"Why applaud ‘cripping up’?"
January 13, 2015 12:48 PM   Subscribe

“If you do a film about the Holocaust, you’re guaranteed an Oscar,” goes the famous Kate Winslet joke in Extras. The same can be said for an actor doing a film about disability. Unless you’re a disabled actor, that is. Then you’re lucky to even get the part.
posted by josher71 (68 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's not blackface for the able bodied to act out a disability; one of the essential components of blackface is a racist mockery. If an able bodied person portrays a disabled person in a respectful role, then i don't object.

That being said, the liberal world of TV and Film needs to do a better job of hiring differently-abled people.
posted by Renoroc at 12:57 PM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


One of my favorite things about American Horror Story (especially this season, obviously) is it's willingness to cast physically and mentally disabled actors in roles that acknowledge both the disability and a multifaceted existence that isn't defined by the disability.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 1:03 PM on January 13, 2015 [14 favorites]


I noticed this in the golden globes - guy got an award for portraying a trans individual. How about hiring a trans actress?

But this is Hollywood. People are so obsessed with their image, that to "go ugly" for a role is, like, a big deal.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:05 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


robertdowneyjr.gif
posted by resurrexit at 1:06 PM on January 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


RJ Mitte had to exaggerate his CP traits in his Breaking Bad role because Vince Gilligan didn't think he seemed "severe enough."

Blackface may not be the precisely apt metaphor here, but what Hollywood does with its portrayal and casting of people with disabilities is generally horseshit. Or, to put it another way, per the late Stella Young (previously on Metafilter), I'm not your inspiration, thank you very much.

What she says is crucial to remember because it's tends to be the trope that Hollywood lands on, like clockwork, and what made me groan when I hit this passage in the Guardian piece linked in the post:

After all, disabled characters create powerful images and sentiments for audiences. They can symbolise the triumph of the human spirit over so-called “adversity”.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:10 PM on January 13, 2015 [11 favorites]


RJ Mitte had to exaggerate his CP traits in his Breaking Bad role

Katie Leclerc only has a Deaf accent in Switched at Birth, not otherwise (though she does have some amount of hearing loss -- not sure how much -- and most or all of the actors who play the deaf characters are deaf.)
posted by jeather at 1:15 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


"It's not blackface for the able bodied to act out a disability; one of the essential components of blackface is a racist mockery."

That's not precisely true. It was partly the rationale, but in many cases (especially outside the US) it's just thought to be a way of representing that someone is black. That's problematic for a whole bunch of reasons and those reasons apply against your argument.

The biggest reason -- which applies to casting black actors for Othello or for casting native people for native roles and the like -- is because these groups are underrepresented in popular media. In both senses -- that we don't see people of these groups as often as we ought to and that people of these groups can't get this sort of work as often as they ought to. Those two things are, of course, intimately related to each other.

It's really sort of adding insult to injury when you can't be bothered to cast an hispanic person for an hispanic role or a native person for a native role or a disabled person for a disabled role (and many other examples) because if at the very least these people got these roles for which they are especially qualified to play, then they'd be more likely to work in general and they'd be more likely to get other roles that aren't dependent on these characteristics.

We should be seeing disabled people in roles simply because the actor is disabled, not because the character was written as disabled. That doesn't happen.

The biggest reason it doesn't happen are the things discussed in the article. A huge problem is that the whole notion of accommodation is basically utterly alien to the American film and television industry. This is a world in which the only bulwark against complete disregard of labor law are the unions. The idea of making accommodations for a disabled actor for a role that isn't even written for a disabled person would strike most people involved as absurd -- especially in the context of the conditions on set.

I can imagine that a lot of people would argue that the entertainment industry is in this way special and excusably so. But my response is that the same things that make it special in that way, also make it special in terms of its social responsibility to be inclusive.

Finally, I also want to just express how incredibly refreshing it is for me to watch British television. That very often the actors are normal people, and not beautiful Hollywood freaks, has for me a strong positive effect. In dramas, it makes a substantial contribution to realism and suspension of disbelief.

On preview: also, what mandolin conspiracy said.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:19 PM on January 13, 2015 [26 favorites]


It's not blackface for the able bodied to act out a disability; one of the essential components of blackface is a racist mockery.

