Dear Meryl Streep,
There’s still work to be done.
At the Golden Globes on Sunday night, Meryl Streep called out Trump for publicly mocking a disabled reporter and high fived Hollywood for its inclusiveness, identifying her community as “crawling with outsiders and foreigners.” While I was excited to see a major star use such a huge platform to defend the dignity of Mr Kovaleski and speak out against the unjust treatment of persons with disabilities, Hollywood is not yet deserving of a pat on the back for total inclusion, especially as it relates to disability representation.
Across multiple media, including television and film, disability is still grossly underrepresented, misrepresented or just plain ignored. In her speech, Streep said “An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like.” But in the world of entertainment, disability stories are often little more than stereotypes of victims and burdens, heroes or freaks; lazy tropes that are used to make us feel specific emotions. These careless characterizations are not just hurtful, they’re dangerous. They inform how we see disabled people in real life and lead us to believe they are low-status individuals. The real stories of disability are still not being told.
The arts are by nature forward-thinking and innovative. Media is one of the most effective vehicles to elicit change in hearts and minds. Hollywood has a real opportunity to influence and normalize how we see disability, just as it has for other marginalized groups.
Thank you Ms. Streep for shining a massive light on this issue. I hope this is just the beginning of this conversation about the accurate and authentic inclusion and representation of disability in Hollywood and across all media.
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