Jamie Brewer in American Horror Story.

American Horror Story star Jamie Brewer will speak at a special Screen NSW and AFTRS event on May 25 to draw attention to the need for more diversity and inclusion in the screen industries.

AFTRS and Screen NSW have joined with Bus Stop Films to foster pathways for people with disabilities to work in the Australian film and television industry.

Brewer, the American actress best known for her roles in the Emmy award winning hit TV series American Horror Story, is an advocate for creating positive role models for people with disability, and in February 2015, became the first person with Down syndrome to walk the catwalk at New York Fashion Week.

 The event, An Evening with Jamie Brewer, to be hosted at AFTRS, with a keynote address by Screen NSW chief executive, Courtney Gibson, is designed to encourage more discussion amongst production companies, casting agents and the wider community on how the Australian film and television industry can best move forward in creating roles, both on and off screen, for people with a disability.

Gibson said it was time the screen sector focused on creating opportunities for under-represented groups, "including disabled cast and crew, in order that a multiplicity of visions and voices are seen and heard. We'll have a stronger industry with richer content if we make it a priority.”

While in Sydney, Brewer will also participate in an acting workshop for filmmaking students with disabilities being run by Bus Stop Films at Sydney Community College.  

According to Genevieve Clay-Smith, co-founder of Bus Stop Films, a non-profit dedicated to facilitating a film school experience for students with disability, the Australian film and television industry has a long way to go in casting characters with a disability authentically.  

"Brewer will star in the next Bus Stop Films production titled Kill Off, a new short film being made by with students with a disability, to be filmed in Wollongong," she said.

 “Australia is behind when it comes to authentic casting, we simply don't have high expectations of actors who have disabilities, we need to start challenging that, to look for ways to cast actors with disabilities in roles where the character shares the same disability. We also need to advocate for pathways for people with disabilities to get more involved in production.

“Jamie Brewer's presence in Australia will, I hope, shed light on the abilities of people with a disability to be involved in the film industry,” said Clay-Smith.

In the first season of American Horror Story: Murder House, Brewer portrayed Adelaide Addie Langdon, the daughter of the main antagonist, Constance Langdon, played by Jessica Lange; in the third season, American Horror Story: Coven, Jamie portrayed Nan, an enigmatic and clairvoyant witch, and in American Horror Story: Freak Show, she played opposite Neil Patrick Harris as Chester Creb's vision of his doll, Marjorie, come to life.

As well as hosting this event with Brewer, AFTRS has also committed to research with Bus Stop Films to create an accessible film studies curricula that can be shared with educators of disadvantaged students and other marginalised groups Australia-wide. 

Clay-Smith said bringing students with an intellectual disability into AFTRS for our classes, will be extremely transformative and impacting. 

"It will give our students access to resources that will bring dignity, professionalism and excellence to their learning,” she said.

This new program initiative is aimed to encourage the development of more inclusive and diverse filmmaking practices at AFTRS and the wider film industry, in addition to giving Bus Stops Films’ students a chance to be officially part of the film school world.

AFTRS chief executive, Neil Peplow said he was pleased to support the philanthropic work of Bus Stop Films to enable greater access and professional filmmaking resources for students with disability. 

"There is so much we can learn from researching this new course and it will be instructive be to see the students’ visions and insights on screen,” he said.

Bus Stop Films is a voluntarily run Sydney based organisation which, since 2009, has been working with people with an intellectual disability and others from marginalised communities, to bridge the tertiary gap and give them access to a film school experience. 

Bus Stop has produced five short films including the winning 2009 Tropfest film, Be My Brother, that have screened both nationally and internationally.

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