A Modest Proposal Regarding Films About Disabilities

So it is that I come to this moment. 

We stand once more at the precipice of another season of prestige films. A number have already rolled out. Most have already played the major festivals. Only a few are unseen. This is the season when actors and studios make their push for “respect” and Oscar gold.

It is of course an era typically heavy in films about disability. A few are scheduled so far. The Accountant. Bleed For This. A few others of lower profiles. Inevitably these films receive strong pushes for their actors. After all Eddie Redmayne, Hillary Swank, Jamie Foxx, Dustin Hoffman, and many others have received Oscars for their work. Playing disabled is a sure fire way to earn praise for “how hard it was.” Stories about the lengths the actors went to fill the media. They’re to be applauded. 

I’m here to call all of this out once and for all and to make a simple proposal: stop going to these movies until the industry makes major changes to them. 

I’m completely serious. The time has come to quit rewarding an industry which exploits disability in its films without hiring disabled people and which portrays disability in a frequently loathsome light. Movies and tv treat disability as the ultimate painful obstacle which it takes courage for abled actors to imitate. They ignore that the disabled don’t consider themselves courageous. They’re just trying to live their lives like anybody else. 

It’s that last part in particular that bugs me to be clear. I’ve heard umpteen stories about the making of My Left Foot. I’ve heard almost nothing about the actual disease it depicts. We’re so impressed when “normal” people imitate “abnormal” lives yet we ignore the actual people. I’m kind of over all of this. 

 I’m over how film represents disability too. It’s almost always very white. There are exceptions but it’s seriously so white. It’s also very heterosexual and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a disabled trans person in the media. And yes, I am a cishet white man. But I’m allowed to want my media to be accurate. 
But back to my main point. I’m calling for an end to these fawning profiles on these films. I’m calling for an end to is letting saccharine garbage off the hook because the actor “tried so hard.” I’m calling for an end to being impressed by easy tricks. Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman was a parlor trick. Compare that to his work in Donnie Bradco. I’d argue the latter (unrewarded) role was harder. I’m definitely saying don’t go. 

What do I demand instead? Greater authenticity. I want more disabled actors. And don’t say they’re not out there. They are! I want more movies where people with disabilities exist across the spectrum like in real life. I want infinitely less movies where characters’ lives are hell because they have a condition. And yeah I could go without seeing another movie where someone demands to die because they’re paralyzed. 

So yeah, I’m going to boycott these films. I feel strong about this. I’m tired of this being a thing I have to see. Film itself would be better for these changes I say. 

I close by stressing that I am not the person to listen to on this. I strongly recommend reading the Twitter feeds of @erabrand @maysoonzayid @dominickevans @DayAlMohamed  and the rest of the #filmdis community. These are the true experts. They will tell you exactly why this matters, why Hollywood is wrong, and why I am wrong. 

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