The thing about blackface is that it presumes there aren't, you know, people who are actually black who can play a black character well enough. Is it fair to make the same assumption about people with disabilities?
posted by teponaztli at 1:21 PM on January 13, 2015 [12 favorites]


RJ Mitte had to exaggerate his CP traits in his Breaking Bad role

Black people performed in blackface; e.g. Bert Williams.
posted by larrybob at 1:30 PM on January 13, 2015


This is very interesting and sort of reminds me about the raging debate in the trans* community right now about the casting on Transparent.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:31 PM on January 13, 2015


If the character is disabled throughout the entire film the choice is easy. If, as is the case with Born On The Fourth Of July, the character's arc includes both being able-bodied and disabled, it is not so clear-cut. Do you use different actors for the different scenarios? CGI to make the disabled actor appear able-bodied?
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:34 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think the creator of Transparent said the reason why she didn't cast a trans actor because the story would show the character's life as a man and she didn't want to subject a trans actor to playing the wrong gender even if only for a bit. (I understand that Laverne Cox has her brother play her as her former male self in OITNB, so maybe they could have done the same for Transparent?)
posted by Kitteh at 1:34 PM on January 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


"This is very interesting and sort of reminds me about the raging debate in the trans* community right now about the casting on Transparent."

I'm slightly more sympathetic in the case of a starring role. Not enough to swing the argument in favor of me thinking it's fine, but just that it's more defensible. But not with casting supporting cast and extras -- how much is this the case with Transparent?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:34 PM on January 13, 2015


Katie Leclerc only has a Deaf accent in Switched at Birth, not otherwise (though she does have some amount of hearing loss -- not sure how much -- and most or all of the actors who play the deaf characters are deaf.)

Sounds like a good example of the case in point - someone being asked to fit someone else's narrative of how they should portray the experience of being a person with that disability.

From real life: my husband constantly gets "I don't understand how you have a white cane and glasses. You couldn't possibly be blind." This is sometimes an levelled as an honest query, other times it's a hostile accusation.

He's always in the position of having to explain "Well, for a significant percentage of blind people, it isn't an all-or nothing proposition. These glasses correct the moderate nearsightedness I have such that the crappy remaining fragment of peripheral vision in my right eye works when the light is just so. But that nearsightedness has nothing to do with the underlying condition that caused my blindness, because that has to do with my retinas, no my lenses, so..."

In other words, he's not fitting into a nice, neat box of "either you're 100% blind or not." Simliar to RJ Mitte's experience of "Oh, you need to be LIKE THIS in order to be a person with CP."

When we first started dating, we had a running joke about "I feel like I'm in that Lionel Richie video."

Which is actually a germane example for this thread. I know lots of blind people - nobody I've ever met or seen in real life stares straight ahead like that. Also, in that video, for some reason she's using an ID cane as a mobility cane. Wrong, wrong, wrong!
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:36 PM on January 13, 2015 [12 favorites]


how much is this the case with Transparent?

They use both cisgender and transgender actors in trans* supporting roles.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:38 PM on January 13, 2015


A story crying for inclusion and fairness; a cutline referring to a "wheelchair-bound actress."

Oy.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 1:40 PM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Sounds like a good example of the case in point - someone being asked to fit someone else's narrative of how they should portray the experience of being a person with that disability."

Eh, according to Wikipedia:

" Her symptoms were not present during childhood, so her speech has not been affected."
posted by I-baLL at 1:41 PM on January 13, 2015


They use both cisgender and transgender actors in trans* supporting roles.

But do they use trans* actors in cis roles too?
posted by jeather at 1:43 PM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


But do they use trans* actors in cis roles too

Not to my knowledge, but I can't confirm.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:45 PM on January 13, 2015




I say let anyone play anyone. It's called acting for a reason. Unless the actor is portraying himself in some sort of meta role there's going to be some pretending going on.

People might be upset Benedict Cumberbatch isn't gay in real life, but no one gets upset he's not a mathematician.

This happens all the time in comic book movies. People get bent out of shape when racial lines are crossed. I remember when 47 Ronin came out some people where upset that Keanu Reeves was the wrong kind of half-Asian.

I'm fine with gay men playing womanizers.

I'm fine with Australians playing Americans.

The only problem I see is when you use an abled bodied white man to portray a role that is outside of this, then that's fewer roles for those who aren't abled bodied white men.

Hollywood is also a business, and as long as the score is kept at the box office, roles are going to be conservatively handed out.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:51 PM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


They use both cisgender and transgender actors in trans* supporting roles.

