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Miss You Can Do It Premieres Tonight on HBO

Interviews
by Melissa Silverstein
June 24, 2013 11:24 AM
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Miss You Can Do It is a wonderful, uplifting film about a beauty pageant targeted at girls with disabilities.  It shows the power these events can have to make girls who are sometimes marginalized in everyday life, special and beautiful.  The pageant is the brainchild of Abbey Curran, a Miss Iowa winner, who also has cerebral palsy.  She is a fierce force of nature and a real change agent.  We were able to have a phone conversation last week with Abbey and the film's director, Ron Davis.

Miss You Can Do It premieres tonight on HBO.

Women and Hollywood: Thank you so much for making this movie. I just loved it.

Ron Davis: I love to hear that!

WaH: Abbey - What attracted you to the beauty pageant world?

Abbey Curran: From day one, I've always been a girly girl. In pre-school I loved driving around in my super Barbie car. We used to go to the fair every year, we would walk into the fair pageant ever since I was little. That was just a fun hobby. When I was old enough, I saw a flyer for the pageant. I thought about entering, but I was scared. Then, whenever someone said, "Oh, yeah right, you're not gonna do that," it just set me up to prove them wrong. I fell in love with the pageant world. People that don't compete in pageants, I think they have a negative feeling for them, but really, they are incredible. There are only a few pageants that are like Toddlers and Tiaras. But, when I competed at the fair it was fun. We went to the fair every day to practice and work. They had rehearsals, then we would hang out and ride rides and eat carnival food. It was a blast.

Then, when I went to Miss USA there were 51 contestants and only one contestant was crabby. Everyone else was super sweet. They were doctors and lawyers, they were grad students, physicians assistants, special needs teachers and dentists. Every one was helpful, even to this day they are still great friends. I think that the pageant world overall is pretty spectacular, it just makes you feel good about yourself and leaves you with great friends. You are all worried about something and for the most part, you are all competing in your very first pageant. But, they support each other and as you are getting your hair and make-up done and you are having a pizza party, then you get this abundance of cheer and applause and people make posters for you that don't even know you. It's so awesome. You realize that everyone is in their corner and hopefully they will take all that emotion and pump it into what they do the rest of their lives.

WaH: When was it created?

AC: I created the pageant by the time I entered my first pageant.  This summer is our tenth anniversary. When it started out, I didn't know much about pageants, I had only done one. Now, it's become a big deal for me. I know that when I am having a bad day, or any kind of negative outlook on my cerebral palsy, I always remember, that Abbey Currant took Miss Iowa USA and in that moment all kinds of people clapped and screamed. I want every girl in that pageant to have that same feeling. I want them to be able to look back and say that I am one of the most amazing women in the country, I competed in Miss You Can Do It, just like you would say of the Miss USA contestants.

WaH: Have you ever thought about making a national?

AC: I've thought about it. I have a national, actually an international franchise, because girls from out of the country come to compete. I am looking to franchise it state to state. My uncle recently just took Illinois. I just need 50 more people to buy franchises and I'm set.

WaH: You are amazing. So, Ron, how did you find out about Abbey's story?

RD: I read about her after she won Miss Iowa back in 2008. Then, at the bottom of the article there was a picture and description of the pageant. I was just drawn to it.

WaH: How long did you film?

RD: We started following them in 2008 and completed the film in 2011.

WaH: How did you decide which families you were going to cover?

RD: Some of them were no brainers. From the moment that I met them I knew they were going to be in it. I wanted to see all of them, but for me the hard part was saying no to people. Not saying no, but filming them and then having to tell them that they didn't make it. The girls that are in the film were filmed obviously to mean because they shine, they are beautiful, they light up on screen and they represent diversity among the girls and diversity among the different disabilities as well.

WaH: Disability is still such a hard thing for the culture to wrap its brain around. What you do in this film is really put it out there as a part of everyday life. How do you take a movie like this and cast a light on the issue related to disability and make it into a national issue in a way that it hasn't been before?

RD: I approached it like I do all of my projects. First, I have to be drawn to it. I know I'll have to work with it for a long time, upwards of five years. This topic was tough for me because I don't have the background. I watch it as a viewer does. It was very organic. For me, it was very personal.

WaH: Did you change at all as you made this?

RD: Absolutely.

WaH: What did you learn most about yourself?

RD: Learning how to act. For years whenever I was around someone with a disability and it affected their speech or severely affected their gait or posture, I was uncomfortable. I didn't know what to do or what to say. Should I touch them, should I not? Should I look, should I not? What I learned was how horrible that was to them. Now, I've learned to just jump right in, look them in the eye and if I don't understand what they are saying, I simply say, "I'm sorry I didn't understand you," and then ask the question again. That was what I learned, how to get over my own stuff.

WaH: Abbey, what do you think are the larger goals and cultural implications of this documentary being on HBO?

AC: I hope that it just shows America and the world that people with disabilities are not different from everyone else. You saw probably Teyanna in the film. She read her speech. From talking to her, people I've met assume she doesn't know anything, but she does. Her brain is perfect and it just takes her longer because she has a speech impediment. I hope that people learn to take their time because they are some of the nicest and most determined people you will ever meet.

RD: If you see someone like Teyanna, you will say wait a minute, but you will talk to her.

WaH: What were the biggest challenges in making the film?

RD: Making a documentary is all about getting it funded. Getting people interested in it. The families were great. Abbey was great. They were really accessible. When I pitched a movie about a pageant for girls with disabilities a couple of people went whoa. They had a look on their face like 'where are you going with that?' The reference was to Toddlers and Tiaras or Jon Benet Ramsey, you know? They were all so negative, so that was a challenge. But, you can't just convey what's in your head. So, I spent years putting it together until I could show people what was in my head. Then, HBO saw it, but it was a challenge.

WaH: Getting on HBO is the ultimate dream. What was the process by which it got onto HBO?

RD: I pitched it to them and sent them a trailer. They said keep us in the loop. But, they didn't know me, they didn't know the story. So, I just kept showing it to them all along the way. Granted, if they wouldn't have wanted anything to do with it from the beginning, I would have been hurt. But, I just showed them enough of the right stuff along the way until they finally said lets do it .But, it was a long process. It took a couple of years.

WaH: Abbey, what are your goals next?

AC: I would really like to find a sponsor and let the pageant grow so it can be more well-known across the country. And, I guess my goal is to design my own walker. The walkers with the big tennis balls, no one wants to use those. I would rather crawl down the street in New York City than use those. So, I want to find a way to design them that is smaller, using the strongest titanium. Just class it up so it isn't the big scary thing that society is afraid of.

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