It’s time again for the Cannes Film Festival; only this time there’s a twist. As Hollywood hotshots ascend the 50 steps of the Palais des Festivals and are adorned by global paparazzi and movie fans alike, Canadian screenwriter Sean Marckos, who uses a wheelchair, must enter the movie hall in less-than-dramatic fashion: through a side door.
Despite pleading his case for two years, Cannes officials have refused to install a ramp that would allow Marckos, who has muscular dystrophy, to wheel up the red carpet in all his glory.
Marckos has not remained complacent. He began legal action, and is producing a documentary called Just Imagine, which follows his plight in Cannes. He has built a website, garnered corporate supporters and is holding a fundraiser on May 5 in Cannes to raise awareness of discrimination.
And… cut. This is as far as I can genuinely support Marckos and his cause. His campaign, the Campaign to Raise Awareness Against Image Discrimination in Society, includes not just people with physical disabilities, but also African-Americans, Muslims and Little People. While there’s nothing wrong with bringing together groups of minorities who traditionally have been negatively stereotyped, it detracts from a very real issue and necessary call-to-action: Making public accommodations more accessible to people with disabilities.
Just the name alone – “Image Discrimination” – gives the impression that it’s more important to be seen walking the red carpet, for public relations purposes, than to actually have access to a ramp. In the documentary, in which he stars, Marckos squawks at the festival’s security guards about “equal access” even though there is an accessible side door that he can go through. What Marckos wants is “equal photo opportunity.” The Palais de Festivals is more than 100 years old, and the French government need not deface the building’s historical structure to accommodate a Hollywood fete.
I have been to Cannes Film Festival twice. It’s not a controversial place; it’s France Light. People go there to have a good time, and break news of the Variety and Us kind. Instead of relaxing with a Kir Royale and enjoying the swaying palm trees of Cote d’Azur – not a bad life, eh? – Marckos spends his hours wheeling around town trying to convince everyone to join the fight against image discrimination.
So who’s on board? For starters, there’s the short-statured actor Verne Troyer, best known for his role as Mini Me in the Austin Powers movies; Danny Glover of Lethal Weapon fame; Ousmane Traore, a musician from Senegal; Azhar Usman, a comedian who is Muslim by faith; Blues singer Jim Zeller; and Alan Shain, a comedian who has cerebral palsy and teases his audience with provocative questions such as, “Do wheelchair-people ever go to the bathroom?”
Call it a clash of cultures. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason in the roster, and it’s not clear how one group can take inspiration or solace from the other. And campaigning for image restoration in the vacation resort of southern France seems like grandstanding, if nothing else.
Take the numerous videos and clips that the campaign has released on their website, Reflexionscampaign.com. None of the films have closed-captions, and the site is built in what looks like a really choppy version of Flash, which likely isn’t accessible to all screen readers. They’re asking users to donate money, but it’s not clear where their contributions will go: To the Beverly Hills Image Restoration Factory?
Marckos really seems like an emperor with no clothes. I admire his ambitions, but if he really wants to advocate for the disabled he should take a stand on the issues that count.