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Cannes Disability Campaign Is A Flop

April 30 2010 | by


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, 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.

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  • Cathy

    I can understand wanting to be able to arrive to anywhere the same way everyone else does. For example. Years ago I had to go to a courthouse as a legal secretarial student and the only way I was able to get into the building was to take the elevator the prisoners were brought up in. That is CRIMINAL. I believe by now we should have come much further in accessibility for all. Why shouldn’t Mr. Marckos get his photo taken on the red carpet just like everyone else.

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  • Terri

    I don’t understand this perspective. By this standard Rosa Parks was out of line for not wanting to sit in the back of the bus, after all it wasn’t as if they’d made her walk…

    I understand that we don’t all join in every disability rights effort, but I don’t understand criticizing earnest people with disabilities and their heartfelt efforts–or the diversity of their allies.

    Disablism is a pervasive, multi-faceted problem that must be attacked on many fronts if we are to be effective.
    Couldn’t we applaud the efforts in Cannes–even as we work elsewhere?

  • Anthony

    I read this post about a week ago and i wanted to find out as much information about this whole endeavor as possible. Here’s what I’ve been able to find out. First things first, The Cannes red carpet is only 24 steps, major difference with the number 50, also it’s a back door not a side door.. I read where that came from and i couldn’t believe that it came from the Cannes communications representative, i believe she should know better. Secondly, his campaign is not in Cannes itself but in Canada, Montreal to be exact, and they want it to go international (which is a commendable effort).

    I saw the trailer to their documentary on the website and it’s pretty telling from what I’ve been able to see. the subject of what they call “image discrimination” is pretty important, cause they have touched not only the disabled but all others that are sort of image discriminated against, like race, religion, disability, sexual that’s what they state anyway. I also fell on many press releases they’ve done and I don’t think your right with the fact that you say he wants to go up the red carpet in his wheelchair sort of like his 15 minutes of fame, i’m sure he does lol, but what I heard was that, he wanted to help do this not just for him but for others in that same type of situation, I mean why shouldn’t other disabled talents not have that right? I believe personally that he deserves to be doing what he’s doing, if he doesn’t who will? I do agree about the money donating thing, but they state in a press release that it’s for the first association against image discrimination, sort of a watchdog group thing i guess. all in all, I don’t think it’s such a hard thing to ask for, but i guess we will know much more about their real intentions once their shock doc comes out.

  • http://www.rdadaptiveapparel.con Susan Kleiman

    rdadaptiveapparel.comHi Sue & Bob,
    I wanted to pass on this blog from Michael Janger who I met this past weekend at The Assistive Technology Expo at Orange County Community
    College. He was born deaf and he just inspired me and he is also supporting my vision. I will attach a link to his blog on a separate e-mail. Your blog is great!
    Susan Kleiman

  • Judith

    For a person in Hollywood and in the entertainment industry, being seen is part of their job. To have to ride through a side door is not part of the media coverage or industry recognition.

    I realize the building is historic, but can’t a temporary ramp be set up? I mean, this is the film industry. What happened to all the set builders out there? I am sure this could be done safely, tastefully and with respect to the veneration of the building.

    Also, for their lack of closed captioning and the use of Flash, did anyone suggest this? Remember, not everyone understand the needs of every disabling condition. You would be surprised how many groups do not know about best website practices.

    As for there being a class of cultures, what? Yes, they all come from different backgrounds, but it is a coalition. They bring different perspectives and experiences of what they have experienced.

    I do not know everything about this group, but I cannot dismiss them out of hand, especially based on this description.

    Education, not alienation.

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