South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Upending stereotype­s

Kiera Allen honored to represent people with disabiliti­es in film that flips typical narrative

- By Deborah Leiderman

Kiera Allen made her feature debut recently, playing opposite Sarah Paulson in theHulu suspense film “Run.” It is a rare instance of awheelchai­r user starring in a thriller.

Allen, 22, discussed playing Chloe, a home-schooled teenager with an overprotec­tive single mother, and howthemovi­e upends typical narratives about people with disabiliti­es.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: We don’t often see an actorwhous­es a wheelchair inreal life in this type of role— in a major thriller.

A: It feels like it’s going to be the first time a lot of people inmy generation ever see a realwheelc­hair user on screen playing a wheelchair user. That’s a huge honor.

There is so little media representa­tion of people with disabiliti­es that I feel like I’m representi­ng an entire community because of this lack of visibility. I’m really hoping that this movie brings down some barriers and that more disabled people are cast in majormovie­s.

Q: Whatdid youthink of themovie’sportrayal of disability?

A: This film is unusual in theway it portrays disability, not only in the authentici­ty of casting, but in the story: This is not a girl who’smade to be a victim or who’s only there to inform another character’s journey. She defines her own journey. Her disability is a part of that, but it doesn’t definewhos­he is. It’s similar to theway I viewmyself.

Q: Whatwas it like to beonset? Was it different frompast experience­s?

A: Everyone listened. Theywanted to knowhow best to accommodat­eme and howtomake everything comfortabl­e and accessible. Therewere things that they thought of that I hadn’t even thought of. Sowe had great communicat­ion throughout.

They approached­me about sending amemoto the crew, just being like, here are a fewthings about working with a person with a disability tomake everything go smoothly: For instance, don’t pushmy

chair; don’t come behind meand pushmy chair without asking first. Just putting out one small page of informatio­n made a huge difference.

Q: Howdid your reallife experience or the nuances of your life get translated into or help shape the role?

A: The scriptwas already written so beautifull­y in thisway— as soonas I read it, I emailed the director (Aneesh Chaganty) and

was like: This is one of the best representa­tions of a disabled character I’ve ever seen. And regardless of if I’m right for the role or not, I cannotwait for people to see this.

And so even though it was already so compelling tome, whenwe got onto set, they made space for meto say things like, “This is howitwould be most comfortabl­e formeto do this” or “Iwould use this word and not thisword,” like very small things,

because the scriptwas already so good, but things that didmake a difference tome.

Q: Have youdiscuss­ed thefilmwit­h anyonewho is disabled?

A: I’ve had some really great conversati­ons about accessibil­ity, about Chloe, and howshe flips the narrative of abuse of disabled people. She’s not a victim. She’s a hero. And the mother, the abuser, is not portrayed as someone who’s doing her best in trying to care for a disabled child, and it’s just too muchfor her, and she has no other choice. The film doesn’t sympathize with her in thatway. That’s something that I’ve talked about with some disabled folks who’ve seen the film and find that perspectiv­e refreshing.

Q: There is one scene where a broken escalator foils an escape. Did you have any input in that?

A: Thatwas all the writers. Theywrote this wonderful representa­tion of disability. They did a lot ofhomework. One of the things I love somuch about this film, and that’s so unique, is its representa­tion of accessibil­ity. It is in so manyways a scary story of accessibil­ity and inaccessib­ility. Chloe gets trapped in a basement and can’t get out because her mother has weaponized inaccessib­ility against her.

It’s a terrifying thing, inaccessib­ility, being trapped somewhere, being unable to get out, having to rely on peoplewho may ormay not have your best interests at heart, people whoyoumay not even know, when a space is inaccessib­le. That stuff is really scary. And I’ve never, ever seen any art in any form that represents that terror. And it is terrifying.

People often see it as unfortunat­e or sad or something to be pitied. But it’s not that; it’smuchmore visceral. It’s a threat, and it’s a terror.

Q: Whathas it been like to seedisable­d characters portrayedb­y nondisable­d actors?

A: There have been films that represent disability using able-bodied actors that have been important tome, and I felt seen, and I felt like thiswas a representa­tion of disability that was really true tomy life. But thatwas also all I had. I didn’t have a lot of pieces of entertainm­ent— films, TV, plays— where I could see a genuinely disabled person in that role. I’m just so excited for young people to see that now.

Q: Whatwould youlike todonext? Wheredoyou see your career going?

A: I’m in college, so I’m just thinking about the present moment of getting through the semester and this film release. I absolutely­want to continue acting. I love towrite as well. Iwould love tomake that a part ofmy acting career. It’s exciting to be a part of this big moment for representa­tion, but I do hope it’s a lasting change.

There is a bit of a history of disabled actors being celebrated for one role and then not having opportunit­ies on that same level again. That scaresme. But as long as I’m doingwork that’s good, with good people, and that’s rewarding, that’s something I’m really happy to do.

 ?? JOYCEKIM/THENEWYORK­TIMES ?? Kiera Allen, shownin LosAngeles, stars opposite Sarah Paulson in “Run.”
JOYCEKIM/THENEWYORK­TIMES Kiera Allen, shownin LosAngeles, stars opposite Sarah Paulson in “Run.”

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