SAN ANTONIO — Sammi Haney wants to be a dump truck driver or an actress. There are no dump trucks at her East San Antonio home. She has landed a significant break on the acting front.
“I never really acted before. But I did watch a lot of movies on my iPad,” she said.
The nine-year-old girl loves cartoon movies, real life movies and movies about superheroes. Her role on the new Netflix show ‘Raising Dion’ puts her in one of her favorite genres.
Nearly a year ago, Sammi was cast as Esperanza in the Michael B. Jordan produced show. She plays the wheelchair-bound friend to the lead character, Dion.
“She likes to draw. She’s really good at it,” Sammi said. “She’s best friends with Dion but he doesn’t know it yet. She’s sassy like me.”
Even though she had no formal acting training, her mother Priscilla thought her daughter had the chops to pull off the part. They had just been featured in the New York Times in a feature on Morgan’s Wonderland when Priscilla saw the Netflix ad.
Sammi worked on her range of emotions. Her parents shot audition videos in her bedroom for producers on a cell phone. Then, they got the news.
“I was at work on the phone and I got the call from Netflix,” Matt Haney said. “And they said, 'congratulations, your daughter got the job.' And I went, 'woooooo!'"
Their trips to Atlanta were made under strict non-disclosure. So, some of the best news of their lives stayed with their immediate family circle until recently.
Sammi, who is a bean and cheese taco gal, can’t wait to become teenager so she can drive. Her vehicle will have to be specially equipped because she has a genetic disorder that greatly impacts her life.
“I have osteogenesis imperfecta type 3. That means I have brittle bones,” Sammi said.
Priscilla and Matt’s two older children don’t have the ailment. They found out during her pregnancy that Sammi’s condition was severe and possibly fatal. In fact, there was not much hope their baby girl would survive birth.
Sammi did live. She was born with 19 bone fractures. Handling her and even changing her diapers became a challenge.
“I got used to it over the years,” Sammi said.
According to Sammi, if she sneezes too hard she could break a bone. So, she tries to minimize her sneezing. Her body is filled with rods to help her path to living life as normally as possible.
The family hopes her role on Raising Dion will change perspectives about people with disabilities. In real life, they face the challenge of those whose view isn’t as educated.
“Sometimes just going out can be a challenge,” Priscilla said. “But as parent, having to watch it. To watch people’s reactions or whispers.”
They said people have even scolded them about Sammi, saying things like “What did you do to make your child that way?”
Matt Haney works with his daughter on a t-shirt line showcasing positive messages about the disabled. Sammi has even worn one of the shirts in an episode of Raising Dion.
She has not met famous boss Michael B. Jordan yet. But she hopes to get a picture with him soon. Her parents will also appear in show. Her mom as an extra. Her father is cast as her father.
Sammi is considering an untitled project and cartoon voice work. Right now, she’s hoping for a second season of her new Netflix show. She is home schooled and loves to read.
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