A few weeks ago, a local child and youth mental health clinician started telling me about the upcoming Music movie, which will only be released for one night in IMAX theaters on February 10, followed by theaters and on-demand viewing. February 12.
The film is the directorial debut of pop artist Sias and tells the story of a young woman (Zu, played by Kate Hudson) caught up in drugs who suddenly inherits custody of her younger sister (Music), a teenage girl. with severe autism who uses assistive communication. device. I’ll dive deeper into the film and share my thoughts in an upcoming column. However, I wanted to look at the portrayal of disability in Hollywood and by the media industry in general in recent years.
Overall, I think the media’s incorporation of characters with disabilities has improved a lot. With shows like ABC’s “Speechless” and “The Good Doctor” and the 2019 film “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” the chances for young people with disabilities to turn on the television or see a movie and find characters who identify with their increased challenges. Both “Speechless” and “The Peanut Butter Falcon” feature actors with a shared diagnosis as their character describes. “Speechless,” which ran from September 2016 to May 2019, featured actor Micah Fowler, diagnosed with cerebral palsy. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” stars Zack Gottsageen as Zak, a young man with Down’s syndrome who escapes from an assisted living facility in the hope of becoming a wrestler. According to a 2019 report by Respectability.org, NBC also makes an active effort to present and authentically represent disability. The popular show “New Amsterdam” stars actress Lauren Ridloff, who is deaf, and Marilee Talkington, who is legally blind.
According to a March 2020 article by DisabilityScoop.com, a popular website that features news about the disability community, research indicates that in some ways the media industry is actually doing a better job of representing people with disabilities. A 2018 report from the Ruderman Family Foundation found that 12% of all characters with disabilities were portrayed by actors with the actual diagnosis in real life, up from just 5% in 2016. While more than half of all shows network and 42% of streaming shows featured characters with disabilities in 2018, according to DisabilityScoop, in all shows reviewed, only 56 characters with disabilities, or 21.6%, were authentically portrayed and nearly three-quarters of disabled actors have appeared in less than five episodes.
This highlights another important question: if we want to talk about diversity, we must also talk about disability. Representation matters. According to a 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six children between the ages of 3 and 17 is diagnosed with some form of developmental disability. If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars, can call for greater opportunity and inclusion of actors from black and Latin communities as well as women and the LGBTQ + community, it should also expand the same opportunities. people with disabilities.
I stop and think back to the previous statistic of three-quarters of disabled actors appearing in less than five episodes. While the media industry has made strides, it really helps cement the message that disability is still widely viewed by the public as something negative, sad, or something to be avoided.
Performance matters not only to the actor, but to the audience. I’ve said before that when I was a kid I looked at Sesame Street way beyond the typical Kindergarten to Grade 1 age range. However, I watched it not only because I loved seeing Big Bird and Ernie, but because I could often see children who lived with disabilities like me. I felt like children in my situation could feel like they belonged to these cobblestone streets just like anyone else.
Today, I think it’s just as important for children with disabilities to see young people going through the same things as them. If they don’t, it can cause them to feel at odds with the world.
In America, we are proud of the equal opportunity afforded to Us, the people of the United States. People with disabilities are people too. And Hollywood, let’s be real. Are you really extending equal opportunities if actors with disabilities appear in less than five episodes? Progress is coming, but very slowly.