INTERVIEW: Inclusion on the screen with the cast of S.A.M

Seeing someone you relate to and connect with on the big and small screen is why we tune into the creative arts. However, in the past many members of society were still left out, now, a new film is celebrating disability and sexuality.

When it comes to disability, sexuality and romantic relationships are often overlooked. Take this into the creative arts, disability and sexuality is starting to become more of a norm on screen; however, combined, there is still work to be done.

Writers and directors Lloyd Eyre-Morgan and Neil Ely, known professionally as Eyre and Ely, are set to change this narrative.

VISIBILITY

Whilst working with young adults with learning disabilities on a theatre production, it became apparent that there was one theme in particular that the young participants felt the arts overlooked.

Image © Kenneth James

“We asked the group what they felt wasn’t visible in TV, film, and theatre when it came to disability,” enthuse Neil and Lloyd, the writers and directors of new short-film, S.A.M. “Sexuality kept coming up, the young people felt that they weren’t seen as having a sexuality, or romance. We wanted to challenge people’s perceptions on this topic and thus S.A.M was born.”

THE NARRATIVE

S.A.M. is a coming of age film exploring sexuality and disability that tells the story of two young men, both called Sam. Actor George Webster, who has Down’s syndrome, falls in love with local lad Sam, played by Sam Retford – changing perceptions on love, disability, and sexuality. 

Neil continues: “It’s incredibly important for disability to be seen on the screen like all marginalized groups, and LGBTQ+ relationships, too, as people with disability are part of the LGBTQ+ community; we just tend not to see these stories, we want to change this and get visibility on these stories, and most important getting people to have conversations they probably have been nervous to talk about.”

And George fervently agrees: “I hope it changes people’s minds because it’s not wrong to be different. It shows that, even though you’re in the LGBTQ+ community or if, like me, you have a learning disability then you can do things just like other people can.”

Image © Kenneth James

PERCEPTIONS

Working directly with learning disability charity Mencap during production, the team were committed to ensuring people were represented throughout the filming – both on and off camera – and that S.A.M. reaches the learning disabled community. 

“I hope it shows that we’re different but that’s not something to be judged upon,” adds George. “Don’t assume things about people because that is wrong, we have to all have the same opportunities.”

George emphasises: “Being in a leading role shows others that we can do things. It shows that it’s not something to be afraid of because you can do anything – don’t let anyone say that you can’t do it.” 

Acting alongside George in the film is Sam Retford. Working with Eyre and Ely prior to participating on S.A.M, Sam instantly knew the production was something he was eager to get involved with.

Image © Kenneth James

“I instantly fell in love with the idea,” says Sam. “I’ve lived my whole life living around disability and cerebral palsy, and I’ve always been in to acting, and the two sometimes collided – instantly I was taken to the story and I just found it really real.

SHOWCASE

“LGBT and disabled relationships need to be showcased in the public eye because I think that’s where it all starts: we all watch television and films, people a year ago or five years ago would have felt underrepresented in the industry, they can now turn on the TV and be able to see themselves.” 

Representation on the small and big screen has slowly been improving, however, it is not uncommon to see LGBTQ+ or disabled characters as an addition or sidekick to the main lead. 

S.A.M. puts both topics into the forefront, and with George involved; disability is finally taking centre stage.

Funny, heart-warming, challenging perceptions and breaking down stereotypes, S.A.M. is setting a new precedent for the creative arts. And both Eyre and Ely know that work still needs to be done around disability and relationships.

Image © Kenneth James

ROMANCE

“We feel people are often nervous about telling these stories in case they get it wrong, so they just don’t do it at all,” the writers express.

For over 15-years, Neil has worked directly with people with a learning disability and noticed that people are still apprehensive when understanding or accepting that people with a learning disability have their own autonomy, and can also have romantic relationships.

“Both the boys in the film have full capacity and can make their own decisions such as to be in a relationship together ­– we hope the film helps audiences to understand this,” the pair continue. 

“We have had some feedback that some people have found the film ‘difficult’ due to their lack of understanding and education on the above. 

“We want to expand on this further in the feature film and explore other peoples perceptions of the relationship that develops in the film between the boys.” 

INVOLVED

S.A.M. is changing perceptions, and highlighting that anyone can be on screen or achieve a goal they are passionate about.

During production disabled people had the chance to operate cameras, work behind the scenes, alongside extra roles within the final cut – it is evident in S.A.M. that some productions are actively working to normalise disability.

Sam adds: “I’ve always been surrounded by disability and it has been a huge part of my life. For me, this was just a privilege to be part of the set, in fact, my brother managed to come down on set and he was operating the camera.

“I did catch myself at the start saying I was starring alongside an actor with Down’s syndrome, and this is an unconscious bias that we all have that we feel the need to put that preface in or say that someone is disabled. This is something I learned on the set: we’re all just actors and human beings.

“I hope people take an essence of power from the film, an essence of freedom and acceptability in an industry that is, albeit slowly, evolving.

“I want people to see this – producers and companies as well – and realise that disability and sexuality is not a risk,” says Sam.

Previewing today (6 October) until 11 October, S.A.M. is a film we can all get behind. Telling a honest portrayal of falling in love between two people.

Already tipped for a feature-length production and awards, could we finally be seeing the dawn of an inclusive age of screen?

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