Are you sure? What cis actor other than Tambor plays a trans* role? This article claims that he's the only one, and in fact claims that Soloway insists on this.

The same article also points out that trans* actors have played roles in which the gender status was not explicit (i.e. roles that would have traditionally defaulted to cis actors).
posted by mr_roboto at 1:53 PM on January 13, 2015


One of the very first companies I ever worked with in theater was an off-off-Broadway company which today is called Theater Breaking Through Barriers, but when I was with them was working under the much more descriptive name, "Theater by The Blind" - which was exactly what it sounds like.

And the best way to make the artistic director bristle was to imply that "oh, that means you do stuff like THE MIRACLE WORKER all the time." Not at all - he was committed to having the point be that the actors may have visual impairments, but why couldn't they take on any role they wanted? A friend of mine who worked on the same show I did later went on to do the combat choreography when they did Hamlet. Their approach is pretty much that they do the same shows that everyone else does, it's just that they hire people who don't always get hired otherwise because other productions may be spooked by their various perceived physical limitations. (The guy playing the lead in that early production of Hamlet was completely sightless, and my friend reported that, with one minor and completely-reasonable adjustment to the combat choreography, they pulled that off brilliantly.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:57 PM on January 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


mr_roboto, Bradley Whitford, in a truly excellent role.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:58 PM on January 13, 2015


Hollywood is also a business

I realize we're talking Hollywood here.

From the Guardian piece:

The entertainment industry is a business, after all, and stars sell.
[...]
pop culture is more interested in disability as a metaphor than in disability as something that happens to real people.


So I don't want to polish this turd too much. But demanding less stink is not an unreasonable thing to ask, either.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:59 PM on January 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


The thing about blackface is that it presumes there aren't, you know, people who are actually black who can play a black character well enough.

No, that's really not the thing about blackface. Certainly not the only thing, nor the most egregious thing about blackface. Blackface was used to lampoon African-Americans, to create and perpetuate stereotypes of them as lazy, stupid, and dishonest, and was part of an exaggerated show of Americans' bigoted Platonic ideal of blackness. It was a loathsome and deliberate mockery of millions of people, not just a simple, "we can't find any black people to take this role."
posted by Mister_A at 2:02 PM on January 13, 2015 [15 favorites]


I say let anyone play anyone. It's called acting for a reason. Unless the actor is portraying himself in some sort of meta role there's going to be some pretending going on.

This is fine if it results in equal opportunities for actors and actresses of varying races, sexualities, levels of ability, whatever, but in practice it often means that able-bodied cis white people keep getting hired. We can start letting "anyone play anyone" once we expand the actor definition of "anyone" to include ANYONE.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:03 PM on January 13, 2015 [32 favorites]


mr_roboto, Bradley Whitford, in a truly excellent role.

Ahhhh... I thought he was portraying a man who crossdresses rather than a transwoman. I'm honestly not sure what that character's gender identity is, though.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:04 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I say let anyone play anyone.

Sure, why not? Except when you do that, because of structural biases embedded in the industry, cis straight white able-bodied people end up playing everyone. As you can see.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:08 PM on January 13, 2015 [10 favorites]


What Mrs. Pterodactyl said.

I'm positive I remember hearing an episode of Ouch that dealt with this exact same topic, but damned if I can find it now.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:11 PM on January 13, 2015


People might be upset Benedict Cumberbatch isn't gay in real life

The hell you say!
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 2:13 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think it's totally fucked up that Robert Deniro played a savage killer in Cape Fear when there are loads of actual killers who would've killed for that part.

I kid, obviously, but there is a kernel of truth in there... like, is it OK for Bradley Cooper to play a man with bipolar disorder, even though he presumably doesn't have it? I think it is. Is it OK to have a sighted person play a blind person? I think it depends on the film to be honest. Is it OK to have a lesbian play a straight woman? Sure.

