In previous decades, most audiences rarely questioned the casting of a film. At most, some would ponder whether the movie would be improved by replacing one noteworthy actor or actress with another. Now, however, the issue of diversity in casting is being brought to the forefront as viewers are becoming increasingly fatigued with the all-white cast norm that has been established in most treasured American films. Just one look at America’s most favorite films will show a comfortable reverence for the all-white, all-able-bodied cast.
“Becoming Bulletproof” is centered on Zeno Mountain Farm, a film company whose primary objective is to create media with equal representation of both disabled and nondisabled actors. The actors involved task themselves with creating a short film every year, learning more about themselves and the nature of diversity in film as they work towards a common goal. The members of ZMF challenge themselves to create a Western titled “Bulletproof,” a film recognized not for the actors involved in its creative process, but by the merits of the piece itself.
“Bulletproof” is a 1920 Western film with a fairly basic plot of cat and mouse but also a very intricate cinematic storyboard. Every moment of the film captures the wealth of complexities that go into the filmmaking process, such as perfecting lighting, angling cameras and enunciating syllables to engender precise emotional effect. “Becoming Bulletproof” is about actors as much as it is about acting.
Too often, the critical nature of society sets up a barrier between the lives of disabled and nondisabled individuals. Many able-bodied individuals assume that the lives of disabled people are too inherently different from theirs to warrant any level of commonality between them. “Becoming Bulletproof” shows that this is simply not the case. As featured actor A.J. Murray said, acting is translating the human experience. A passion for the arts speaks to our humanity and removes the constricting labels that society so easily establishes.
Michael Barnett’s documentary “Becoming Bulletproof” draws attention to an omnipresent problem regarding the representation of disabled actors in film, an issue that is often blatantly ignored. The captivating message that Barnett is able to convey is well worth being heard by all who are looking for more inclusivity in film.
Barnett’s documentary is an enlightening and heartfelt cinematic experience that gets directly to the core of many issues plaguing not just modern film, but society as a whole.
“Becoming Bulletproof” has a screening at the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled on Sept. 21
A version of this article appeared in the Sept. 21 print edition. Email Michael Dellapi at [email protected]