Hey Hollywood, Let's Talk Disability Diversity
I love watching movies and TV shows. Especially now the weather has gotten colder, I try to squeeze in some kind of screen time between studying for assignments and midterms. But what has been bothering me lately is how little disability diversity there still is on the big screen, especially when it comes to those “chick flick” or “college” genre movies.
I am well aware of the movies where the central character is going through a terminal illness, or some kind of struggle to “overcome” their disability or their proposed “limitations.” There are also those characters that are (quite often) in wheelchairs who zoom around, providing our action heroes with their fancy gadgetry for their epic adventures, while they wistfully wish they too could one day go out into the field.
I am also equally aware of the efforts of TV shows like “Atypical” or “The Good Doctor,” who present a character who is not often seen on the TV screen. And yet there is a fundamental flaw in how these characters are portrayed.
Hollywood is great at flattening out people and making them into a caricature of the group they are supposed to represent. The same is true when it comes to people with disabilities. Either they are “inspiration porn,” which is the creation of characters to be thrown a pity party and then celebrated for overcoming their struggles. If they are not inspiration porn, then they are a very specific case of the representation of their condition. Hollywood rarely provides roles for actors with disabilities, preferring to dress someone up to look like they have that condition.
So my question becomes, where are all of my regular, average-living characters in TV shows? Where is my sorority girl running around in a bathing suit and showing off her ostomy bag because she feels secure enough in her sisters that she will do that? Where is my invisible illness warrior in an administrative-based show, who appears to be fine but is occasionally seen popping a pill with their lunch, or going out to doctor’s appointments, with no one shaming them or focusing too much on their condition? What about a caregiver who is off saving the world, but is always able to call to their family member with the illness and check in to make sure they are OK — and can only be out during the day when they are not needed? How about all of those TV families who have typically developing children; could they have one who is not neurotypical, yet no one makes a big deal out of it, they are just a part of their lives?
I understand that the representation of any minority is a touchy and delicate subject, and this is a great barrier to representation on screen. But that is why films and shows have the ability to consult with advocacy groups. If taken seriously, these parts could be game changers for the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in society. I think it would help a great deal with bullying if it is done right.
Also, just to put it out there, I am still waiting for a Disney Princess with a chronic illness or a disability, who teaches her woodland creatures or her companions how to properly act around someone with a disability or illness.
So movie industry, your move.