Maybe the issue here is that people with mood disorders, for instance, regularly play regular glamorous well-built regular people, because they can get through 8 weeks of shooting without any outward signs or special accomodations. Or because no one ever said, "you can't be an actor, you're too moody," to the bipolar guy in drama that everyone thought was just moody.
posted by Mister_A at 2:34 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I understand that Laverne Cox has her brother play her as her former male self in OITNB, so maybe they could have done the same for Transparent

I am amazed and impressed that the pool of actors who have transitioned genders and also have an identical sibling who did not transition is as high as it is including Cox... that being one, apparently. Even if you broaden things to non-identical, non-twin siblings, I wonder how much of a pool you'd really have to choose from.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:37 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Re: the last link, Marlee Matlin is NOT the only disabled Oscar winner. Harold Russell won Best Supporting Actor in 1947 for The Best Years Of Our Lives, playing a character who had lost his arms in WWII.

He had won a second, honorary Oscar earlier in the same ceremony, for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans," because the Academy assumed he wouldn't win in the competitive category... but he did.

As with just about any category in which underrepresented groups are, uh, underrepresented, people can use the excuse that actors from that group aren't good enough actors or don't have enough acting experience (as opposed to real-life experience) to play major roles. To some degree, that may be accurate, although more often it's presented as an excuse or too much of a risk. (And this happens elsewhere, too: on The Wire, various real-life newspaper guys and police officers were deemed too inexperienced to play themselves.)

However, the only way to fix that is to give them more experience in the same places that "normal" actors do, so the underrepresented actors still have to spend a summer in Ohio with a former stripper and her snake... Wayne.

Come to think of it, in that particular (fictional) company, a gay [little person] named Karl was playing Tevye and Porgy, so they were workin' on it!
posted by Madamina at 2:40 PM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's not blackface for the able bodied to act out a disability; one of the essential components of blackface is a racist mockery.

It isn't a minstrel show without mockery; it's still blackface, just as having a white person play a noble Indian is redface and having a white actor play an Asian -- even the brilliant hero, as in the Asian detective movie of the 30s -- is still yellowface.
posted by maxsparber at 2:55 PM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think it's totally fucked up that Robert Deniro played a savage killer in Cape Fear when there are loads of actual killers who would've killed for that part.

Are you really unable to a draw a meaningful distinction between actions and attributes?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:56 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Are you really unable to draw a meaningful distinction between humor and discourse?
posted by fairmettle at 3:05 PM on January 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


From real life: my husband constantly gets "I don't understand how you have a white cane and glasses. You couldn't possibly be blind."

I used to work in a print shop with a legally blind platesetter. His field of vision was very narrow but (so?) he would catch mistakes that the rest of the department had missed.

It isn't a minstrel show without mockery; it's still blackface, just as having a white person play a noble Indian is redface and having a white actor play an Asian -- even the brilliant hero, as in the Asian detective movie of the 30s -- is still yellowface.

What about, say, an Indian playing a Arab?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:06 PM on January 13, 2015




Well, we can boil down examples as much as possible to find when it is allowable that somebody who is not a thing plays a thing, and I don't have an answer for every single one. Generally it is my opinion that minority communities can come to some conclusion for themselves about what sort of representation they are comfortable with without me policing that. I am fine with non-Jews playing Jews in most contexts, or with non-Irish playing Irish, or whatever I have a say in.

If disabled people have issues with roles played by non-disabled, I'm all for giving it a fair hearing without finding every possible variation on the theme to see where the edges of their comfort with unrelated representation is.
posted by maxsparber at 3:13 PM on January 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


Incidentally, rewatching the Fargo TV series at the moment: the hitman character Mr. Wrench is deaf, and is played by a deaf actor. NPR story/interview.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:17 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


The most visible example of this is Marlee Matlin, who is deaf and won an Academy Award for her performance in Children of a Lesser God, and has gone on to have a tremendously varied career, often playing characters who were not written as deaf.
posted by maxsparber at 3:22 PM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think it's totally fucked up that Robert Deniro played a savage killer in Cape Fear when there are loads of actual killers who would've killed for that part.

Similarly, why did they not cast your straw man for the role of the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz?
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:32 PM on January 13, 2015 [26 favorites]


Oops. Forgot to add: *rimshot.*
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:35 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


This totally just came up in my Facebook feed. Apparently they couldn't find a Black man in Germany who can sing?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:37 PM on January 13, 2015


People are so obsessed with their image, that to "go ugly" for a role is, like, a big deal.

And there's another form of discrimination: uglyface.

