This actor with Down syndrome made history at the 2020 Oscars
His film, The Peanut Butter Falcon, may not have won any awards at the 2020 Oscars this year but actor Zack Gottsagen sure made history. Zack is the first actor with Down syndrome to be a present at the prestigious Academy awards.
In a year when the Oscars have been slammed for being racist and gender-biased, one welcome sign of inclusion. The 2020 Oscars ceremony will go down in history books as the first to have a presenter with Down syndrome. Zack Gottsagen, an actor with Down syndrome, took the stage on Sunday to announce the Oscar in the best live action short category.
Zack’s debut film released in 2019
Zack went on stage with Shia LaBeouf, his co-star in the 2019 film The Peanut Butter Falcon. In the film, Zack plays the part of a man with Down syndrome who runs away from the nursing home where he lives to pursue his aspirations of becoming a professional wrestler. Shia and Zack became close friends while making the movie.
In an interview to NY Post, Zack’s mother Shelley Gottagen said, “They love each other and really encourage each other. Shia’s been very supportive of Zack as an actor, his professionalism. [He] did a lot with promoting the movie, you know, which, Shia always doesn’t — that’s not really his thing, but he did it for Zack.”
Childhood dream to act
Zack, who is 35 years old, wanted to be an actor since he was a kid.The filmmakers behind The Peanut Butter Falcon said they wrote the film for Zack after meeting him at a summer camp for people with disabilities.
His presence at the prestigious Academy Awards ceremony is being seen by many as a welcome sign. The Ruderman Family Foundation, which advocates for disability inclusion, hopes this will mark the beginning of a larger change.
For nearly a century, disability has been glaringly left out of the conversation on diversity in Hollywood, [so this] award presentation marks a substantive step forward for both the Academy and the entertainment industry as a whole. It is our sincere hope that this milestone serves as a springboard for greater inclusion in Hollywood, including through increased authentic casting of actors with disabilities in disability-based roles, and able-bodied based roles. – Jay Ruderman, President, Ruderman Family Foundation
Hollywood figures call for greater inclusion
Just weeks ahead of the Oscars ceremony, over 70 top actors, directors and others from the Hollywood entertainment industry released an open letter asking the film industry to become more inclusive of disabled people. The letter pointed out that in the history of the Academy Awards, among the 61 Oscar nominees and 27 winners playing characters with a disability, only two were authentically portrayed by an actor with disability and posed the question, “Why is disability excluded from the diversity conversation?”