Upcoming Hollywood films about disability attract criticism for lack of authenticity

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.”


‘Me Before You’ draws criticism for portrayal of disability

 A new film that tells the story of a man who becomes a quadriplegic has kindled a debate about how people with disabilities are represented. A number of disability advocates have criticized the movie for using an actor who does not have a disability to play one of the main characters and for perpetuating stereotypes about disability.

Here are links to some of the coverage:









The Root

Paralyzed Eric LeGrand Delivers Graduation Speech After Controversy 

Former Rutgers University football player Eric LeGrand delivered a moving speech at his graduation in May despite his keynote invitation being rescinded just a few weeks earlier. LeGrand, who was paralyzed during a football game against Army in 2010, took to Twitter to express frustration after being uninvited to speak at graduation. Rutgers officials insisted it was a matter of miscommunication– LeGrand would still be able to make a speech but former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean was the official keynote speaker.

Meanwhile, Kean said he’d donate his speaking fee to create a scholarship fund for LeGrand. Read more.

The New York Times

“Campus as Obstacle Course”

Alex Watters, a graduate of Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, takes Roger Martin on an accessibility tour of his former campus. Watters damaged his spine soon after beginning his freshman year, which caused difficulties — physically and otherwise — upon returning to school, according to the piece. The article discusses everything from Watters’ accident to his advocacy for disability issues to his advice for future college students with disabilities.

One important note about the writer: perhaps in order to gain a better sense of Watters’ daily experience, Martin navigates campus in a manual wheelchair.

NPR Morning Edition

“Against All Odds, A ‘Miracle Boy Grows Up'”

NPR Morning Edition’s David Greene interviewed author Ben Mattlin on August 31, 2012, and the two discussed Mattlin’s experiences living with spinal muscular atrophy. A graduate of Harvard, Mattlin also provided insightful commentary about his dealings (and frustrations) with the Muscular Dystrophy Association while growing up and also talked about his growing acceptance of being part of the larger community of people with disabilities.

This interview was an opportunity for Mattlin to showcase his sharp wit and humor, as well as to bring some important issues to the table regarding where the Disability Rights Movement has succeeded and what strides it needs to make. The book, Miracle Boy Grows Up: How the Disability Rights Revolution Saved My Sanity was published earlier this year.

Broadway World

GLEE Guest Star Weinstein Talks Career With Disabilities

Actor Zack Weinstein will be appearing in next week’s episode of hit television show GLEE. What makes the appearance stand out is that, unlike Kevin McHale – who plays GLEE’s Artie Abrams who is confined to a wheelchair – Weinstein faces disabilities on a daily basis. The actor became paralyzed during a canoeing trip in college. While he was left with only the use of most of his upper body, leaving him unable to use his hands or legs, Weinstein has fought to continue his dream of acting.