Following the recent news that Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston defended his decision to play a billionaire wheelchair user in his latest film role. However this once again throws light on the fact that it is becoming increasingly acceptable for abled bodied actors to play disabled characters on screen.
Unfortunately Hollywood does have form with this very topic have a look at some of the past occurances;
Dustin Hoffman- “Rain Man” (1988)
Dustin plays Raymond Babbit in this 1988 and took inspiration from an autistic man with an exceptional memory Kim Peek.
The film won 4 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor.
The film won 2 Golden Globes including Best motion picture, Best Actor
Daniel Day Lewis- “My Left Foot” (1989)
Lewis plays Christy Brown a man with cerebral palsy who learns to write and paint with his only functional limb, his left foot.
The film won 2 Oscars including Best Actor and supporting role
The film won 2 BAFTAs including Best Actor and supporting role
Eddie Redmayne- “The Theory of Everything” (2014)
Redmayne plays world renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is this biopic from 2014.
The film won 1 Oscar for Best Actor.
The film won 2 Golden Globes including Best Actor
The film won 3 BAFTAs including Best Actor and best adapted screenplay.
The pattern is clear for everyone to see. If you want to give yourself a chance of winning an Oscar or some other industry awards you try and get yourself a role as a disabled character.
Frances Ryan wrote about this very topic nearly four years ago to the day and it is still happening todaywith no sign of it stopping. Ryan wrote her 2014 article following the success of The Theory of Everything and the lead role of Stephen Hawking being played by Golden Globe winner Eddie Redmayne.
Minnie Driver star of ABC sitcom “Speechless” tweeted her fury over Cranstons casting in this role;
It feels like the whole industry needs to revisit how it represents characters with disabilities. In order to avoid the whole inspiration-porn that audiences lap up why not look at writing scripts and creating characters who have disabilities, played by people with disabilities, however the focus is not their disability! A perfect example of this happening is Liz Carr playing forensic examiner Clarissa Mullery in Silent Witness. The focus being her job role and not about the disability is completely refreshing and really goes against the grain, of what we normally see on screen.
To conclude how would Bryan Cranston have felt if the role of his son Flynn played by RJ Mitte in Breaking Bad, was given to another non-disabled actor who didn’t have cerebral palsy but just faked it for the screen? I’m sure he wouldn’t have felt comfortable with it. So it time to change, let’s give actors of all disabilities a platform to showcase their acting skills and the opportunity to create complex three dimensional characters for us all to enjoy on screen.
If you have a disability and want to look at acting opportunities it maybe worth having a look at these websites;