The primetime ABC drama “The Good Doctor” follows the career and personal life of a young surgeon with autism. The title character, Dr. Shaun Murphy, is played by Freddie Highmore who does not have autism. However, Monday night’s episode (Nov 13th) was unique in that a guest role featuring a character with autism was played by Coby Bird, an experienced actor with autism. This article on The Mighty by Elizabeth Cassidy describes Bird’s work and perspective on his character.
Several recent films produced by Hollywood studios and starring celebrity actors are frustrating disability advocates for their lack of diversity and authenticity. Examples include Todd Haynes’s film Wonderstruck starring Julianne Moore as a deaf woman, David Gordon Green’s Stronger starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a double-amputee, and Andy Serkis’s Breathe starring Andrew Garfield as a polio patient who becomes a quadriplegic. A recent article in USA Today explains why disability advocates are raising awareness about the lack of casting diversity and how filmmakers are responding.
Article excerpt: So what can Hollywood do to give more visibility? Lauren Appelbaum, communications director for RespectAbility, a non-profit organization working to fight stigmas and create opportunities for people with disabilities, urges studios to look to TV, where actors such as Stranger Things‘ Gaten Matarazzo (who has cleidocranial dysplasia, a rare growth disorder) and NCIS: New Orleans‘ Daryl Mitchell (who is paralyzed from the chest down) play roles that don’t hinge on them being disabled.
“Actors with disabilities could easily play roles that neither hide nor emphasize their disability,” Appelbaum says. “For example: a doctor who uses a wheelchair or a scientist with cerebral palsy. By including characters with obvious and hidden disabilities in scripts and story lines, films can create more authenticity within entertainment.”
Science journalist Rachel Zamzow compiled a helpful list of problems in media coverage of disability-related issues, and how to avoid them. For the article Zamzow interviewed and quotes several disability writing experts including Beth Haller, Steve Silberman, s.e. smith, Julia Bascom, Alice Wong and the NCDJ’s Kristin Gilger. Click here to read the full report.
“Science journalists should also be careful not to veer too far into the narrative of fixing or curing people with disabilities, says Beth Haller, a professor of journalism and new media at Towson University in Maryland. Seek out stories about easing symptoms that come along with a disability instead of only reporting on efforts to decode its cause. “Those kinds of stories are not about a cure, but they’re about improving people’s lives through medicine and science, and it’s not about changing who they are,” she says. For example, a story about a possible treatment for tremors is probably more directly beneficial to people with Parkinson’s disease than one about a series of candidate gene studies, though both have their scientific merits.”
Cronkite News, a student-produced news agency based at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, reported on a wrestling festival called “extreme midget wrestling” that is attracting condemnation from the Phoenix chapter of Little People of America. Click here to read the article and watch a web video about the story.
September is World Alzheimer’s Month and one community arts center in Wales is using the occasion to host a series of dementia-friendly films. The goal of the series if to spark memories in dementia patients so the films will be silver screen classics like Some Like It Hot and Calamity Jane. Follow this link to a BBC News article by Karl Yapp to learn more.
Kayhan Life reports that the short film “Love is Blind”, starring music therapist and actor Arsalan Nami, won the jury prize at the Entr’2 Marches International Festival in Cannes. The film tells the story of a man who is losing his vision and his changing relationship. Read more.
The children’s television show Sesame Street just introduced a new character, Julia, a muppet who has autism. The show’s creators hope to encourage inclusion in younger children. Read more
NCDJ advisory board member Beth Haller will host a webinar on the TV representation of people with disabilities on April 5. A disability and media scholar, Haller will talk about the rise of TV shows including ABC’s “Speechless.” Read more
The Tumblr page “What is Ableism” has added a helpful tip sheet journalists explaining ableism and how to avoid it in reporting. Read more