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This is why Gus Van Sant casting Joaquin Phoenix as cartoon artist John Callahan perpetuates discrimination against people with disabilities in Hollywood.


Disabled characters should be played by disabled actors

Joaquin Phoenix is set to play disabled cartoonist John Callahan in a new movie about Callanhan’s life.

Here’s why that’s a problem:

People with disabilities represent 20% of the population.

Yet only 2% of characters seen on television have a disability.

And despite the talented pool of disabled actors, 95% of characters with a disability are played by able-bodied actors.

Disability is an identity, not a costume.

And excuses like “the character was able-bodied in the beginning” don’t fly with today’s technology.

If we can create a fake disability, we can hide a real one during scenes before a character becomes disabled.

“That was CGI? Wait so those weren’t your real legs?”

Deaf actress Marlee Matlin won the 1987 Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in “Children of a Lesser God.”

And she explains why disabled actors should portray characters with disabilities.

“Like the eventual realization that came about when white actors playing characters who are black or Asian, or Native American, was inauthentic, and simply wrong and racist, it is clear to us that having actors playing disabled is inauthentic and to many, particularly in the deaf community, culturally offensive.”

John Callahan was also outspoken about these issues.

“I’m fed up with the people who presume to speak for the disabled. All the pity and the patronizing. That’s what is truly detestable.” –John Callahan The New York Times (1992)

It’s time to stop dressing actors up as disabled, and start casting disabled actors to tell our own stories.

Originally published: January 3, 2018
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