"PSA" isn't usually a word that inspires goosebumps.
But when you're making a public service announcement about defying expectations, you best create something that isn't expected. That seemed to be the aim of director Reed Morano, of "Vinyl" and "The Skeleton Twins," when she created this commercial in honor of World Down Syndrome Day, March 21.
Morano used actress Olivia Wilde to show what it's like to live with Down syndrome. Wilde runs and sings, laughs and cries — she is an "ordinary person, with an important, meaningful, beautiful life."
Or at least, that's how she sees herself. The camera pans from a reflection of Wilde in the mirror to the person she represents: AnnaRose Rubright, a 19-year-old New Jersey college student with Down syndrome.
"This is how I see myself," Rubright says. "How do you see me?"
The commercial highlights a challenge that Rubright has faced her entire life. Others assumed she couldn't be in "regular" classes in high school; in reality, she graduated in the National Honors Society with a 3.68 grade-point average. People are always surprised to find out she dates, goes to college, plays sports and holds a job; she is always surprised that people find her accomplishments to be such a surprise.
"It makes me feel sad and disappointed," she said by phone Sunday. "I'm not treated with respect and I'm not treated as if I'm important."
Her experiences are not unique; an estimated 400,000 people in the United States have Down syndrome. The organization behind the advertisement, Coordown, chose Rubright after a summer camp called PALS Programs connected her with a casting director looking for adult women with her disability. The PSA was looking for someone in their upper 20s, and Rubright is only 19. But the agency told her to apply anyway, and asked her to send in a video discussing herself and her favorite activities. Soon after, they invited her to the filming in New York, where she met Wilde, whom she now affectionately calls her "twin."
The two women are made to look even more alike than they do in real life. Both have their hair parted down the middle and wear navy blue sweaters. Rubright is just over four feet tall, but the camera shows her as if she is the mirror image of Wilde.
The experience was surreal for Rubright's mother, Lin, but not because her daughter was replaced by a movie star. Lin has raised two children with Down syndrome and has seen how they always need to do more than her four other children to prove they are worthy of the same opportunities. Living with Down syndrome, Lin said, means always presenting your best self. So she was taken aback that Morano filmed Wilde and her daughter in casual clothes and without much makeup.
When she saw the finished product, "I realized this commercial wasn't about beauty, or lack of it, or how we should promote ourselves," Lin said. "It is 'Do you accept me for who I am?' "