When I turn up to meet Kiruna Stamell for a coffee at Bondi Junction recently, I spot her dressed in funky bright yellow doc marten boots, poised next to her scooter and she’s being accosted by fans who are chatting to her about her work. They’ve recognised her from her wide array of screen work on UK TV shows and are delighted to be able to meet her in person. After spending some time with her, I can see why – she’s charismatic, energetic and sassy.
Kiruna is back in Australia for a few weeks of work – tv, film and a festival appearance. Whilst she can’t reveal the details of all her work, such is the nature of the industry, she is happy to be home.
“I’ve come back to Australia and have been offered great roles that are not disability focused, but neither do they deny my body and it’s been thrilling to be working with amazing Australian creatives who are breaking fresh ground in the industry. I’ve finally found my peers”.
Our ensuing conversation spans a whole range of topics – attitudes about disability, support systems and the differences between the UK and Australia, discrimination, fashion and advocacy. But we keep coming back to representation on screen and how there has been progress in Australia but much more can be done.
“Children’s TV is a great place to start, but it shouldn’t drop off after that. Get a disabled character as a regular in a soap and where the focus is not on the disability. Do not use it as some metaphorical thing for growth. Really good shows, like the Let Down, show disability incidentally – which is truthful of real life”.
Behind the scenes there needs to be more supports for actors too, aids and accommodations are needed for people to be able to fulfil their roles. As well as opportunities to learn the trade, be it in front of the camera or in more technical aspects of production.
Kiruna has built up a wide portfolio of work that spans stage and screen, due her talents as an actor as well as an ability to sing and dance (including a foray into tap dancing). She has worked for the BBC, the National Theatre Company in the UK and the Sydney Theatre Company. Still she says, “you are not always being offered the same pallet of choice as non disabled actors – that needs to change”.
You can catch Kiruna, along with Attitude Foundation Board Members Graeme Innes and Catia Malaquias on ABC TV Q and A program on Monday 25th June.
Words and pictures by Aine Healy, CEO Attitude Foundation.