Jake Gyllenhaal's Casting as Amputee in 'Stronger' Criticized

“Stronger,” a film based on the story of Jeff Bauman, who lost both of his legs during the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, is being criticized for its casting of Jake Gyllenhaal as Bauman, a double amputee.

In an interview with Boston.com, David Gordon Green, the film’s director, said he never considered anyone other than Gyllenhaal to play Bauman, noting, “I knew he was going to be a playful actor that was able to break some rules of acting and go with me on a journey that was going to be both emotional and ultimately uplifting.”

But groups like The Ruderman Family Foundation say Gyllenhaal’s casting takes opportunities away from actors with disabilities.

“The casting of Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead in the movie Stronger is the perfect example [of] Hollywood’s ongoing systemic discrimination against actors with disabilities.” Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation said in a statement, adding:  

By his own admission, Director David Gordon Green never even considered any other actors in a role in which Gyllenhaal plays a character who is a double amputee. By not even giving actors who are amputees the chance to audition for the role awarded to Gyllenhaal, Green effectively denied actors with disabilities to even be considered for the role.

When able-bodied actors are cast as characters with disabilities, the conversation often turns to the availability of disabled actors. But there are plenty of skilled actors with disabilities waiting for their opportunity to be cast in roles reflective of their lives and experiences.

In an interview with People, Kurt Yeager, an actor and amputee, shared some of the challenges actors with disabilities face, noting that he wears pants to auditions to hide his missing leg.

“Most people find out that I’m missing a leg only after the fact,” he said. “I spent a lot of time learning how to walk without a limp so that their first impression of me was not going to be a negative one, unfortunately. For a lot of actors with disabilities it’s unfair.”

According to The Ruderman Family Foundation, people with disabilities make up 20 percent of the population but only two percent of the actors we see on screen. “Gyllenhaal may have been the best actor for the part, but if actors with disabilities are never given a chance to audition they will never have the opportunity to reach the success that someone like Gyllenhaal has achieved,” Ruderman added.

The film, which premieres next week, follows at least four other films announced this year featuring able-bodied actors in disabled roles. Last week, “The Upside” premiered at the Toronto Film Festival with Bryan Cranston starring as a quadriplegic man. In July, Alec Baldwin played a blind man in the film “Blind,” and in October, Andrew Garfield will play disability advocate Robin Cavendish in “Breathe.”

Header image via “Stronger’s” Facebook page.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Disability

Woman seemingly cured of her disability.

How Society's Focus on 'Curing' Disability Can Harm Disabled People

There’s something I feel needs clarifying between many abled and disabled people. There is a major problem with society thinking disabled people’s greatest, most pressing need is to be cured. It’s difficult to explain and I hope I can find the right words to help people understand and to help disabled people be heard. When [...]
18 Messages of Hope From People With Disabilities Who've Struggled With Suicidal Thoughts

18 Messages of Hope From People With Disabilities Who've Struggled With Suicidal Thoughts

As people with disabilities, we can struggle with pain, fatigue and other physically and mentally stressful aspects of our conditions. We also live in a world that often misunderstands us, devalues us and does not prioritize the things we need to live successful, happy lives — such as supportive, affordable health care, accessible buildings, welcoming [...]
Two images of Bryan Cranston in a wheelchair

Bryan Cranston Plays Disabled Character in 'The Upside'

Bryan Cranston is the latest able-bodied actor in Hollywood to play a disabled character. “The Upside,” which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on Friday, stars Cranston as a wealthy quadriplegic man who hires a man with a criminal record (Kevin Hart) to take care of him. The film is based on the 2011 French film “The Intouchables,” [...]
Mother and daughter sitting outside together on a lawn.

How Parents Can Help Children Understand Disability

How can I help parents explain my disease to their children? This is kind of a tricky question, because as human beings we’re often fearful of things we don’t understand. Even more as a parent, how do you explain something you yourself know nothing about to your child? Your explanation may change their view on [...]