Disabled People Should Play Disabled Characters

Disabled characters are constantly getting portrayed by able-bodied actors, and it has to stop.


Hollywood is always doing something wrong. Whether that’s white-washing, sexual harassment, assault and rape allegations, or fat-shaming. But, able-bodied people playing disabled characters is something that isn’t being talked about enough.

The 2017 film, Stronger (directed by David Gordon Green) stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman, a runner who lost his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing. Gyllenhaal is by no means a crap actor, and there’s no doubt he’ll play the part well -but that’s missing the point. He’s able-bodied. Not only does this discriminate against disabled men who had more right to play this role, but how can Gyllenhaal – an able-bodied man – truly play the part of an amputee? Surely a real-life amputee would play the role of a real-life amputee much more convincingly? Unfortunately, this isn’t uncommon in Hollywood.

The recently released film, Wonder (directed by Stephen Chbosky), stars Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. But it’s based around a young boy with a rare medical facial deformity, which is referred to as “mandibulofacial dysostosis”. The boy is played by Jacob Tremblay. Again, Tremblay will undoubtedly play the role as best he can. But why is a child that has no experience of a facial deformity playing the role of someone who lives with one?

There are plenty of disabled actors out there that should be playing disabled characters, and chances are, they’d do a much better job, having been through it themselves in real life. It seems absurd as to why Hollywood goes through the trouble of turning an able-bodied person into a disabled person, when there are disabled people waiting to be given the opportunity to play their stories themselves.

“There are plenty of disabled actors out there that should be playing disabled characters, and chances are, they’d do a much better job”

The popular series, Breaking Bad (created by Vince Gilligan) cast RJ Mitte as Walter White, Jr. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at a young age. This was pretty huge at the time that the series began. A disabled character not being made fun of on a TV show? A disabled character being taken seriously? And in turn, since then RJ Mitte has been taken seriously as an actor, starring in numerous episodes of the TV show Switched at Birth and even participating in The Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls.

But, Mitte is an anomaly. Many stars bravely come out about illnesses and disabilities, such as Lady Gaga creating a documentary showing the daily struggles of dealing with chronic illness. Selena Gomez also recently came out about her experiences with the disease lupus, which has no cure. They already had fame when they came out about their illnesses, which means they had huge support and a great platform to talk about it. Disabled people getting into Hollywood is still almost unheard of though.

Why Hollywood seems so against casting disabled people to play disabled characters is absurd. In Great Britain, there are over 11 million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability. So, why aren’t illnesses, impairments and disabilities represented more in film and TV other than when based on tragic true stories?

Disabled people live their lives. They wake up, they go about their day, they go to bed. So why do we only see them in films when it’s a sad story? Why is there always a tone of pity around disabled characters? Why don’t we see disabled people in high school? Where are all the disabled people in offices? They exist, and they have every right to be represented in Hollywood and TV shows to the same extent able-bodied people are. Empowering stories around disabled people are virtually non-existent in Hollywood, which seems completely absurd.

It’s about time Hollywood stopped discriminating, and started acknowledging disabled people. Represent them honestly, give them the same opportunities, and for goodness sake, cast disabled actors to play disabled characters.

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