September 25, 2023

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Sheridan O’Donnell on ‘seeing my disability in a new way: as a creative point of view’

Ad Age is marking Disability Pride Month 2023 with our Honoring Creative Excellence package, in which members of the disability community revisit some of their favorite creative projects. (Read the introduction here.) Today, filmmaker Sheridan O’Donnell writes about shooting “Little Brother,” his feature debut.

I was sitting at the bottom of a staircase in an old two-story house with my director’s monitor around my neck. It was the last day of shooting on “Little Brother,” my feature debut. Although my peripheral vision—which I’d describe as colorful, flickering snow—was diminished, I had a clear central vision and could make out the screen and who was on it: Oscar-winning actor J.K. Simmons, complete with his intense, blue-eyed gaze.

Even though we’d already been shooting for four weeks, the sight of a movie star on my monitor saying words I wrote somehow made it real to me. I had made a movie. I took out my phone, furtively snapped a photo and sent it to my siblings. My older sister responded immediately, “I’m so proud of you, Sher. I’m crying.” Her words moved me, but I had no time to relish them. I had a scene to direct. I took a deep breath, assumed my role as director, and called, “Action.”

Just over a year and a half before that day in Montclair, I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare, degenerative eye condition that slowly leads to legal blindness. I spent those first hard months considering the creative avenues society deemed permissible for blind people. There are blind musicians—Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles. There are blind writers—John Milton wrote “Paradise Lost” blind. But I was a filmmaker. There was little to no precedent and a million reasons to quit.


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