Food for Thought: Portrayal of Disabilities in Movies

(I generally avoid posting opinions on controversial issues. However, this really seems more like an educational opportunity rather than an attempt to incite. Also, I suppose there is a spoiler here…but honestly, just watch the trailer and you’ll know it anyway.)

I read the book ‪#‎MeBeforeYou‬ when first came out and cried my eyes out. However, it wasn’t until the movie version recently came out that disability activists thankfully opened my eyes to the unfair messaging the movie makes in regards to quadraplegics/people with disabilities.

Not only did I realize the horrific implication in the story that living with a disability like quadraplegia makes life “not worth living,” the actor who plays him, Sam Claflin, isn’t even a quadraplegic. Then I saw the trailer for the new movie ‪#‎TheFundamentalsofCaring‬. As much as I love Paul Rudd, once again a non-disabled actor, Craig Roberts, plays a teenager with muscular distrophy.

While this movie may not include the insult that having a disability makes living meaningless, they have still chosen to use an actor who is not disabled to play this role. This is not the first time this has happened – “Artie” on ‪#‎Glee‬ was in a wheelchair, but played by an abled actor. And there are so many more examples. In fact, I can only think of one show that has respected differently-abled actors: RJ Mitte in ‪#‎BreakingBad‬. (A friend just told me that his muscular distrophy is not as extreme as what he does on television and that evidently Artie walks at one point.) I know there are more, but I would argue that the use of disabled actors to portray disabled characters is minimal in Hollywood.

It’s insulting to not understand and respect that disabilities just make you differently-abled, and that having a disability does not make your life any less meaningful or amazing.  I am not articulating this as well as well as others, so I recommend reading more from columnists and activists who are speaking out.

As someone with bipolar II, I am often angered and discouraged by how mental illness is portrayed in movies and television. While I appreciate recent attempts to bring mental illness into the fold of stories, I feel they miss the complexity of what it’s like. Movies like #SilverLiningsPlaybook piss me off. A show that I love, #You’reTheWorst, also bothered me in their attempt to demonstrate a woman in a depressive episode. I do not know if these failures are because the people that write them lack understanding of the nuance of mental health, or whether they simply use it to attempt to add depth to their work.

I guess I just felt it was important to support those in the disability community by bringing this issue into the minor spotlight I have. It’s worth thinking about. (I am also aware this happens in regards to gender and race in Hollywood as well, and that is also an issue that should continue to be addressed and should outrage and embarrass us all.)

Think about it. Read about it. Look at it in regards to other minorities in movies and television. And if so inclined, get engaged in the conversation. It’s worth having.

 

Here are a few links to some articles I found articulate the message:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/rosebuchanan/campaigners-are-pissed-about-the-representation-of-disabled

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/laurenwest1/me-before-you_b_10143130.html

http://www.lifenews.com/2016/05/27/pro-euthanasia-film-me-before-you-panned-by-disability-rights-campaigners/

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