My Disabilities Are Not For Your “Inspirational” Entertainment

As of this posting, A Quiet Place II has grossed about $226 million worldwide according to Box Office Mojo. For a movie that uses American Sign Language, this should be a sign of the times. The first movie made about $341 million and only had about two dozen lines of dialogue.

Both movies star Millicent Simmonds as a deaf child as Simmonds herself is deaf. Hollywood seems to do the right thing when it comes to casting deaf actors. Sound of Metal had many deaf actors as Lauren Ridloff, who is appearing in the upcoming Marvel movie Eternals. Ok, so Patty Duke played Helen Keller but this was from the same era when MIckey Rooney played an Asian.

But while deaf actors are playing deaf roles, Hollywood still doesn’t know how to cast other people with disabilities to play characters with disabilities.

Just look at the backlash against Sia and Maddie Ziegler over the movie Music in which Ziegler plays a teenager with autism even though the movie has been criticized for getting everything wrong with those who are on the autism spectrum.

As someone who is hard of hearing in his right ear and suffers from spinal and knee pain, there still seems to be a stigmata against actors who have physical disabilities. The loss of hearing I think is from a bicycle injury I had in 1991 in which my head’s right side hit the pavement. I’ve also had a speech impediment almost all my life but now I don’t care what my voice sounds.

I walk with a cane. Earlier this year, I sent some pictures to a casting agency for the FX show Reservation Dogs which was filming in Oklahoma, but I didn’t get cast. Martin Scorsese is filming a huge budgeted movie Killers of the Flower Moon here but despite numerous applications for listings, I haven’t heard anything back.

I’ve even sent pictures of myself without my cane. I can walk without a cane for short distances. But should it matter if I have a cane or not. What’s the difference?

While I agree that directors and casting agents are looking for certain people, I hope it isn’t because I have a cane. There have been several comics who never got on Saturday Night Live who later went on to have their careers explode. Many big name celebrities have gone to dozens of auditions earlier in their careers only not to get the gigs. Brad Pitt was deemed too handsome for the role as a small-town teen in the movie Elvira: Mistress of the Dark.

As a person who has Cherokee ancestry, I’m glad Sterlin Harjo has filmed a series with indigenous actors and wish him all the success in the world. And Scorsese will always have me as a fan and admirer.

But maybe it’s not the cane. I’m a big guy. And maybe they’re not looking for a big guy. I applied for a call listing for a big guy in the movie Minari when it was filming in Tulsa during the summer of 2019 but didn’t get it. You never know.

But aside from me and other aspiring actors, other people with disabilities are facing uphill battles because of pre-conceived notions, mostly due to “inspirational” movies involving those with physical and/or developmental disabilities. It seems there’s no other reason to hire an actor with cerebral palsy, a missing arm or leg or even dwarfism unless that role calls for it specifically, which makes no sense because there are people out there with all the above who we interact with everyday.

Danny DeVito and Peter Dinklage get cast in roles that make absolutely no mention of their height. And while they are big-name stars, the same should apply to all actors. Maybe that’s because this crazy idea that someone has to explain their disability in a movie. You wouldn’t ask someone why they walk with a limp or what happened to their left arm in real life so why the hell does it make a difference in a movie?

I know people, myself included, aren’t too happy with Peter Farrelly winning Oscars for the “white savior” movie Green Book, but I will give both him and his brother, Bobby, credit where it’s due for casting actors with disabilities in their movies without having some big exposition scene on why some character is in a wheelchair or has Down’s Syndrome.

If we’re going to be inclusive, we need to really be inclusive.

Thankfully, people are starting to see the hypocrisy. In the movie, Tropic Thunder, these roles were satirized in Simple Jack, which I think is long overdue. I’m no fan of Forrest Gump for a number of reasons and I don’t consider it to be one of Tom Hanks’ best roles. The same goes for I Am Sam.

I remember hearing people talk about Edward Norton showed how easy it was in The Score as he played a criminal/con man who pretends to be a person with developmental disabilities.

Even before Simple Jack, The Kids In The Hall parodied these “inspirational” movies in a skit which had Kevin McDonald playing a character who had a metal spike in his head. Get Shorty, also parodied this notion, with DeVito, playing a character who “overcame the odds.”

And that’s where the problem lies.

It seems every “inspirational” movie has given us the “Supercrip,” the person who overcame the odds despite having both legs amputated or born with CP or whatever other disability.

The problem is that even able-bodied people struggle with the same problems. I know a lot of able-bodied people who can’t play basketball but those in wheelchairs must know how to play. Someone born without arms drives with their feet so it should be easy for anyone to drive a manual transmission car, right?

I’ve even written these stories myself about athletes who have prosthetic legs. But many people who play sports even with no arms or legs were born that way and have learned to do something.

I recall a video I saw of a personal trainer using Erik Stolhanske, of Broken Lizard and Super Troopers fame, as an example because he has a prosthetic leg under his right knee because he was born without a fibula, during a P90X video. And I exercise myself too, but there’s a lot I can’t do.

But I’ve seen Stolhanske, at 52 say he’s still worried about showing it in public. But watching him, you wouldn’t know because he’s always walked with a prosthetic. We shouldn’t be using people as examples of what can and can’t be done.

For someone like myself who suffered a spinal injury on my lower back at 32, it’s been hard these past 10 years adapting, even worse as arthritis has set in over the past few years. And my ex had a more serious spinal injury from a fall herself in 2004. It’s not so easy to be a “Supercrip” when you’re how world changes.

Getting to the bathroom on time is a goal. Taking a shower and not being tired the rest of the day is a goal. Getting out of the shower without slipping is a big goal. I use a shower chair. I can’t stand up the whole time while showering.

Washing dishes at the sink is a goal. Standing over the stove to cook is a goal.

But this doesn’t make for good drama because it’s boring. And that’s really needs to portrayed.

I’m criticizing anyone who is able to run the Boston Marathon with a prosthetic or a legally blind person who graduates from Harvard Law the top of their class, because these tasks are hard enough as it is and well earned by whoever achieves them.

But the only way we’re going to get past the “inspirational” melodrama is by not exploiting it for entertainment. Otherwise, all we’re really doing is just putting on freak shows.

#Supercrip #Inclusive #Minari #Arthritis #SpinalInjury #Minari #KillersOfTheFlowerMoon

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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