I'm about to come out, and I'm afraid that some of you will be utterly disappointed in me. But I feel I need to be honest about something.
I want to be a good member of the disability community. I want to use my voice and whatever power I have to make change. I feel moved and motivated to speak out when I see, or hear, or come into contact with disphobia and ableism. I have written hundreds of emails and letters and I have signed petitions that have come my way. That's just personally, when working on the road giving lectures I use the opportunity to speak of disability identity and disability pride, all the time.
(I am trying to establish my credentials here.)
I believe what most of us believe.
#disability say the word
#access for everyone
#give disability actors a chance
Um, it's the last one that I want to speak about. I do believe that actors with disabilities should get the opportunity to play disabled characters in television shows and movies. I do believe that there are characters written where someone from any minority could play and not change the script - so hire disabled.
I have a friend that patently refuses to watch any movie or show that has a non-disabled actor playing a disabled role. He is so adamant about this that he has admitted he thinks less of activists that "would put their money down, and thereby finance, entertainment that discriminates in hiring and disrespects an entire community." I get it, I agree with it. He's right. (Except about the 'thinking less of' part - which seems a bit judgmental.)
But sometimes I thirst.
To watch something that has a main character with a disability. I want to be able to identify. If a story comes along with a richly written character with a disability who is an active participant in his own life, a character that is necessary to the plot, a character who has layers and who's attitude toward their disability is as complex as mine is to me, I want to watch it.
There aren't many.
But I'm watching a television series right now. One of the primary characters is a wheelchair user, and he meets all the criteria for being a dynamic, proud, guy with a 'piss on pity' attitude. Yes, the actor playing him is non-disabled. But when watching the series I identify with the character and the actor behind him is kinda meaningless to me. I'm seeing storytelling that captures disability and the disability experience. And now, Season Two, there's another disabled character just introduced. A very different guy, a very different attitude, but, again, with drive and purpose that both includes and does not include his disability. I'm in entertainment heaven.
I'm watching in the closet.
Neither actor has a disability.
I tell myself that I'm watching the result of the writing, not the casting. These two characters are written with the same care and respect as all the other primary characters. The show doesn't shy away from diversity, with the slight exception of LGBT issues, although there is an episode with a bisexual character.
I'm one show away from the end of season 2. I already know because I looked it up in a panic, there will be another season. I rejoiced at the news because it meant I get to see more of these characters, who I care about, and that stories with disabled people in vital roles are being told, and maybe that will lead to people thinking that disabled characters can be heroes and villains and help carry a shows story line, then maybe, just maybe there should be more characters with disabilities and more thought given to the casting. Maybe.
But 'maybe' or not.
Sometimes I thirst.
To see disability storytelling.
And sometimes that thirst has me compromising.
I know this will deeply disappoint some of you, but I don't want to pretend to be someone I'm not.
Not disappointed in you - I wonder who the writers are that they got it right in writing the parts. Are they disabled?
Anyone can and should be able to write anything.
If someone does a good job, the creator is invisible.
I happen to be disabled, and so is the main character in my novel trilogy, Pride's Children (sorry, its pride is the one that's a cardinal sin, and there's a novel about two gay guys adopting children with the same title! which came out after I'd been writing mine for a few years, but hadn't published yet - titles can't be copyrighted). But if someone can write disabled characters different from themselves, more power to them. As long as they get it right (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time has annoyed a good portion of the autistic community, for example).
It is a missed opportunity. You don't know what casting attempted in the show you're watching. But I'm pretty sure most of the actors in Orange is the new Black are not felons, etc., etc.
The message has to be right, and it's extra nice if the cast/setting/etc. are also right, but the line is flexible.
Netflix has a new series which has received such bad publicity from the disabled community: Afflicted, about invisible and chronic illnesses (? - I don't plan to watch). Apparently, after filming actual highly disabled individuals, they have twisted the words of their subjects and made fun of them AND their disabilities, which, if true, is sickening. And since I know at least one of the people who contributed time and energy to being filmed, Jamison Hill, and he is saying he was manipulated and his words misquoted, I have reason to believe the series is mean-spirited and toxic.
That is NOT acceptable.
Enjoy your show, send your concerns to where they might do some good the next time a disabled character is cast if that's possible, and wish for the same type of shows, only better. Eventually, they will happen. IMHO, anyway.
My question would be if the creators in question even looked at actually disabled actors for the part at all. I expect there aren't many disabled actors out there because they get rejected for way too much work they might be good in if the casting people would look at them and their talent and not just as "a dude in a chair" who couldn't possibly play any role that wasn't written specifically for "a dude in a chair." (It's not like disabled people just exist in all sorts of life roles without it being planned or anything, amirite? /s) And the majority of the "dude in a chair" roles are, to put it politely, crap. Who wants to stick around to take a chance on getting the rare great role out of 10,000 crappy ones?
It's got to be easier, from casting's perspective, to find a good non-disabled actor and pop 'em into a chair on set, or have them play blind, or deaf, or whatever. (I have never seen a sighted actor do blind really well, you can always tell they can see whatever direction they're looking in once you've had some interactions with blind people. I have. I'm not sure this is avoidable outside of casting actually blind people.) And don't get me started on roles specifically written for people with disabilities that abled actors can't fake - "Let's make it weird, have a dwarf in there!" Etc.
But in the case of what you're watching, Dave, if the writing and acting are both good, I don't think it's wrong for you to watch and enjoy it. It is entirely possible the show creators simply couldn't find the right disabled actor for the job, and if the writing "gets it" I would imagine they tried. If there were more good roles that were created, and more creativity on the part of casting, there'd be more such actors available, which would be good for everybody.
Is there a reason you can't tell us what show this is? I'm dying to find good entertainment I can watch and see myself reflected in.
And I have to say, while it would be nice to have disabled people playing roles, I don't really think of that stuff. In fact, I always ay I'd rather NOT know who is playing the role, as it prevents me from really getting into the character.
On Parenthood, there were two decent characters with Asperger's. The Good Doctor is sometimes good and sometimes bad. Young Sheldon is great, although some disagree with me about whether he has AS or not. Point is, I thirst and love to see characters like me just as much as you do.
I would be interested in any show and any form of disability/different living, so perhaps take pity on me and tell me what the show is? =) Many thanks! If it's a Canadian only show then I will be out of luck, but still interested.
Btw, I don't post much, but I absolutely love your blog. It is an incredibly well written, articulate commentary on every day moments and their value, and it has helped shape me as an activist, in a good way (although some of the people call out for discrimination might not think so,ha).
Kate the show is 3% and it's on Netflix. It's in Portuguese and is filmed in Brazil. I simply love it and I love the wheelchair using character - it's brilliantly written.
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