The Media Access Awards Come to PBS

Back in the mist of time – actually, the mid 1990’s – Christopher Reeve, after his horrendous accident, created the Christopher Reeve Acting Scholarship (now called Award). The recipient of this annual cash award would be a young, promising disabled actor who needed help in navigating the treacherous waters of Hollywood. In that era there were few to none disabled actors appearing in films or on TV and Christopher knew the lottery-level odds of such an actor establishing an ongoing career. But he also knew there were those willing to challenge those odds to fulfill a dream.tobias-forrest-photo-by-rich-ryan

Cut to 2023. The Christopher Reeve Acting Award has been part of the annual Media Access Awards, a celebration of disability representation in media, for 25 plus years, thanks to the ongoing support of the foundation. But, boy, how things have changed. Especially over the last few years, opportunities for disabled performers and the number of disability story-lines have grown exponentially. Back in the 90’s, there were maybe four of five self-identified disabled writers in Hollywood. Now, in the Writers Guild of America West, the essential union for screen writers, there are now more than sixty.

Disabled performers are now making headlines. In 2019, Broadway wheelchair actor Ali Stroker won a Tony Award for the musical, “Oklahoma.” The 2021 movie, “CODA,” was a watershed event in the history of American cinema, a film about a Deaf family, mostly conveyed in sign language, that won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Deaf actor Troy Kotsur. Skeptics could no longer say that disability-centered films make audiences “sad” and they won’t watch.

As they say in baseball, the disabled are now building a farm team. Young disabled actors, many of them supported by the Reeve Award, are getting small parts and building impressive resumes, like all actors do. The statistics of disabled performers in leading roles are still slight, but as the pool of talent grows, more stars like Marlee Matlin or Peter Dinklage will emerge.

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The winner of this year’s Reeve award is one of those up and comers. His name is Tobias (Toby) Forrest and he is the star of a current unreleased film making the festival rounds called “Daruma.” Toby is a C-5 quad who became paralyzed at age 17 while diving into shallow water at the Grand Canyon. In “Daruma,” he plays an embittered wheelchair user who discovers he has a daughter he never knew about and has to get her across the country to live with her grandparents. His frenemy who helps him is double-amputee actor, John Lawson. These two cranks drive each other crazy and Toby shines. After a long apprenticeship, he is on his way.

The irony is that, twenty years ago, Toby was awarded the Reeve scholarship when he was a rank neophyte. It cemented his commitment to acting and the determination to endure years of minor roles and perfecting his craft to reach star status.

The 2023 Media Access Awards will be broadcast on PBS stations in Southern California and streamed nationally on the PBS streaming app (which you can download for free) on Sunday, December 3rd at 9 pm PDT. Once the initial streaming, you can view it anytime, day or night, like any other streamed show. The hosts will be two Academy Award winners, both Deaf – the above-mentioned Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur – and besides Toby, winners include Simon Cowell of “America’s Got Talent” and the producers of “New Amsterdam.”

Having two Deaf hosts is of course a first for any broadcast/streaming show but equally groundbreaking is the fact that this is the first such national show ever to celebrate the achievements of disabled talent in film and television.

If Christopher Reeve were still with us, he’d be beaming.

To watch the final screening in New York City of Daruma on December 1, 2023 at 7:45PM at the Regal Cinemas in Union Square, purchase tickets here

About the Author - Allen Rucker

Allen Rucker was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and has an MA in Communication from Stanford University, an MA in American Culture from the University of Michigan, and a BA in English from Washington University, St. Louis.

Allen Rucker

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $10,000,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.