They should hire “ugly”, or at least un-beautiful (i.e., not traditionally good-looking; oddly proportioned, asymmetrical, or just outside the scope of Hollywood beauty) actors to play roles of characters who are not specifically meant to be dreamily gorgeous. It'd be healthier for body image and society in general (there is research that shows that people subconsciously correlate good looks with moral virtue and competence, and ugliness with the opposites), and I'd bet there are plenty of people who could act a thousand times better than Tom Cruise or Lindsey Lohan or whoever, but who never get the chance because their skulls are not quite a pleasing enough shape or something.

Taken far enough, it could be the start of an Ugly Pride movement, reclaiming the word Ugly (always capitalised).
posted by acb at 3:52 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


They should hire “ugly”, or at least un-beautiful...

You should go and see Mr. Turner. Many of the characters seem to have been purposely uglified (and I’m not counting the Victorian facial hair).
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 4:04 PM on January 13, 2015


They should hire “ugly”, or at least un-beautiful (i.e., not traditionally good-looking; oddly proportioned, asymmetrical, or just outside the scope of Hollywood beauty) actors to play roles of characters who are not specifically meant to be dreamily gorgeous.

Or even when they *are* specifically meant to be un-beautiful. "Hollywood Ugly" translates to some looker in glasses and poorly styled hair.

The SO and I are fond of British TV in part because people are much more likely to look like actual people (and also act.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:07 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


...who never get the chance because their skulls are not quite a pleasing enough shape or something.

Sigh. Enough of these backdoor attempts to resurrect phrenology.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:11 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


As someone who has a number of family members with developmental disabilities, including my son and nephew, few things drive me more up the wall than watching neurologically typical actors try to portray such disabilities on screen, since it often appears the only direction they are given is "Talk in an offensively goofy voice". (Example , Example, Example)
posted by The Gooch at 4:17 PM on January 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


mandolin conspiracy: "Sounds like a good example of the case in point - someone being asked to fit someone else's narrative of how they should portray the experience of being a person with that disability."

Actually LeClerc and the producers had a long discussion about whether her "natural" accent was appropriate given the character's backstory, or whether she should use a Deaf accent. LeClerc herself began to experience significant hearing loss in adolescence, after her accent was learned; her character on the show loses her hearing as a toddler. They concluded that the character would almost certainly have a Deaf accent as a result of the early hearing loss.

The show has several Deaf characters in the main cast, who have a variety of types of deafness and ways of communicating, and even more in the supporting cast; it represents a variety of life experiences of Deaf and deaf people -- and has even gone into the question of "Deaf" vs. "deaf," with various characters having different opinions and different politics towards disability rights advocacy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:35 PM on January 13, 2015 [12 favorites]


Many of the characters seem to have been purposely uglified

It continues to amuse me that Hollywood would rather engage a special team of makeup, costuming, and effects artists to make a beautiful actor ugly rather than you know, pick an actual homely person. But I guess then, you'd have an ugly person on set, just walking around being ugly while people were trying to eat and shit.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:31 PM on January 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


+1 for the hilarious comment. I'm still chuckling.

It really is weird and damn annoying.

It's not just with characters who are written as being less physically attractive, though it's really egregious in those cases. But in general, this nearly universal standard of Hollywood attractiveness was always a little bit annoying to me but it was only when I started to watch British television shows that this low-level awareness rose to the surface and I started getting actively upset about it. It's like people on Brit shows are real fucking people -- I mean, they're not any less actors than those in American shows and films, it's not like these are people they've randomly grabbed from the street and put in front of the camera to play a leading role. But the end result for me is that I'm like, wow, these characters (and actors) look like people I know in my daily life.

There's nothing wrong with physical attractiveness, of course, but then it's also the case that Hollywood's notion of it is insanely narrow. So American film and television doesn't even feature a huge swath of the kinds of people I do think are physically attractive. Given that, I suppose it's inevitable that it wouldn't cast at all the half of the population that is below average in physical attractiveness. It's not even casting about three-quarters of the half who are above average, it calls them "ugly".
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:00 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


The show has several Deaf characters in the main cast, who have a variety of types of deafness and ways of communicating, and even more in the supporting cast; it represents a variety of life experiences of Deaf and deaf people -- and has even gone into the question of "Deaf" vs. "deaf," with various characters having different opinions and different politics towards disability rights advocacy.

I'll confess to being unfamiliar with the show and that background. Thanks for the context. That sounds like the kind of thought-out, nuanced portrayal (particularly navigating issues of Deaf vs. deaf) that I sometimes just assume by default nobody's putting the effort into. Sounds worth checking out.

