Our approach to disability representation in the making of Rising Phoenix


The challenges and issues for people with disability both on and off screen are well documented. It is an industry where it has traditionally been hard to achieve representation. Rising Phoenix is all about showing what is possible and HTYT and Passion Pictures production teams set out to work to the highest accessibility standards we could so we could be true to the values of its storyline. We also did this because we knew that the involvement of people with disability would strengthen the team and that their talent and perspective would improve the film.

Making the film – from research and production through to music

Our thinking on representation started before we funded the film. It was our intention that everybody who worked on it thought through the opportunities available for individuals with disability. As a result, people with disabilities have been involved in Rising Phoenix on and off screen from the very first piece of research through to the final title track.

This proactive approach has resulted in over 16% of the film’s working days being fulfilled by people with disability.(1) This compares favourably with other UK public targets, including the BFI’s aim to achieve 7% employment of people who identify as deaf or disabled by 2022(2) and Channel 4’s aim to have 12% disabled staff across the organisation by 2023.(3)

Key to achieving this was a team wide commitment to prioritising recruitment through non-traditional channels as well as doing everything we could to be a ‘good place to work’. This meant ensuring office space and all filming locations were fully accessible.

We employed a talented and experienced researcher through the UK charity Leonard Cheshire’s ‘Change 100 scheme’. We appointed Tatyana McFadden as one of the film’s Producers. Tatyana is not only a star of the film as one of the most decorated American Paralympians in the modern era but also a renowned disability rights activist responsible for the Maryland Fitness and Athletics Equity for Students with Disabilities Act.

We are very proud of the final title track of the film which is a collaboration between the film’s composer, Daniel Pemberton; artists georgetragic, Toni Hickman, and Keith Jones; and Krip Hop Nation, a movement demonstrating alternate arrangements through which hip hop artists with disabilities can communicate.

Post production

We worked closely with the RNIB during pre and post-production and received guidance on the design and implementation of graphics and captions. Netflix carried out audience research with a visually impaired focus group, organised by the RNIB, to assess the film’s accessibility before the final cut.


The principle of inclusive and representative production has been replicated in the distribution of the film. The film will be subtitled in 30 languages and Audio Described in 10 languages. There will also be Closed Captions / Subtitles for D/deaf in 31 languages and Dubs in 9 languages.

Additionally, Netflix will produce a descriptive transcript in English for viewers who are deafblind. The descriptive transcript provides both visual and audio information to be read via a Braille device.

With thanks to

We are very grateful to the partners whose wisdom, support and expertise proved invaluable.

In particular we would like to thank Leonard Cheshire, The Royal National Institute of Blind People, The British Film Institute, Sightsavers, The International Disability Alliance and Netflix.

Greg Nugent, Co Founder of HTYT Films and Producer of Rising Phoenix said:

“Our ambition was to try to set a new benchmark in accessibility for the disabled community in the making of Rising Phoenix. Without question, the film was made so much richer through the talent, perspective, and spirit of people with disability who were part of the team from the very outset and it shows what can be done when non traditional recruitment channels are prioritised. We are proud of what we achieved together but recognise that there is much more to be done by all of us.”

Neil Heslop, chief executive at Leonard Cheshire, said:

“It is very heartening to see the Paralympics celebrated in HTYT’s Rising Phoenix. As valued supporters of our Change 100 internship scheme for young disabled people, it is particularly fitting that HTYT have created a film about ability and potential. Through supporting Change 100, they have helped many realise their own.

“We are delighted to have contributed in our own small way to this celebration of the Paralympics, especially one that has made it to such a large platform.”

(1) The total number of working days by all members of the production team from the first day of pre-production (08/04/2019) through to the completion of the online (31/06/2020) was 2,595 (defined as days that team members were directly contracted and paid to work by the Company or by third party fixing companies engaged by us to facilitate filming overseas). Of these days, approximately 423 were carried out by people with disability.

(2) https://www.bfi.org.uk/supporting-uk-film/diversity-inclusion/inclusion-targets

(3) https://assets-corporate.channel4.com/_flysystem/s3/2019-11/Channel%204%20-%20Inclusion%20and%20Diversity%20Strategy%202019_7.pdf