or the next Prue doesn’t have to face the same challenges that they did.
What’s even more impressive is that Perspective Shift is leading the change by including the communities that the show is about in the creation of the show. The show was created with the intention to reduce the harmful stereotyping and misrepresentation of those living with disability in media. On top of this, this is the first show on SBS On Demand that has an Audio Description for people with vision impairment.
Perspective Shift is a joyous series to watch. I’m eager to catch the third episode, but I’m also hopeful that we get more of these stories. I was already familiar with Daniel’s work, but I’m grateful to have my eyes opened up to the wonderful art of Prue Stevenson.
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