ANSWERS: 3
  • A good question. The images of people as portrayed on screen are quite dependent on the genre of the film, the studio system it comes from, and the aim of the film. Hollywood films, for example, get widespread distribution and tend to be populated with beautiful people, whereas the world is filled with folks that have hair in odd places, pear-shaped bodies, and the occasional wart. Monty Python's "Holy Grail" was one of the first widely-distributed films in English cinema that actually showed dirt, apart from the occasional 'film noir' or 'cinema vertité' production, usually from a country such as France or Italy. Errol Flynn was particularly well-dressed in all of his swashbucklers, even though the Robin Hoods of Sherwood Forest probably did not eat well, have good teeth, or dress in clean, unpatched clothing. It was generally left to the independent production houses to produce the edgier films at the fringes of the business. Films are rarely sold that cater to the ugly amongst us - and many people do view the disabled as ugly - since it does not make them as much money in the long run. Fantasy and impossibly-good looking people sell. A person with Down's syndrome is little more than a painful reminder of reality intruding on fantasy. One can say that of the 10% to 15% of the population classified as disabled in some form, according to your numbers, most do not appear to have a disability. They may have a speech impediment, mental or emotional difficulties, an internal condition such as diabetes or a heart condition, poor eyesight or hearing, and so on. These attributes are not immediately visible when they are in public and so slide by beneath the notice of most people. They also slide by with film makers, unless the disability is at the core of the story. Often, unfortunately, disabilities are treated as something humourous. While this may have its place, it can get tiresome. I have, for example, more than one disability that adversely affects my day-to-day life. However, if I were to sit down at a table with you for a chat, they may not be apparent, except through secondary evidence such as the presence of a cane or crutches. If my speech problems behave themselves, as they tend to do as I get older, you might not even notice. So it is with film makers - out of sight, out of mind. As for the use of the able-bodied to play the disabled, there are very few disabled persons who earn a living from acting. They are at a distinct disadvantage, since most roles in theatre - where most people start - are for 'normal' folk. If you cannot perform a role because of a physical or mental handicap, it is unlikely you will be able to find enough work to support your acting career. Professional actors need to work in a number of roles to pay their bills. There are not enough 'disabled' parts available to earn a living from. I have seen very few films in which a disabled person is played by one who is disabled, but there are a few such out there. Some even include roles for those who are mentally or emotionally handicapped, but these are few and far between. It takes a special person to play such a role and we, as a society, do not often look there to find one. I do not believe it is intentional - it is more a form of neglect.
  • I agree- this is an excellent question. I'm really happy to see people with disabilities play people with disabilities, like in the TV show, "My Name is Earle." It rarely happens though. I think that it is awful, and that television and movie studios should work much harder to cast people with disabilities. Nondisabled actors don't really look or move like people with real disabilities, and writing is also often not realistic. Even when disabled characters are portrayed, they are often limited to a few stereotypical personas. For example, there is the beautiful and plucky supercrip who invents cold fusion while holding a full time job, taking care of two perfect kids, and keeping her house spotless in between winning triathlons. Or you might have the poor disabled person who only realizes their somewhat limited potential because of virtuous and somewhat patronizing intervention of an able bodied do-gooder. Like other minorities, people with disabilities need to portrayed realistically and by themselves. I think that there is an national organization of disabled performers to promote these sorts of objectives.
  • Who said movies are supposed to be accurate microcosms of wider society? Movies are narratives, which very often follow a certain template and serve a specific purpose. They usually fit into certain genres, which call for certain characters, and so on. Show-business is inherently exclusive - I'm not saying whether that's a good or bad thing, but by asking for totally fair and inclusive representation, you are asking for a fundamental shift which may simply be impossible. The movie industry has ALWAYS been about the glitz and glamour.

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