This Remade 'Mean Girls' Scene Highlights an Important Issue With Disability Representation
What happened: Singer Kiersten Kelly recreated the four-way call scene from “Mean Girls” with other creators with disabilities. Kelly wrote that idea for the video, which was posted to Kelly’s IGTV, came about after she “found that many of the scenes had characters that were focused around their disability instead of being a character that happens to have a disability.”
I reached out to a few of my friends that also have disabilities and brought up the idea of recreating a scene from ‘Mean Girls’ to show that actors with disabilities can successfully portray characters in films and television shows. — Kiersten Kelly, Instagram
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Recently, I was looking into different film challenge opportunities for those with disabilities and I found that many of the scenes had characters that were focused around their disability instead of being a character that happens to have a disability. I realized that this also applies to a lot of mainstream television shows and movies. It got me thinking. How are creators with disabilities supposed to normalize diversity in the industry and in this case, normalize disabilities on screen if as a community we’re showcasing ourselves as characters that are written to surround our disability? I reached out to a few of my friends that also have disabilities and brought up the idea of recreating a scene from Mean Girls to show that actors with disabilities can successfully portray characters in films and television shows. here it is ???? HUGE thank you to the amazing women that helped me create this!! @aannggeellll @naturallykiara @delaneyfeener Illustration @jaynecreate ***we do not own the copyright to the sound**
The Frontlines: As Kelly highlighted, there are often issues with how the disability community is represented in films — if they are even represented at all. The way disabled people are portrayed in films and televsion can affect how people with disabilities are treated and perceived.
- Only 2.5 percent of speaking roles in Hollywood films have a character with a disability.
- According to the Ford Foundation’s 2019 “Road Map for Inclusion” report, disabled characters in films tend to fall into one of the four categories: the Super Crip, the Villain, the Victim, or the Innocent Fool. As the report highlighted, these types of characters can be harmful for many reasons for the disability community.
- A 2019 U.K. study foundation found that authetic and accurate disability representation in children’s shows can lead to more disability inclusion in real life.
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A Mighty Voice: Contributor Jennifer Burgmann wrote about another issue with disability representation in media: If disability is portrayed in film, non-disabled actors tend to fill these roles. “In society’s eyes, life with a disability is often regarded as tragic and horrifying, and stories about people overcoming their disability are inspirational and heart-warming. Audiences love disabled characters, but not disabled people, and Hollywood has only reinforced this attitude.” You can submit your first-person story, too.
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Other Things to Know: While films and television have a long way to go in having authentic and accurate disability representation, there are some shows and movies that are getting it right. You can read more about some of them here:
- New Season of DreamWorks Show ‘Spirit Riding Free’ Features Disabled Character
- Meet Dennis Taylor, the Autistic Consultant Behind ‘Hero Elementary’
- BBC America’s ‘CripTales’ Features Disabled Talent Onscreen and Behind the Camera
How to Take Action: You can watch the recreated Mean Girls scene made by people with disabilities here. You can also watch more of Kiersten Kelly’s videos on her YouTube channel.
Image via kiersten__kelly/Instagram