I’ve always been a huge champion of diversity and in particularly disability in mainstream media. To me it is massively important that the media industry reflects that of actual real life, purely for personal life affirming reasons that I’m not a freak.
It’s also always been important to me that where possible, jobbing disabled actors and actresses should be used to portray disabled people on screen. To me, it just makes sense, there’s no real need for a disabled actor to take time researching the disability they have been cast to portray if they already have it, and surely drawing from experience as an actor makes for a more convincing performance?
I think there is a tendency for able bodied actors to use the casting calls for disabled characters in dramas and use it as an opportunity to expand their ‘skill set and talent’ section of their CV to include ‘can convincingly play a spastic’. Almost like bragging rights as to ‘I’m a better actor than you’ .
British television has, in my mind improved with their track record of more inclusive casting calls for shows Coronation Street and Eastenders, for instance, both now feature actresses who are disabled.
my view is that Hollywood are slightly more reticent about giving disabled actors and actresses the parts that occasionally crop up. the first thing is that there aren’t many films which feature disabled people as the lead protagonists. You don’t ever see a disabled woman locking lips with Ryan Gosling do you..?
Secondly, Hollywood is a funny beast, powered by Beauty, something which isn’t always closely associated with disability, and greed, in the main, if your movie doesn’t get bums on seats and tickets sales don’t rocket within an opening weekend, it’s considered a flop.
So in order to get those tickets sales to sore you need a big name, and the more big names you have, the better, but your film is about a disabled girl who finds happiness with Ryan Gosling, and the studio, who are paying you to make the movie have stated, they want to big names in the lead role… What big name do you know, who is instantly recognisable both in Hollywood and globally who also happens to be in a wheelchair and is actually properly disabled? The answer is, there isn’t one, and there in lies part of the problem.
I’m not saying it’s right but unfortunately it’s the truth. The film industry is fickle.
It’s also sometimes not always appropriate to cast a disabled person in a film or television programme about disabled people, specifically if the character suffers a turn of events that lead to a disability being placed on them.
At the time of writing this, I have yet to see the new bio pic The theory of Everything, about the early life of Stephen Hawking, with Hawking played by Eddie Redmayne who by all accounts is fantastic.
A small number of Disabled people are complaining that disabled actors missed out on playing such a great role. With all due respect to these reviewers, it is not possible for you to cast someone with the varying and vast degenerate condition that motor neurone disease possesses, you can’t cast someone who is in a wheelchair with the loss of speech when they are supposedly portraying someone who in their teens was not effected by motor neurone desease.
There has been a small amount of critics who have said that you wouldn’t be allowed to black up in movies these days so why should you pretend to be a cripple, to me these arguments are completely different. You can’t to my knowledge suddenly change ethnicity in your life span and it is far easier to get hold of a black actress or actor to play the part of your lead in your big name, block buster of a rom com. Race is not such a dirty word in Hollywood these days.
So no, you wouldn’t black up, but I can definitely understand why able bodied actors and actress can sometimes be used in films and television to portray the devastating and life change effects that an acquired disability can bring to anyone’s door.
So long as the actors in question treat the subject of disability with the respect we deserve and can help to show the positive aspects of a life with a disability can bring as well as not sugar coating the pill, then why are disabled people concerned?
Hollywood and the television industry is still by no means perfect, and there is work to be done. I don’t know how to combat this, I wish I did. Until then though we should be celebrating the fact that, the life of Stephen Hawking, a man who despite his huge personal barriers has managed to achieve so much for the world of science is now more understood by people and no longer known as ‘The guy in the Wheelchair with the computer voice’ and you never know, it might just change general perception of disability too