The film and movie industry took a fresh and powerful step in the right direction when it came to representing racial and gender equality. With movies like "Black Panther" and "Crazy Rich Asians" theaters were quickly packed with audiences who were waiting to see more of themselves on screen. For women, the "Me Too" movement stands for an empowering cause that is still being passionately fought for. Though I very much enjoyed watching these movies (I went to see "Crazy Rich Asians" in theaters twice), I kept thinking when it would be time for the same movement to open its arms to those with disabilities.
Having a disability is not completely uncommon, however, movies and television make it seem as if anytime someone with a disability appears, it's the first thing that needs to be noticed. Usually, the actor isn't playing just a main or side role, but someone with a very "inspiring" or "touching" backstory and conflict which unfolds throughout the plot. Such stories prove to be very emotional and dramatic, reigning in many awards for stellar and career-making performances, but why can't a person with a disability just be a person? More often than not, the characters in question are also played by able-bodied actors.
Most recently, the film, "The Upside" sees Bryan Cranston playing a quadriplegic. Other examples include Eddie Redmayne in "The Theory of Everything" and Sam Claflin in "Me Before You." There is no shortage of actors with disabilities wanting roles and inclusion, so why aren't they given the chance? Cranston explains that it's completely due to business. As an actor, he states that he called upon to play all types of people, so why would having a disability change that? And to that I ask, would an actor with a disability ever be called to play an able-bodied character? The answer is simple, no they wouldn't. It might be hard to look for an actor with a similar caliber of talent to Cranston, but that can't be known for sure if the effort isn't put in. Furthermore, even if the hypothetical disabled actor would not be able to act as well as Cranston, they would still be able to bring something that Cranston can't, experience and more importantly, authenticity.
Some say famous and known actors need to play such roles so that people will actually come to watch the movie for it to gain recognition. However, disabled or not, all actors need to start somewhere. If roles for disabled characters continue to be given to able-bodied actors without an open audition, how is one even supposed to try?
Personally, I can count the number of actors with disabilities in current or well-known roles with only the five fingers of one of my hands. Most famously, Peter Dinklage in "Game of Thrones," Micah Fowler in "Speechless," Meredith Eaton in "MacGyver," Millicent Simmonds in "A Quiet Place," and David Bower in "Four Weddings and a Funeral." Dinklage and Eaton both have dwarfism, Fowler has cerebral palsy, and both Simmonds and Bower are deaf. Simmonds and Bower both have movie roles, whereas Fowler is the only one with a main role in a television show. That is unbelievable. Of the five roles, I have only watched three so I feel apt to only comment on those. Fowler having cerebral palsy is important to the show and provides insight into the struggles of someone like him within high school and his family.
Though "Speechless" is a comedy and maintains a lighthearted atmosphere, for the most part, it still brings to light how milestones change when one is placed in different circumstances. Having Simmonds play the deaf daughter of a family trying to hide from monsters with a heightened sense of hearing brought an added conflict and suspense to the film. In the end, it was she who actually ended up saving her family (well most of her family) from the creatures. Lastly, Bower played the brother of Hugh Grant's lover boy in the romantic comedy and he didn't need to be deaf. Yet, having the character of David to be deaf really highlighted the relationship and understanding between him and Charles (Grant) and their communication only added jokes to the much-loved classic. I think there is a misunderstanding, especially in films and television, that having a disability needs to take something away from a person, when in reality, it adds depth, different experiences, and new perspectives.
Representation, or lack thereof, is a crucial contributor to how people are perceived in the real world, as well as the stereotypes associated with them. To this day, as an almost 20-year-old, I still get stares and pointing from children, which is fine. It makes sense and it's completely understandable. The problem lies in what happens after. When parents find their children doing that, they just tell them to stop such behavior without taking a minute to explain to their child that "Yes, people are different and you will come across all different types of people in school and beyond, but in the end, we're all just the same." Having a disability shouldn't be taboo and having more people with disabilities on screen would help to change that. If a complete stranger were to start a conversation with me on a bus or grocery store and started to ask how I drive or do certain activities, I would be most happy to oblige. But because it's not something we see very often, people inherently choose to and shy away from talking about it.
Another point which I didn't think would need to be mentioned until recently is that people with disabilities do not all look the same. It's a fairly simple concept, but I felt that I had to address it after I noticed that people on campus were mistaking me with another girl with dwarfism. As I have stated before, there are more than 30,000 people on campus so that increases the chance of coming across more than one person with any said condition. Now, this girl and I don't look anything at all alike. Besides for height and body structure, everything else is different. We have different skin tones, different hair color, etc. Initially, I thought the situation to be quite funny, but later on, I realized how problematic it actually was. It's pretty much the equivalent to saying all Asians look the same because of the shape of their eyes.
I'm waiting for inclusion towards disabled actors and for diversity in their roles. I want to see someone in a wheelchair pursue a completely able-bodied person as their love interest in a romantic comedy. I want to see deaf and blind characters play the charming best friend. I want to see a character with autism playing the lead in a crime show while solving murder mysteries. There are so many opportunities for the disabled community to be highlighted onscreen, and by not doing so, the audience is missing out on a lot of new talent. It's 2019 and it's about time the movement for representation extends to those with disabilities as well. It's about time disabilities are normalized and talked about.