Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Another Look Disability Representation on Screen and Off

Okay, so I was wrong...mostly. I recently had some criticisms about actors with disabilities fighting for the cause that ONLY actors with disabilities should play people with disabilities.  I basically said it was impossible. I actually found myself defending the “free market” {shudder}. I often saw it as actors whining for their own self-promotion.

            I think my defending ABs playing people with disabilities comes from my own issues of not wanting to get credit for my work because I have a disability. I want to get credit for my work because it’s good. If I were an actor I wouldn’t want to get a part due to my disability but due to my acting ability. I felt if an actor was “better” than me and they were able-bodied they should get it.

            But, what is really “better?” If “better” means easier to work with because they are able-bodied or more famous because of all the opportunities they had because of their AB privilege, that is not really better. But how will we ever know? 

            The good ol’ affirmative action conundrum that makes us hate ourselves (or maybe just me.) I also felt this way because like most people with disabilities I was dealing with far larger problems than Hollywood.

            I felt this way because I spend too many years in a field that gave lip-service to being disability aware but was anything but under the surface. (It rhymes with Biology but begins with a P.)

            I didn’t want to fight for pointless things I was never going to get.  I have very limited energy and time. I didn’t want to spend it screaming into a void. I’d rather just quietly write my own disability positive stuff in the back, thanks.

            But then I went to Comic Con.  I write this after being so “inspired” by Comic con. A lot of stuff happened, but one of the things that happened was this:

            I agree with everything that was said here. Especially all the Ryan Murphy stuff.
            Sadly, Ryan Murphy is where it’s at right now…in America.  A powerful person in the industry wants to do “diversity.” However, they still want things to be neat and clean to work with. They also want to be seen as heroes for dealing with the disability in the first place.
            I think this is what caused one of my disability activist friends to say: “Fuck them.” {All the LGBTQI kids getting their rights and feeling so great about Glee. It was a moment of frustration. I reminded her I was also one of those kids once. It’s hard not to get frustrated. I know a lot of LGBTQIA people that weren’t happy with the depiction. I personally think every character is a shallow cow.} 

             I once said that people with disabilities depicted in media are where African Americans were in the 70s. Everyone was watching Good Times, which depicted one dimensional ghetto life. I think Glee is out Good Times. I was hoping The Jefferson’s would come soon. I would love a sassy person with a disability who openly mocked able-bodied people. Especially one that GOT A JOB and MOVED ON UP and got rich. Yeah. I think I’m losing my millennial audience.  (I watched reruns when I was seven. They came on before Scooby Doo.)

             I saw The Doctor Who episode “Under the Lake” at home. It depicted a deaf woman as a captain as a ship, who was truly deaf. I thought about posting “This is how you do it, Ryan Murphy.” As Murphy recently had a character who was also a deaf actor. I was far from offended by the jokes about the characters deafness. Most of them were funny and true to life. (If you are deaf buried up to your neck for a sorority prank you wouldn’t hear the serial killer coming like the other girls.) What I didn’t like was that the deaf character felt very inserted to me an after thought for a pat-on-the-back for diversity… But, I didn’t post anything because it was just all too complicated.

            FYI: The actress had to ask Ryan to change “hearing impaired” to “deaf” in the script because she didn’t want to offend her deaf community. He did it. Yippee, but his writing team didn’t already know this. I may not expect all characters to be played by actors with disabilities but I do expect basic research. 

            Then I went to comic con and I saw the part II of the doctor who episode: “Before the Flood” and…. You know how you’ve wanted something for so long, and then you accepted that you were never going to get it, and then you do get it. At first it’s scary…

 Then all bottled up emotions come out: 

 And then you realize all you bottled up when you gave up and lowered expectations:

            The deaf character was deep and central to the story. Her deafness was a strength but not in a super-crip way. She was like any other central Dr. Who character in an episode. And in the end she got love… LOVE. With a really cute boy.  As an 80s baby you don’t know how much I DIDN’T see:

            A strong woman get love

            A woman with a disability get love

            Saw either of women like this get love but somehow get pathetic and weaker to get it by making it the only thing she cared about…like some sad stalker.

            Too many times to count. So I did this in public.

            Very aware that I may’ve been looking like a sad stereotype, buy oh well. I’m me.

            The writer, Toby Whitehouse, an English White dude, didn’t make my fan freak out any better. He said it started out with him wanting a character to read lips for some reason…hmmm. This led him to a deaf character. This led him to actually research deafness… Ryan Murphy. This led him to want a deaf actress. This led him to talk to actors with disabilities. Here is his quote as I remember it:
            “I had no idea how cut-off this whole group of people felt from being accurately represented. I don’t feel it’s heroic to include them. I feel it’s responsible and necessary.”

            I hope he understand my tearful fan-girling out wasn’t treating as a hero but being so relieved that FINALLY someone didn’t want to be one—The hero paradox. Luckily, Toby is used to dealing with a lot paradoxes in Dr. Who.

I think the closest thing we got the The Jefferson’s was actually American Horror Story- Freak Show. There is a writer on Ryan’s AHS team I personally love, a White dude. Tim Minear. He likes to write about physical/psychological weakness can actually be strength. His flawed characters are never super-crips. They are always flawed people that have character weakness, but the character weakness isn’t due to the disability. He has a thing for blindness, but he completely flipped all the blind stereotypes that I HATED as an 80s baby. I will say his blind characters were NEVER played by blind women. Two of them were played by my favorite actresses, but now I actually think that’s a shame...and it is time to start shouting that something different be done, and maybe by the time they hear the echoes of our worn out voices something will happen.    


