Friday, March 4, 2016

Disability in Cinema: Part 2

I rarely watch the Oscars because few things seem to invoke as much anger in me as that glamorous Hollywood awards ceremony. The reason? Because as a creative person with a significant physical disability, I feel deeply excluded and misrepresented by the film industry, and almost without fail, the Oscars consistently add insult to that injury. From reducing our entire lives to singular battles with physical or intellectual limitations to celebrating films about people with disabilities ending their lives (The Sea Inside, Million Dollar Baby, and more recently, Me Before You; you can read more on this trend here) to regularly rewarding non-disabled actors and actresses with academy awards for playing characters with disabilities while real actors with real disabilities aren't even considered for the roles (click here for more on "disability drag"), Hollywood is about as disempowering to people with disabilities as a set of stairs.

Chris Rock hosts the 88th Academy Awards.
(See his complete opening monologue here)
This year's Oscars ignited quite a controversy (and rightfully so), as for the second consecutive year, no actors or actresses of color were nominated for best acting. On January 18th, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs released a statement (see below) addressing her sadness and frustration over the lack of diversity in this year's list of nominees. She also declared that, "in 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation." Of course, there is one huge community missing from this list: people with disabilities.

Statement from Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs
(Click here for the complete text)
The reality is that people with disabilities constitute the largest minority in the world and one of the only minority groups to intersect every other possible identity (age, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, political beliefs, and the list goes on). It's one thing to be misrepresented by the stories Hollywood chooses to tell and the non-disabled actors selected to play people with disabilities, but to not even mention our community when purporting to include ALL minority groups is extremely troubling. Not only does the statement reduce an entire social group and decades-long civil rights movement to non-existence, it also severely undermines the contributions of real actors and actresses with disabilities who do work in the film industry and/or who already serve as members of the Academy (more on this here).

As Chris Rock said during his opening monologue at this year's Oscars, "it’s not about boycotting anything. We want opportunity. We want black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors." And we people with disabilities want the same thing: opportunities. Not Oscars and other awards (although that would be pretty cool), but opportunities for our stories to be told, our actors to be heard, our creative dreams to be realized, and our lives to have value beyond the limitations and imperfections we live with everyday. If diversity and inclusion are truly important for the Academy, then people with disabilities must not be left out of the picture.

What do you think? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Eric Clow
OMOD Project Coordinator
VSA Texas

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