I suppose it’s only fitting that my first byline of 2019 is a CNN op-ed!! I wrote about how disappointing it is to see another able-bodied actor playing a disabled character. This time, it’s Bryan Cranston in The Upside and, well, I don’t see any upside to lack of representation. And if the comments I’ve received are any indication, we’ve got a long way to go on squashing ableism. Spoiler alert: NEVER read the Twitter comments!
Anyway, I’ve written about the need for greater and more positive disability representation in TV and movies in the past. I’ve also featured initiatives like the Disability Film Challenge that are advocating for inclusion and working tirelessly to give actors with disabilities a voice. That’s why, with all these amazing changes happening in the disability community, Hollywood still seems so behind the times. Are they just not hearing our pleas? Do they not care about getting it right on the big and small screen? When will they catch up and get it right?
Here’s an excerpt of the piece, in which I outline exactly how it makes me feel to see an able-bodied actor on screen, in a wheelchair, playing a character who is disabled. It’s not only insulting, but it’s also incredibly inauthentic to see Bryan Cranston in the role…
As a disabled woman, I never saw people like me on TV or the movie screen. I didn’t see them in my favorite romantic comedies. I didn’t see them in my favorite sitcoms. I didn’t see them anywhere — not even in commercials. Instead, I saw able-bodied actors playing disabled characters.
There is an important distinction here. It’s easy to pretend to have a disability for a few months, knowing that you can get out of the wheelchair and walk away from it once filming is over. You will eventually leave it behind and go on to the next project.
But people with disabilities can’t do that. Part of acting is being able to identify with the character you’re playing, and being disabled is an identity, so no matter how brilliant the actor is, unless that actor is also disabled, the authenticity just won’t be there and the character won’t be entirely believable.
You can read the full piece here and I’d love to hear your thoughts and this casting of Bryan Cranston! Feel free to email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s chat! And of course, feel free to share my essay on Facebook, Twitter or even your local refrigerator. If you share on Twitter, be sure to tag me @melissablake so we can connect! I can’t wait to hear from you! And here’s to us going home for the holidays, wherever that may be! Love you all… xoxo