KBOO Community Radio interview

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I’m a big fans of community media in all its forms. I’m currently taking classes to become a Producer at Portland Community Media. We hope to film more Very Special Episodes there. And I definitely also want to have a disability culture program there on TV. Because do we have one? I don’t think we do!

This evening, Caitlin and I had the great honor to do a short interview for KBOO Community Radio. It means a lot to us because we know that our ideas and politics will be respected at a place like KBOO. Would I like for us to have an interview on a mainstream, large, or commercial radio station? Maybe someday. But honestly, the risk is high we won’t be understood or accepted there for the ways in which we challenge stereotypes and demand that disabled people have the space to speak up as themselves. If we thought we would be readily accepted for our views on affirmative disability identity, intersectional identities, and the need for disabled people to be media makers (and not just consumers), we wouldn’t have needed to make Very Special Episodes in the first place. Or we might have made them, but they wouldn’t be that special. Everyone would be making something like them.

Here’s the link to the news program where we were played: http://kboo.fm/content/evenin8: the evening news for December 12, 2014.

We come in around 22 minutes and 20 seconds in. But I’d encourage you to check out the pieces before us. There’s some extremely important news there, including some timely news about protesting the way the United States Postal Service is contracting with Staples stores to have post offices inside the stores. Bad stuff. Great activism. Why do I care about this news item so much when I could be celebrating our radio interview? Because USPS gives preferential hiring to our Veterans and disabled Veterans. Will they have that kind of support after USPS lays off jobs to give them to non-unionized Staples employees? And because disability justice is completely tied to all other forms of justice, and that includes fights for adequate employment with a living wage in a respectful, hospitable environment. So have a listen.

Please join us in social justice work from any angle you want. Listening to local, community-made media on topics that directly affect marginalized folks and foster inequality is a great way to start.

Here’s the transcript of our interview, which you can listen to in the KBOO link above:

Host: Cheryl Green and Caitlin Wood reject the way mainstream media portrays the disabled community. So these activists and filmmakers collaborated to make a series of provocative short films that reveal the comedy and reality of being disabled. Green and Wood will host a screening of their project Criptiques On Film:  Very Special Episodes tomorrow from 2:00 to 4:00 pm at the Center for Intercultural Organizing. KBOO’s Joanna Peterson spoke with Green and Wood about the filmmaking process and inspiration behind their work.

JOANNA: First, I’d love to hear about how the project began.

CAITLIN: Well, initially, it started out as the book, “Criptiques,” which is an anthology of all disabled writers talking about disability and addressing issues that really you don’t see elsewhere. And from that Cheryl and I have been friends and collaborated before. We really wanted to expand Criptiques and try different media. And so we decided that we wanted to do some short films that were disability-related and also funny and present this side of disability that you don’t see. So we were able to get a grant to make the Criptiques On Film:  Very Special Episodes.

JOANNA: So can you tell me what the filming process was like?

CAITLIN: Cheryl?

CHERYL: Sure! Sure, so you know, like Caitlin said, it was kinda inspired or motivated by the Criptiques written anthology. We didn’t actually film things that were straight out of the book cuz those were people’s essays. But we were really trying to think about the topics that were covered in there and the ways that they were covered. So what we did was we had a series of writers’ meetings. Caitlin and I and our partners got together and just sort of riffed and improvised and tried all sorts of stuff out. And we had four performers at first, all with different disabilities. But for various reasons, two of them had to leave the project. And so we basically scrapped everything we had been working on in the writers’ meetings for a few months and just had to scramble and come up with something new. So we had a few more writers’ meetings and then grabbed all my gear and just started filming.

JOANNA: So next, could you just explain the title of the film more? What do you mean by Very Special Episodes?

CAITLIN: [laughs]

CHERYL: [laughs] I love that question!

CAITLIN: Yeah, so I love this question too. So I was raised watching a lot of Lifetime movies and after-school specials. So one reason it’s called Very Special Episodes is a play on the sort of after-school special where people learn things at the end and become better people, because we’re not doing that at all in these videos. But also, and more importantly, there is a tendency to label disabled people as special, and anything we do is sort of considered special and separate. So we see that labeling disabled people as special as really dangerous and insidious. So the Very Special Episodes is a play on calling disabled people special and also a reference to the after-school specials.

JOANNA: Going off of that, a lot of mainstream TV shows like maybe “Glee,” for example–

CHERYL: Ooooooh!

JOANNA: –gets a lot of criticism for who they cast as the disabled characters and then how those characters are portrayed.

CHERYL: Yeah.

JOANNA: So how did you kind of move away from this type of thing in your own work?

CHERYL: So for us, it wasn’t so much a process of moving away as much as really examining what we take away from these portrayals and then doing the opposite or doing something that’s totally fresh and totally new.

JOANNA: So you mentioned growing up watching these after-school programs. At the time, were you disgusted by them? When did you really start consciously viewing them as a problem?

CAITLIN: I don’t think at the time I saw them as problematic just because I was so young. I think it wasn’t until later in my life that I started examining portrayals of disability and really seeing how inaccurate and upsetting they are. So I think it wasn’t until adulthood that I guess I really actually began to pay attention to portrayals of disability and reject how the mainstream media presents us.

CHERYL: Yeah, and my entry into it was very different because I acquired my disabilities later in life. And before, when I was non-disabled, I worked on this project back in Austin, TX called “Actual Lives Austin.” And it was sort of conceived of by a Deaf, queer performance Terry Galloway. It was autobiographical storytelling and performance about the lived experience of disability. And even that phrase, “the lived experience of disability,” even that was radical and something I’d never come across before. I had only really seen the after-school special type of “Oh, how inspiring! Oh, they have just so many challenges! Oh, they’re so different!” You know, I grew up being fed that treacle and those lies. And I worked on this project and saw that the art and the storytelling from the disability community does not have to be, “Well, here’s my diagnosis, and here’s everything that’s hard for me. And here’s why I still have a positive attitude.” No, that’s the crap that we usually see. But Actual Lives didn’t do any of that.

JOANNA: You both mentioned earlier about how this isn’t like those after-school programs, and you’re trying hard to dismantle it. So what are some kind of specific ways that you did that? I’ve heard that you use comedy.

CAITLIN: This is a great question. One, Cheryl and I had many conversations about this, and we both think that just the fact that we are two disabled women making art, making activism, and creating these portrayals that are unique and not like what you would see in tradition media. That in itself, I think, is radical and interesting. We’re not inspirational. We’re not tragic. We’re not necessarily even likeable in these funny episodes. And a lot of people, when they hear the word “disability,” comedy does not come into the equation for them (a lot of non-disabled people, rather). So we really wanted to do something that celebrate our culture, celebrate our identities, show the humor in that. I think that humor can be extremely effective in activism. And we really wanted to portray disability in a way that you just don’t see.

JOANNA: I’ve been speaking with disability activists and filmmakers Caitlin Wood and Cheryl Green. We’ve been discussing their new project Criptiques On Film:  Very Special Episodes. There will be a screening of the episodes tomorrow from 2:00 to 4:00 pm at the Center for Intercultural Organizing. For KBOO news, I’m JoAnna Peterson.