Two L.A. filmmakers win top national award for disabled artists. ‘It means everything’

Alison O'Daniel and Nasreen Alkhateeb
Alison O’Daniel, left, and Nasreen Alkhateeb
(Betsy Seder/Carlo & Elise Pizarro )

The Ford Foundation and the Mellon Foundation have announced the 2022 Disability Futures Fellows, two of whom are based in Los Angeles.

The multidisciplinary initiative, administered by United States Artists, awards $50,000 each to 20 disabled U.S. artists and creatives whose work “advances the cultural landscape.” The unrestricted funds — $1 million in all — are meant to further fellows’ creative pursuits.

This year’s recipients — emerging, mid-career and established artists — work in a variety of fields, including theater, film, visual art, music, dance, poetry, comics writing, fiction, nonfiction, journalism and activism.

Los Angeles and San Francisco-based visual artist and filmmaker Alison O’Daniel said she identifies as “d/Deaf/hard of hearing.”

“The little ‘d’ is people who are hard of hearing or deaf but were raised not in deaf culture,” she said. “I have a totally hearing family and I was raised in a hearing school. I really had to seek out my connection to the deaf world.”


O’Daniel, a 2022 Guggenheim Fellow who has exhibited her work at the Hammer Museum in L.A. and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, among other institutions, was in the studio working on a textile piece for an upcoming gallery show when she learned she’d been awarded the fellowship. She plans to use the funds to secure long-term studio space and to finish a film she’s been working on for 10 years, “The Tuba Thieves,” about “the sound of L.A.”

The fellowship is particularly meaningful to her, she said, because it offers “the sense of a cohort.”

“It’s building this acknowledged community of really different value statements about disability,” she said. “It’s a celebration of — from an outside organization, but also it’s an acknowledgement that there is this growing excitement and celebration from within. There are a lot of us who are really empowered and thrilled about what we have to offer.”

The other local Disability Futures Fellow this year is Silver Lake filmmaker Nasreen Alkhateeb, who was a lead cinematographer for Kamala Harris’ vice presidential campaign as well as for two episodes of Oprah’s Emmy-winning series “Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man,” among other projects. Despite her professional success, Alkhateeb said, the fellowship award is still “a complete game changer in the span of my career.”

“This award means I will be considered in circles that I’ve never been considered before,” she said. “It means everything to me as a filmmaker. It means I have a sustainable method of progressing the projects I’m working on, projects that are disability-centered.”

Alkhateeb described herself as having “seven identities and six disabilities, five of which are invisible.”

“I’m Black, Iraqi, multi-heritage, I was raised Muslim, I’m part of the LGBTQ community, I’m first generation, and I’m disabled,” she said. “The disabilities I talk about are: I’m neurodivergent, I live with chronic pain every day as well as PTSD and ADHD.”

The Disability Futures Fellowship was initially intended to be a two-year initiative, but last summer the Ford and Mellon Foundations and United States Artists announced an additional $5 million in funding and a commitment through 2025. It’s the only national award of its kind supporting disabled artists and creatives.

The initiative was conceived as a way to “center and elevate those in disabled communities across the country and across culture,” United States Artists President and Chief Executive Judilee Reed said in the announcement. “We’re excited to see the stage expand with this new class of fellows, and are honored to celebrate together.”