I’ve been thinking long and hard about this one, you can probably tell because it’s coming so long after the last post on diversity. It’s because in part I’ve been struggling to determine, what exactly is disability? Is it just anything out of the norm? They don’t have four limbs, that must be disability. They have downs syndrome, that must be a disability. They are a little person/dwarf (just trying to find the least offensive term here), that must be a disability. But are they disabilities?
I have come across a number of people that could fit into one of these categories and they don’t see themselves as disabled. They don’t consider themselves less able, they just have to figure out a different route. It’s us that make life harder for them, for own convenience. Do we have to put things on the top shelf at the super market? No. But we do because it saves floor space, never mind that not everyone can reach it. And I’m not even talking about little people, the number of shorter people that have asked me to help them reach something from a high shelf is a little bit crazy. Do we have to make everything easily usable/accessible to people with two legs and two arms? No. But we do because that’s convenient for us.
So I don’t really like to say that these people are disabled, because in a way it suggests they are less capable, less human. And I don’t think that’s true.
However, having said all that, my opinion doesn’t seem to affect how these people are treated within the entertainment industry. Have you ever seen an actor with down syndrome play anything other than a character written to have down syndrome? I know what you’re thinking, but no just because we can guess based on their appearance that they have down syndrome, it doesn’t mean that has to be their defining feature. Could we have a downs syndrome actor play a character and there be literally no mention of it?
There’s a French film called Angel-A, I watched a long time ago that has a lead actor (Jamel Debbouze) who has no use of his right arm. But I honestly didn’t notice until afterwards, a work colleague of mine mentioned it. The guy had his hand tucked into his pocket the whole time and I didn’t notice that either. He could have had no right arm at all and I wouldn’t have noticed. So does an immobile or missing appendage have to mean that’s what we focus on? No. But that is the only film I can think of where it isn’t the focus.
And what about people with dwarfism? For a long time the only time you’d see them in anything was when they were playing dwarves in Snow White or it’s variants, or it was Mini Me… To be fair to the entertainment industry, I have actually seen some improvement there (Not a great deal, but some). Warwick Davis is an actor I have to say I admire for his talent on screen and his sense of humour out of character. I have frequently seen him on British television, during which time no one bats an eye about the fact he is a little person (QI is an excellent place to see his humour in action). Peter Dinklage too has proven his immense talent in the industry. But everything I have seen him in makes a big song and dance about him being shorter than us tall freaks.
Blindness though is an odd one. On the one hand there’s a certain kind of equality, seeing people can play blind people and blind people can play seeing people. But you can only play someone who sees if your eyes look “normal”. So that leaves people with out of the ordinary eyes only being allowed to play characters with out of the ordinary eyes. You can imagine how many times those roles crop up, spoiler, it’s not many.
Unsurprisingly, once again we are left with the knowledge that the entertainment industry is less than diverse, and less than equal. This is my fourth and final rambling on diversity in the entertainment industry and each time we have come away feeling pretty let down. We imagine these films and shows to be representations of real life, a better life for us to escape to when ours isn’t going quite as well as we’d like, an interesting place for us to go when we want to be entertained. But in all honesty they are as visually faithful to real life as a Picasso painting. It’s all warped and distorted. You get the idea of what it is maybe meant to be but somehow it’s just not quite right and it’s not at all what we were expecting when we asked for a faithful portrait.
Hopefully the minor improvements I’ve noticed will snowball into something so much better, inclusive and equal. But as America is sort of the leader in entertainment I’m not so sure we can just wait and expect it to happen soon. America just voted in a guy who rejects everything that is different to him, everything that he doesn’t understand and
I really don’t have a good solution to this problem, except to demand change. I myself will be writing change, I will write in equality for gender, race, sexuality and disability where my capabilities allow me to.
Us creative types are supposedly the open minded individuals most prone to accepting change and that which is different from ourselves. So let’s prove it.
P.S. it has not been my intention to gloss over any disabilities. Merely to highlight what I have noticed, understand and can make solid points about. This post I hope represents my feelings on all forms of disability.