PBS‘ acclaimed documentary series American Masters has launched a new inclusion effort aimed at supporting stories by, for and about disabled communities.
The Visibility, Inclusion and Accessibility Initiative aims to expand American Masters‘ commitment to stories and creatives within the larger disability community, launching with a new series, Renegades, alongside a talent incubator and expanded accessibility features for programming distributed by the series.
“There is a broad and diverse audience hungry for this content,” said Michael Kantor, executive producer of American Masters. “Thanks to steadfast support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and other partners, we look forward to working closely with Day Al-Mohamed and Amanda Upson to expand and deepen our commitment to stories for, by and about people with disabilities.”
Debuting in October 2024, the digital series Renegades will highlight and celebrate the lives of diverse American historical figures with disabilities, with five teams of disabled filmmakers producing, directing and writing the episodes. The series is created by FWD-Doc co-founder Day Al-Mohamed, who served as Director of Disability Policy at the White House, produced by FWD-Doc Interim Director Amanda Upson with Charlotte Mangin executive producing.
Upson will also lead the VIA’s Incubator, which will be creating with input from artists, accessibility experts, public media stations and organizations. Focused on driving increased opportunities for disabled filmmakers within the public media system and improving diversity and representation in front of and behind the camera, the incubator will — with American Masters’ support — convene filmmakers multiple times starting in November 2023.
Alongside support for creatives and their stories, American Masters will expand the tools available to access that work for all audiences, starting in early 2024 with Edward Hopper: An American Love Story in early 2024. Following its work creating a more equitable digital viewing experience with films like Becoming Helen Keller, Renegades Pilot: Kitty O’Neil, Elsa, and Protactile: A Language of Touch, American Masters will create accessible online versions of its new programs and accompanying trailers.
Previous projects have featured ASL interpretation and audio description, as well as websites designed with deaf, blind and DeafBlind audiences in mind. Under the initiative, newer releases will continue and grow these efforts with extended audio description, open captioning and onscreen ASL interpretation, continuing to advance the stories in public media that champion visibility, inclusion and access.
Funding for the VIA Initiative comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with additional support provided by Anderson Family Charitable Fund, Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, The Marc Haas Foundation, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III and The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation.