Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Disability in Cinema: A Discussion

Happy Tuesday everyone!

For my first blog entry in awhile (my colleagues just have so many wonderful things to say!), I thought I would jump into a discussion that is becoming more audible in recent months- that is, the use of able-bodied actors to portray people with disabilities on screen.  The recent success of “The Theory of Everything,” starring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking, provides a pertinent vehicle to discuss a topic that has always troubled members of the disability community.

Eddie Redmayne as Steven Hawking in "The Theory of Everything"
Why is it that after we’ve long abandoned the time where women, not allowed on stage, were portrayed by men, and white actors mimicked those of other races by using tools such as ‘blackface,’ this trend of using able-bodied actors pretending to have disabilities is still commonplace?  Some people may point out that in certain films, such as “The Theory of Everything,” an able-bodied actor may be necessary to portray scenes prior to the character’s disability.  Our own Eric Clow, director of our Opening Minds, Opening Doors and resident creative insight, pointed out that artistic elements, such as dream sequences, might also be difficult to execute with an actor with disabilities.  However, these certain logistics seem to overshadow the more important discussion- even twenty-five years after the ADA, people with disabilities still struggle to be properly represented in the minds of the public.  
Marlon Brando in "The Teahouse of the August Moon,"
where he donned "yellowface" and a Japanese accent to portray the character of Sakini.
Is this any different than an able-bodied actor pretending to have a disability?
Where in the past, finding actors with disabilities may have been difficult, this is no longer the case. As the Executive Director of VSA Texas, Celia Hughes, aptly puts, “the time has come when characters with disabilities can be played by actors with disabilities. No longer do we need to have an able-bodied actor try to figure out how to be paralyzed, or blind, or intellectually challenged. We have talented people with disabilities who are eager to play these roles." She continues on to point out that this seems to be an American problem, as "they have been casting actors with disabilities in Europe for many years. It's time Hollywood came out from under the rock."

Why do you think this phenomenon of casting able-bodied actors in roles of people with disabilities is still the norm? Why has it not become as offensive as say, "blackface"? At the end of the day, there doesn't seem to be a difference; both are pretending to be something you aren't, where there are many capable individuals that don't have to pretend. It's an intentional exclusion of a whole group of people based on preconceived notions about their abilities. Isn't it time we put an end to this? Tell us how you feel in the comments section!

No comments:

Post a Comment