Madeleine Stewart discusses her thought-provoking documentary Inspire Me
Madeleine Stewart discusses her work as a comedian, presenter and writer of the hilarious and thought-provoking documentary Inspire Me, and shares why she wanted to explore the idea of ‘inspiration porn’ and its effect on people living with disability in her most recent screen work.
Congratulations on having your film Inspire Me, selected to screen at the 69TH Sydney Film Festival (SFF) as part of the Screenability Program. How does it feel to have your film chosen to be on the big screen at such a prestigious film festival?
I’m very excited to see my hard work on the big screen and to share my comedy with such a large audience. It’s incredible to be able to see more disabled artists in film.
Inspire Me is a comedic host-driven documentary exploring the phenomenon of ’inspiration porn’. You also explore this theme in your stand-up show So Brave, which you recently performed at Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Sydney Comedy Festival. Tell us about So Brave and why you wanted to further explore this theme in documentary format?
So Brave is my stand-up comedy hour all about my journey to find love. One of the first things I do is make a big speech on how none of the audience is allowed to find me inspiring. I am so aware that as a disabled artist, some audience members come to my shows expecting certain content: uplifting, mushy, inspirational porn…And look, that’s not my vibe. I’m not here to make you feel good about your own short comings.
Comedy is such a wonderful way to educate people – when they aren’t expecting it. I could dive into the endless topic of ‘inspiration’ for years. It’s so vast and complicated and deeply ingrained in all of us. For years, I struggled with my own identity as a disabled person. I’m not good at sport, I’m not particularly good at anything. I’m just average.
That is how the idea for Inspire Me was born.
I am also very aware of the hilarious hypocrisy that this is an inspirational doco on anti-inspiration. I hope you aren’t inspired by me…or if you are inspired, be inspired not to be inspired. Wow, get your head around that one!
In Inspire Me you interview several well-known faces including Paralympian, Ellie Cole OAM and disability activist and writer, Hannah Diviney. Did you gain any new insights because of this process?
While speaking with Paralympians Ellie Cole and Jonathan Gerlach I learnt so much about their dedication to their sport.
The workout routines, the diets, waking up extremely early every day! It’s no joke!
Writer and advocate, Hannah Diviney encouraged me to use my creative platform to make social change, to make it alittle bit easier for the next generation of people with disability.
What I found most interesting is that all my interviewees revealed their personal experience (positive and negative) on being viewed as an ‘inspiration’…but you’ll have to watch the doco to find out more!
What do you hope audiences will gain from watching Inspire Me?
I hope my disabled audience will connect with my journey. I’m sure there are many people with similar experiences as me feeling like a ‘bad disabled person’ for not being inspirational. Spoilers! You are enough and amazing as you are.
I hope that my non-disabled audiences will see my funny little doco, have a good belly laugh, but then go home and think about why they find people with disability so inspiring.
You are the creator and producer of Crips & Creeps - Sydney’s first accessible comedy club, which provides a platform for comedians that are marginalised due to sexuality, gender, race, or disability. What motivated you to create this club and what do you think can be done to make the arts more inclusive of people living with disability and those from other marginalised groups?
When people think of stand-up comedy, they think dirty dark basement where there’s a real lack of safety, and every male comedian makes the same d*ck joke. Imagine spending every weekend there, trying to perfect your craft, so you could make it big like Adam Hills.
I created Crips & Creeps (C&C) because I wanted to revolutionise the comedy scene. C&C is a fun and inclusive space that supports artists and audience physically, socially and financially. It’s a monthly night at 107 Redfern that offers a paid opportunity to marginalised comedians. Every show is Auslan Interpreted and wheelchair accessible and flippin’ hilarious.
People often stress about how to make their event inclusive and accessible but there are so many resources out there to help guide you in breaking down these barriers. It’s much easier than you think. The hardest part is convincing people to think about and prioritise access.
Inspire Me will be screening with Straighten Up and Fly Right at this year’s Sydney Film Festival as part of the Screenability suite of films from 9-12 June 2022. Get your tickets here.
The Screenability Filmmakers Fund is part of a suite of initiatives under Screenability NSW, an open-ended policy commitment by Screen NSW to work with industry to grow participation in the screen sector by NSW-based filmmakers with disability. Find out more about Screenability here.