'Come as You Are' — Unless You Are an Actor Who's Disabled
This past Thursday, the new movie “Come as You Are” became viral on Twitter after the trailer dropped. The film, which had a limited theatrical release in February, was recently released digitally and is available to rent or purchase on Amazon.
“Come as You Are” is about three men with disabilities — two in wheelchairs, as results of congenital defect and paralysis, and one with legal blindness — embarking on a road trip to a brothel to lose their virginities. However, as is far too common, the characters with disabilities are played by able-bodied actors Grant Rosenmeyer (Sammy), Hayden Szeto (Matt) and Ravi Patel (Mo).
Twitter users heavily criticized the movie’s casting. What also went viral was an old press interview for “Come as You Are.” When asked about casting, Rosenmeyer, who is also a producer of the movie, replied with, “Are we going to portray an amazing message with great actors who are actually prepared to take on this role or are we going to spend years trying to cast someone with a disability just because they have a disability?”
My gosh. The latter. It needs to be the latter.
In my opinion, Rosenmeyer, Szeto, and Patel ultimately did great jobs as their characters and even pulled off specific tasks, such as riding on car ramps with wheelchairs and holding a stylus with their mouths. The problem is I was impressed with three abled-bodied actors doing certain tasks that we do on an everyday basis. Nothing can beat actors that can authentically tell these stories of certain characters and what they go through. Additionally, there were three actors with disabilities (Delaney Feener, Jorge Alfaro and Asta Philpot, who the movie is actually based on), playing small roles in the movie. So clearly, the producers did find actors with disabilities. We just aren’t important enough for lead roles.
There are extremely easy ways to find actors with disabilities. There are a few agents that represent actors with disabilities. My agent Gail Ford Williamson represents actors with all kinds of disabilities, and she could have easily introduced them to the producers. There are plenty of audition websites to find actors with disabilities. We are active on these sites and we are always waiting for that notice online. Open calls are especially impactful, be it virtual, local and especially in big cities. A virtual open call is actually how I got my big break.
The break that I am referring to is a movie called “Best Summer Ever,” which was set to premiere at this year’s SXSW Film Festival. It is the first movie musical that stars people with disabilities, along with talent with disabilities being behind the camera. Four months later in this COVID-19 world, we are still looking for a studio to distribute us. Meanwhile, all of these movies with ableist storytelling get instant Hollywood publicity and praise. “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” which stars my co-star Zack Gottsagen, is the only authentic movie that I can think of that was successful in its run.
It must be worth noting that Asta Philpot did in fact approve of the casting of Rosenmeyer, Szeto and Patel. “These guys nailed it and if it portrays a message then, as a disabled person, I’m happy,” he said. Philpot’s opinion matters, but it doesn’t mean the casting is OK. It’s also worth noting that I actually did like most of “Come as You Are” — up until its ableist ending. But Hollywood needs to stop patting itself in the back for “inclusiveness” when they’re still doing the bare minimum. Until we get authentic on-camera and off-camera talent and honest stories on disabilities, artists with disabilities are not truly included in Hollywood.
Publicity image courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.