Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Actors Portraying Wheelchair-Users...Sorta Like Blackface to Me


With this being Black History Month, I started thinking. Now let me begin by saying I understand what Blackface is. For those that are uninformed, first here's a LINK, but in a nutshell it's when White actors and actresses would literally paint their faces black and portray Black men and women. Not only would they paint their faces black, but often they'd also act in ways entirely stereotypical and offensive. The significance of this was not just the way in which Blacks were portrayed, but the fact that Blacks weren't even allowed to be in films and such, having Black roles given to White performers.

So with that being said, I'm not talking about Blackface here. But what I am talking about, if you ask me, is similar to Blackface in some ways. I'm talking about the concept of actors and actresses playing characters/roles where they are in wheelchairs. Now first, if you're not in a wheelchair you might've never noticed this or even cared for that matter. And I don't blame you if that's the case. Shit, I'm happy when there are actually characters in wheelchairs to begin with. And especially when said characters have significant roles in the whatever it is they are in. But what pisses me off is the fact that more often then not, the actors/actress playing the roles don't actually use wheelchairs in their day to day lives. Now before you complain about me being sensitive or something like that, there are exceptions to everything. Of course if the character starts out walking, or for some reason the character eventually starts walking, whether by miracle, cure, or whatever, having a performer who can walk play the role makes since. I'm talking about a role where the character is always in a wheelchair.

So what are some examples of this you might ask. The first person that pops in my head, probably because I too am Black and in a wheelchair, is Stevie from Malcolm in the Middle. Stevie was the main character's best friend, uses a manual wheelchair, and had trouble breathing. The actual actor, Craig Lamar Traylor, doesn't use a wheelchair. The next person I think of, and admittedly I've never fully watched the show, is the character Artie Abrams from Glee. Artie is a paraplegic, but the actor Kevin McHale walks just fine. I used to think of Drake, you know the famous musician, and his character Jimmy from the show Degrassi, but Jimmy didn't use a wheelchair until season 4, so I get it. Most recently, the actor Blair Underwood played the title character in the quickly cancelled Ironside. In this show Ironside was a paraplegic.

Now like I said earlier, I'm glad that these shows, and some others, actually had or have, characters in them that are in wheelchairs. It's great seeing some type of representation of yourself on any big screen. The problem however, is that none of these actors actually have disabilities. It's just like a White actor painting their face and playing a Black character. The portrayals generally aren't really offensive or stereotypical, but we're still seeing a group not being able to represent themselves. Are you trying to tell me there are no disabled actors or actresses? I know that's not the truth. Seeing someone who I know damn well can just say "I need a break" and get out of their chair pisses me off! Really? And why doesn't it appear as if Hollywood is willing to actually hire disabled performers? As much money as these productions make, there is no excuse. In my mind, if I'm going to have a character in a wheelchair with a disability, it makes sense to cast someone in a wheelchair with a disability.

I can go on and on, but I assume you get my drift. I don't want someone who has zero clue of what it's like in my position, to then portray what it's like in my position. I myself, and the thousands of people like me, could do that shit better on our worse day. And I know I'm no actor, so get a disabled actor. They're out there, but we won't be able to see them if they're not given a chance. So just for a little perspective, next time you're watching something, just think for a minute. If you're a woman, imagine if every woman role was played by a man dressing up as one. Or if you're a person of color, what if every character of color was played by a White person with their face painted? And think of the opposite of those two examples. Women playing men, or people of color playing all the White characters. And then realize that those things don't happen. But I, and people like me, have to deal with that shit all the damn time. Last time I checked, not being able to walk didn't correlate to not being able to act. Cripple Please! Give my people a call Hollywood, and let's get this shit right this time.
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