The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed the Senate and was stuck in the House by business that didn’t believe it was more than a legislative burden. At the same time, start-up film company Miramax acquired an independent film with an emerging star, Daniel Day-Lewis, about an Irish writer and painter with cerebral palsy, named Christy Brown, who could only communicate with his left foot. Miramax knew it was a powerful film, but wasn’t sure how to market it. The film’s star, Daniel Day-Lewis did not have a disability. Movies with non-disabled actors encounter protests by disability activists — a non-disabled actor portraying someone with a disability like a white actor in “black face.”
EIN SOF successfully recommended to Miramax to consider pulling the film in movie theatres that were not wheelchair accessible to prove its commitment to the disability community market segment. EIN SOF worked with grass-roots disability organizations like ADAPT and Independent Living Centers, who surveyed local theatres to follow the films “platform release.” In cities like Denver, with a strong disability rights presence, Miramax pulled the film from exhibitors if their theatre was not wheelchair accessible, and voila – the very first disability niche marketing campaign was born.
Disability-rights scholar and then-Stanford University professor Paul K. Longmore, Ph.D. the nation’s foremost expert on disability media images wrote a disability-perspective film review, The Glorious Rage of Christy Brown that was a symbolic “lightening rod” for disability activists to claim swift and un-amended passage of the ADA (it happened five months later). Campaign included Congressional screening on Capitol Hill (everyone got a handmade chocolate left foot and rose); and two-directional direct mail campaign with Longmore’s review that was sent to national disability leaders and the nation’s film critics at mainstream print and electronic media outlets. Plus grass-roots disability leaders were empowered to survey local theatres to ascertain level of accessibility to determine if the film would be shown there.
- White House and Congressional Leadership along with disability leaders showed up in force including White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray, Senators Edward M. Kennedy, Tom Harkin, Paul Simon, Robert Dole, Howard Metzenbaum, Orrin Hatch, Dave Durenberger, and Representatives Richard A. Gephardt, Steny H. Hoyer, Major R. Owens, and Newt Gingrich among others attended along with Daniel Day-Lewis, Miramax founder Harvey Weinstein, Sony and United Cerebral Palsy (screening co-sponsors);
- Coverage of the Congressional Screening that showcased accessible entertainment (WGBH’s Center for Accessible Media provide the first live narrations of a motion picture; and subtitles), congressional leadership and promotional tie-in with the ADA, garnered national print and electronic press, including CNN, NPR, Good Morning America, Wall Street Journal, Marketing Week (now Brandweek), US News & World Report, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Business Journal, Anthony Holden’s book Behind the Oscar, and other disability and mainstream press, including Jenni Gold’s 2013 documentary, CinemAbility;
- Critics read Longmore’s review, got disability insights and historic significance of the Oscar-winning film;
- EIN SOF created the first-ever disability community niche marketing campaign.
Paul K. Longmore, Ph.D.’s Review: The Glorious Rage of Christy Brown