Chalk it up to the tyranny of lowered expectations.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:41 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


It surprises me that several people have mentioned now that they would have no problem with a gay/lesbian actor playing a straight person. Though this has certainly happened, particularly with actors staying in the closet until relatively recently, by far the more common instance has been straight actors playing gay, and how that's changed over time. I'm talking about this not as a derail but as another example of how Hollywood deals with difference.

Anyone who's seen The Celluloid Closet will be aware that gay and lesbian characters have historically been either comic relief or morality lessons (the punishment for homosexuality = death, frequently suicide). Obviously this has changed, but along the way there was a phase of straight actors being warned not to "play gay" because then they'd be pigeonholed as gay character actors, sometimes concurrent with straight actors playing gay characters winning prizes for their sensitive, daring portrayals (Tom Hanks, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, etc). How brave they were to compromise their masculinity and risk being thought ... (hushed voice) gay! All this while there has certainly been no shortage of GLBTIQ actors, with the bonus paradox that acting is renowned as a profession in which there are plenty of non-straight people.

I've only heard of Transparent through this thread - it's not out in Australia - but this has been a thing with trans characters as well, and again cis actors playing trans (Hilary Swank, Felicity Huffman, Olympia Dukakis, can't think of any cis male examples) have frequently won critical acclaim and/or prizes for their amazing portrayals blah blah. Not to denigrate their performances, but meanwhile trans actors haven't been anywhere near as noticeable.

My point here is that Hollywood, as both a reflection and shaper of societal opinions, has trouble portraying difference. For a long while, character with X characteristic is only allowed in certain limited stereotypical roles. Eventually the stories change, actors who don't actually possess X characteristic are no longer stigmatised for portraying those who do, and opinion gradually shifts. But I don't think we've yet reached the point where actual actors with X characteristic are even equally likely to get a part written for a character with X characteristic - let alone equally likely to get a part full stop.

It's also interesting that in Australia, where (sorry fellow Aussies) people in general have been a bit backwards about the inappropriateness of the whole blackface thing, you do get white actors playing ethnicities other than anglo. I'm thinking mostly of Chris Lilley here (and the infamous Hey Hey blackface skit which was SO WRONG), and yes it was satire and comedy blah blah but I think there's a reason Jonah From Tonga bombed and it's that Australian culture is finally catching up with the difference between mocking the hell out of people (a national pastime) and being racist.

Again, I'm really not trying to derail here, or take the spotlight away from disabled actors who I agree definitely need to be a larger part of our entertainment culture, but to compare other instances in the interest of getting more understanding of how to change it.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:48 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


make a beautiful actor ugly rather than you know, pick an actual homely person.

Mr. Turner is not a Hollywood production, and the cast are mostly British character actors, so they start off “normal” rather than preternaturally attractive. The aesthetic however includes an extra layer of Dickensification to make them even more grotesque (fascinating skin diseases included).
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 8:28 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


This totally just came up in my Facebook feed. Apparently they couldn't find a Black man in Germany who can sing?

Milli Vanilli has cast a long shadow.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:38 PM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


Hollywood is also a business, and as long as the score is kept at the box office, roles are going to be conservatively handed out.

I never understand what any of the people who say this sort of thing get out of it. Setting aside for a second that it's wrong and intellectually lazy in some pretty crucial ways, if it's the truism that you clearly think it is, how is it even relevant? So now back to the wrong and lazy part -- this sort of thing presumes that the causal arrow of influence runs in one direction, that is, from the culture at large to the media industry situated inside of it. But the media industry is large enough that it in turn exerts an influence on the surrounding culture! You can infer from there how nudging the one or the other in a particular direction has the potential to create a positive feedback loop, and, since media is an easier arena in which to make that nudge than the culture at large, complaining about this sort of thing and advocating for change isn't an a priori futile act.

This is super-basic shit and I feel like I've just performed the equivalent of explaining that fire is hot. It feels to me like mutually dependent relationships like this aren't hard to grasp but judging by the prevalence of this sort of error I guess they must be.
posted by invitapriore at 11:07 PM on January 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


The other thing I like about Switched At Birth is that as well as dealing with the Deaf issues etc quite well and thoughtfully it also has Deaf teenagers dealing with drama and issues that have nothing to do with being Deaf. Often relationship stuff because it's basically a soap but other stuff too.
posted by shelleycat at 11:34 PM on January 13, 2015


This is fine if it results in equal opportunities for actors and actresses of varying races, sexualities, levels of ability, whatever, but in practice it often means that able-bodied cis white people keep getting hired. We can start letting "anyone play anyone" once we expand the actor definition of "anyone" to include ANYONE.

