Netflix’s Newest Series Takes Disability Inclusion to a New Level

The Healing Powers of Dude Premieres on Netflix

With one-in-five people having a disability in the U.S. today, the lack of representation – just 3.1 percent on screen and even less in children’s television (less than one percent) – means that millions of people are unable to see themselves in media today. A new show premiering today is bucking that trend. The Healing Powers of Dude, a family comedy about Noah (Jace Chapman), a middle schooler with social anxiety disorder, premieres on Netflix.

Its creators have lofty but achievable goals – to give kids who have anxiety a vehicle to tell their parents how they feel and to “overcome the stigma of talking about mental illness.”

“The more families and friends can talk about this issue, the better the chance people can get the help they need,” creators Erica Spates and Sam Littenberg-Weisberg told RespectAbility.

Spates and Littenberg-Weisberg created  The Healing Powers of Dude based off of true events in Sam’s family, allowing viewers to have the unique opportunity to experience what life is like for Noah as he goes through his daily activities. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), anxiety is classified as the most common health disorder in the U.S. Although general anxiety is classified as normal, anxiety disorders are more difficult to cope with. Eighteen percent of adults and eight percent of children in the U.S. have an anxiety disorder.

In addition to the character of Noah, his best friend Amara uses a wheelchair. The character of Amara is “fearless to help push Noah outside his comfort zone,” said Spates and Littenberg-Weisberg. “There are disabilities you can see, like someone in a wheelchair, and those you might never know about, like anxiety. We decided this could be a great opportunity to show kids and families the struggles people face on both sides, as well as challenge some of the prejudices and misconceptions people have.”

Ninety-five percent of characters with disabilities are played by actors without those disabilities. Amara, however, is played by Sophie Kim, an eleven-year-old with muscular dystrophy who has used a wheelchair since she was four years old. The production team committed early on to finding a young actress who uses a wheelchair, holding a nationwide search to find Sophie, and then adapting the role to her real-life experiences. “Representation is very important to us, as well as to Netflix,” said Spates and Littenberg-Weisberg. “We understand the power of seeing yourself represented in media and that the more you see it, the more it can become commonplace… [Casting Sophie] was one of the best decisions we made making this show. There was never a moment where Sophie didn’t show up to set ready to slay her scene. Nothing about her disability ever hindered production in any way.”

RespectAbility worked closely with team on the character of Amara. “Working with RespectAbility has been an incredibly eye-opening experience,” said Spates and Littenberg-Weisberg. “Not only did they give us helpful notes on scripts to make sure we were representing Amara accurately, the people at RespectAbility were kind enough to share their own experiences and anecdotes to include in our scripts.” Read more from our interview with Erica and Sam below the trailer.

Watch the Trailer

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