       Send all scathing complaints to @JimNorton    (Jim Norton is a comedian that has made many jokes about how women with disabilities are “gross” and should feel grateful for sex. He is by far the greatest enemy to feminism and disability causes. He has a sense of humor. He’s has been open about his own sexual trauma with a sense of humor.  Still it's weird he agreed to handle all my complaints, huh?)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

My not so "conservative" view on AB actors playing "disabled" parts

My friend asked me to respond to this:Scott Jordan Harris's Why The Theory of Everything Is a Disappointing Depiction of Disability

Here's what I said:

Ugh. This why did you ask me this???? This is one of those disability arguments that I hate because it forces me to see that while we are a minority group we are still so connected to -and isolated from- the majority of where we came from. My simple answer: The author’s point about the Oscars and disabilities is spot on. The Oscars are deplorable on all kinds of disability-inspiration-porn. I think the larger problem is the lack of movies and shows that have people with disabilities in them. Maybe one day we can live in a world where we don’t just see people with disabilities as movie and TV vehicles of “inspiration” aka “I saw this movie and I now so grateful for my own problems because I’d rather be anything but disabled.” Imagine if we lived in a world where Rachel from Friends was disabled and sometimes talked about those issues but the character and storyline was basically the same? Looonger answer…

(I personally HATED Rachel from Friends but I wanted to pick someone non-cult iconic. If I had to pick anyone it would be Faith the vampire Slayer. She could be deaf…or Willow could be limping. They came close on Buffy with Tara’s stuttering but not close enough..bBut, done wonderfully by Amber Benson. Anyway, I’m digressing…ADD. They did a really good job with portraying someone with ADD on ER and other disabilities but then it got way too soapy. There is also a larger and way more complex Glee and American Horror Story conversation... ) 

But back to the original question: My more leftist counterparts would be the first to argue and champion that only actors with disabilities should play people with disabilities. Me, I support the idea very much, but then we get back to the old “affirmative action” argument… What if someone else is a more talented actor? I know in the case of a movie like Selma if someone said: “Let’s have Daniel Day-Lewis play MLK,” there would rightfully be out-cry. As far as this I am not so sure; just like I am not so sure that GBLT stories should only be played by GBLT actors. It such a theoretical argument anyway because it isn’t like the movie industry is ever going to do it. They won’t even let fat women be played by fat women or ugly women be played by ugly women. They think it is perfectly reasonable to pair Jonah Hill with a 20 year old super-model-looking actor to play his doting wife.

But as far as the actors: This may get me some hate from my brethren, but when I heard The Ted Talk from Maysoon Zayid I found her entitled in regard to her acting. She complained that she didn’t get the part in her college play of the woman with the disability. (Maybe I was also upset because she was also very cure focused and was using her disability for fame rather than helping the cause IMO. Maybe I’m pissed because her disability problem seems to be she can’t become a celebrity actress and mine is I can’t get a good paying job that won’t accommodate my disability without being hostile. Sorry, Maysoon.) 

Maysoon's Ted Talk

Maysoon’s story was that she didn’t get her college part because they didn’t think she could physically do it. If that is true she SHOULD be mad and it’s ridiculous, but what if she just wasn’t as good at acting as the other woman and they didn’t want to hurt her feelings?? She talked about how this was the only part she could play in her college career. I think she was looking at the whole thing upside down. Why didn’t they just give her other parts and write in a damned disability?!
As I’m criticizing Maysoon I should also commend her for going for it. When I was 12 I wanted to act. I then got a huge case of stage fright. I’m sure this was related to my disability. There are times people have said “you should act.” And I would respond: “It would have to be a cross gendered performance of Richard III.” It wouldn’t have mattered anyway even if I was born able-bodied there was no way I was ever going to be able to be 100lbs without literally killing myself. As a disabled woman there are no parts I’d want to play. 

(PS. I also really suck at acting now. I think people think I’d be good because I have my moments of being funny.)

My friend and long time activist Nina G Comedian and I were talking once. I told her that Eliza Dushku could play her in the movie of her life. She said she only wanting a stuttering actress to play her. I saw her point but kept think “Oh, but Eliza would be perfect!” I always wanted Britney Murphy to play me. (It can’t happen now L. RIP Britney. I think what really killed her was anorexia.) I then realized the true problem was not that I didn’t really want a disabled actor to play a part but that I know virtually no disabled actors (other than that kid from Breaking Bad or Facts of Life woman.) 

There is no way I WILL know any disabled actors until we get more disabled parts. I’m sure that there are many talented actors with disabilities and even if they gave every disabled role to a disabled person we would still be sadly under-represented.

The Glee stuff that tries to go beyond inspiration porn is not enough ( and yes, I do think Ryan Murphy should have gotten a “real wheelchair kid” and researched wheelchair dancing, but I still appreciate the effort.) And I am grateful for Family Guy/South Park and the like for making fun of inspiration porn and having actual disabled characters! Efforts like Tim Minear of Dollhouse and American Horror Story have shown the complex relationship of disability’s strengths and weaknesses while it not being the only thing about the character is more my personal favorite. (I don’t know why I’m not that into this season of AHS. I think it was because the I know the moral center of Lobster Boy is doomed. I LOVED the disability parts but got sick of the woman cattiness and the rich psycho. I have like 6 eps to catch up on. )  
However, there still needs to be much much more on disability…. We need to marry the fringes of the efforts of Ryan Murphy and writers like Tim Minear and Family Guy…What I mean by that is seeing disability in all aspects of “primetime;” like some shallow How-I-Met-Your-Mother show with a major disabled character or a show like Modern Family with a disabled kid where it is not a tragedy (Luke and Hayley being stupid doesn’t count.) Then we can see more actors with disabilities. 

You asked for my thoughts. Anyway, we should get the kids together and hang out. I promise we can just talk about good pre-schools.