That and Lou Diamond Phillips playing every possible non-white and non-black role.
posted by srboisvert at 6:14 AM on January 14, 2015


We can start letting "anyone play anyone" once we expand the actor definition of "anyone" to include ANYONE.

I'd give you a standing ovation, but ... well ...

I gave "Glee" a one-episode trial, but was dismayed to learn Kevin McHale wasn't disabled. I was even more dismayed because I was the wheelchair guy in a show choir, and it wasn't like that at all.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:03 AM on January 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


mandolin conspiracy: "I'll confess to being unfamiliar with the show and that background. Thanks for the context. That sounds like the kind of thought-out, nuanced portrayal (particularly navigating issues of Deaf vs. deaf) that I sometimes just assume by default nobody's putting the effort into."

ABC Family in general with its shows for teens has done a really nice job having diverse characters without descending into tokenism; their backgrounds are taken seriously and allowed to influence the character's story and reactions, but they aren't turned into caricatures, and the focus of the isn't "weird stories we can tell because this character is deaf" but "teen soap, in which some of the characters are deaf." "The Fosters," also on ABC Family, is a show about a foster family ... where the parents happen to be lesbians. That informs the plots, but it never DRIVES the plots, if you see what I mean.

They're not perfect shows by any means, but if you start watching stuff on ABC Family, it'll set your bar WAY HIGHER for diversity on television and for meaningful, deep stories that engage with characters' unique lives, without tokenizing them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:20 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yo I love Diamond Lou Phillips.
posted by Mister_A at 7:30 AM on January 14, 2015


I gave "Glee" a one-episode trial, but was dismayed to learn Kevin McHale wasn't disabled. I was even more dismayed because I was the wheelchair guy in a show choir, and it wasn't like that at all.

We've discussed this portrayal quite over the last couple of years, since I live with a Broadway fanatic who has a disability. Of all the recent high-profile characters with a disability, this one comes off as very token-ist, and not necessarily because it's an able-bodied actor playing a person with a disability. Sure, it's likely "well-intended," but to quote the Simpsons...

Marge Simpson: Ned! We meant well, and everyone here tried their best...

Ned Flanders: Well, my family and I can't live in good intentions, Marge!


This sequence is particularly problematic - it's the last ten seconds are so that make it particularly offensive. It boils down to it delivering this message: "now that the fantasy sequence in which his disability goes away is over, his life is shit again." Fuck that.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:18 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Speaking as someone who you might call temporarily able-bodied, depending on your take on the term, we'd do well to bring the social model of disability into the discussion. Because these critiques of the entertainment industry, in both how it portrays and employs people with disabilities, can be looked at through that lens. But critics like Tom Shakespeare argue that danger lurk in this polarization as well.

But at least thinking about things using those models, you might end up in the place Stephen Kuusisto, who's well worth reading, does when heputs it this way:

But disability is not a physical problem. Its still an economic idea. Give disabled people proper work place accommodations and most can work.

The numbers are terrible. 70% of the disabled remain unemployed in the US. This is a failure of imagination. Its the 19th century.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:46 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also relevant to the FPP: Disability in American Theatre: What's the Tipping Point?.

Interestingly, it links to this 2005 Screen Actors Guild study (pdf) entitled The Employment of Performers with Disabilities in the Entertainment Industry.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:17 AM on January 14, 2015


Semi-relevant news from earlier in the week: Channel 4 issues strict diversity guidelines - and executives will lose bonuses if programmes miss them.

The new commissioning guidelines aren't perfect - only 25% women on screen for entertainment programmes, and the focus seems to be on characters rather than actors in drama - but they're pretty good, e.g.: ...drama and comedies to include at least one lead character from an ethnic minority, LGBT or disabled background.
posted by jack_mo at 9:24 AM on January 14, 2015


mr_roboto, Bradley Whitford, in a truly excellent role.

I thought the show (specifically the episode "Best New Girl") made it pretty clear that Whitford's character was not transgender.
posted by Awkward Philip at 9:26 AM on January 14, 2015


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