The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently held a series of panels focused on breaking down barriers in the media and entertainment industry for people with disabilities. Animator Jorge Gutiérrez (The Book of Life) led the panel “Fresh Voices: Hollywood’s Untapped Talent and Unlimited Potential” with two rising stars, Millicent Simmonds (A Quiet Place) and Zack Gottsagen (Peanut Butter Falcon).
Gutiérrez, who broke into the film scene in 2014 with his Dia de Muertos animation The Book of Life, wasn’t diagnosed with autism until he was 40. He spoke to Simmonds, who is deaf, and Gottsagen, who has Down’s Syndrome, about his experience.
“[Autism] is a thing that early in my life brought me some difficulties,” Gutiérrez said during the panel. “I would say it’s become my superpower and it’s allowed me to be really focused on my job and inquisitive about the process. That thing, as a kid, I was told would be a weakness has turned out to be my strength.”
According to a 2019 study from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California, only 1.6 percent of speaking roles for Hollywood’s most profitable movies in 2018 were for characters with a disability.
As an animator, Gutiérrez said that the medium lends itself to creating all types of characters, including those with disabilities, which is important because kids are watching.
“I really believe it’s our responsibility to acknowledge people with disabilities and put them in the stories and in these films because that’s the world we live in,” Gutiérrez said. “A lot of [animation] is for children, so…you plant those seeds and illuminate children to see disabled people as ‘normal people.’”
In October, Gutiérrez was named as one of the “10 Animators to Watch” by Variety. He is currently in pre-production on his new Netflix series Maya and the Three about a demigod warrior princess. In the past, he has called the upcoming series a Mexican version of The Lord of the Rings.