Long after I wrote “Black Iris” – a love story about James, who is blinded in tragic but heroic fashion, and Sarah, who is confronting her past demons – I was totally shocked and subsequently disappointed to learn that a blind actor has never been cast as a lead in a major fictional North American film.
Wait. Say that again…A blind actor – male or female – has never been cast as the main character in a major fictional North American film.
We’ve seen movies like “Scent of a Woman” starring non-blind actor Al Pacino, “At First Sight” with also not blind actor Val Kilmer, and most recently the much maligned film “Blind” starring – you guessed it – fully able to see actor Alec Baldwin. What’s going on here?
First, we have to go back to our film “Black Iris” where we have made it our mandate to be the first ever major fictional North American film to hire a blind or visually impaired actor to play the film’s leading role. In our case, James. Early on it was one of our non-negotiables for inclusivity, authenticity, and in the end the morally just choice. We have just started the hunt for that actor and I’m confident we’ll find them…wherever they are.
In the case of the other films bigger stars were obviously hired as a way to secure funding and/or an award worthy vehicle to adorn shelving with Oscars or Golden Globes. There is merit to that, as it’s extremely difficult for anyone to get funding in the film and television world, but as I’ve learned by my chats with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind there is nothing a person who is blind or visually impaired can’t do.
We aim to prove that.
We aim to prove that a blind person can learn all their lines. We aim to prove that a blind person can effectively move around set with proper blocking and guidance. We aim to prove that you can have a safe, secure, and positive set no matter who is there or what is happening. We aim to prove that inclusivity is not just something to talk about but to act on. We aim to prove that we can cast a blind actor in the lead role and produce an incredible, important, heartfelt, and emotional film that isn’t about being blind, but rather about living normal life with visual impairment.
There will be challenges, but we are excited to tackle those challenges and the benefits far outweigh them. Above all else we’ll have an amazing authentic performance and for maybe the first time I can think of, a blind actor will play a sighted person, if only for a few scenes.
This journey will be an important and groundbreaking one, but in the end we hope to be the first ever major fictional film in North America to have a blind actor as its main character. We hope you come along with us.
Writer/Director “Black Iris”