March 6, 2023
Inevit-ABLE Truth: There’s No Diversity without Disability
By Benjamin Pola
“Dear Entertainment Industry, there is no diversity, equity, and inclusion without disability.” This “open letter” to studio executives began appearing on vibrant, neon-colored billboards and audio ads across the U.S. in 2022. It expresses a powerful, heartfelt message near and dear to recent SCA alumnae, Marisa Torelli-Pedevska '22. And is the foundation of her work to give people living with disabilities opportunities to tell their stories.
In 2021, Torelli-Pedevska and partner, Richie Siegel, co-founded the Inevitable Foundation, a first-of-its-kind organization dedicated to funding and mentoring professional disabled screenwriters, while building a much-needed content development and staffing pipeline for film and television. But why the “Inevitable” Foundation? Torelli-Pedveska shares, “we wanted a name with forward-motion, something that said ‘this industry change is happening no matter what, so get on board and be a part of it.” And thus, as a part of its efforts, the founders created the first all-disabled staff agency of creatives to launch the “Disability Is Diversity” campaign which is now in all major cities across the U.S., making a plea to all major studio executives to rethink how they approach matters of diversity.
As a graduate of the MFA in Writing for Screen and Television program at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Torelli-Pedevska was taken aback when she learned the harsh realities that disabled writers and creatives face when trying to break into the entertainment industry.
Although disabled people make up over 20% of the U.S. population, only 1% of all employed TV writers are disabled. Additionally, none of the major TV networks even mention disability in their diversity and inclusion efforts, nor was there any mention of disability in the Neilson 2020 Diversity Report. As a disabled writer, Torelli-Pedevska remembers thinking, “this is very scary and problematic," especially as she approached graduation.
This realization led to the creation of the Inevitable Foundation and was the beginning of a movement that the entertainment business desperately needed.
“If you want to impact the stories on screen and the overall impact of representation, writers are the most logical place to start in our opinion,” shares Co-Founder and President, Richie Siegel. With this philosophy in mind, they launched their very own screenwriting fellowship in the Spring of 2021, and in just a little over a year, the program has experienced much success and growth.
For starters, acceptance into the year-long fellowship comes with a sizable grant. “One of the first holes that we realized existed for disabled writers was funding,” says Torelli-Pedveska. A primary challenge for most writers is generally centered around finances and finding the time to write while balancing work, family, and personal obligations.
In its 2021 pilot stage, fellows were given a $25,000 grant. However, the Spring 2022 fellows received $35,000 grants (as will future cohorts) to help them focus on finetuning their writing projects.
Additionally, fellows are assigned industry mentors, provided weekly writer groups, and various professional development opportunities that are available to them even after their fellowships are completed.
Torelli-Pedevska and Siegel’s latest project, which is in its pilot stage, is a concierge service for all the major studios. After meeting with over 75 studio executives in 2021 to discuss ways to improve the representation of disabled writers, it was clear that the people in charge did not know where to look when wanting or needing to hire disabled writers.
The Inevitable Foundation began compiling a list of mid-career disabled writers who are qualified and eager to join writers rooms. The first iteration of this list has already fielded over 130 requests from 40 companies across the industry.
The growth of this concierge service is the first step in expanding the Inevitable Foundation’s efforts to a border group of disabled writers. As Siegel put it, “this allows us to take the work we are doing with the fellowship and expand it, and turn that into a service we can actually use right now.”
The Inevitable Foundation has already made great strides within the entertainment industry to bring about change for disabled writers. Since its initial launch, the foundation has helped multiple fellows get staffed on network shows. It has provided invaluable mentorship and contacts for fellows to pitch ideas to studios, which has led to a few projects currently in development. But perhaps most important, the foundation is effecting meaningful conversations with those in power to help boost awareness and visibility for the disabled community, which is often overlooked in conversations about diversity.
When asked how the foundation measures its success, Sigel says the long-term goal is to “self-destruct this organization because the reality is that if in 20 years we are having the same issues, we need to reevaluate our strategy and approach to bringing about the change we are looking for.”
To learn more about the Inevitable Foundation or to find ways to get involved, you can visit Inevitable.Foundation or follow them on Instagram at @inevitablefoundation.