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.


  1. Just came across this. I find it interesting that you missed my point that I too cannot get a good paying job I'm qualified for simply because of my CP. I am not cure driven, in fact I'm anti surgery, botox, and non life saving meds. And its laughable that I use my CP for celebrity. I had a 10 year career pre TED in which my CP was almost never mentioned. Your anger is misplaced.

    1. Maysoon, I wasn’t angry. I was just thinking. When I wrote that I was working through a lot of stuff about my own feelings with my own career. Now, after years of systematic discrimination I am working out my feelings about a new career. If you read my next blog post you can see I changed my position and part of that, no, most of it, is due to what you presented and said at Comic-con.

    2. I didn't want to take the position that only people with disabilities can play people with disabilities because my expectations were very low. I wanted to deal with “real problems” and not “Hollywood.” I wasn’t thinking about acting as a career, which is my mistake. In this day of people using everything for fame I was seeing people use disability for fame and leaving other people behind. I’m still trying to see how one can balance activism and self-promotion. For myself, I have conflicting feelings about being an activist and putting my voice out there at all. The reason I put my voice out there again (after a year of silence) was due to my experience at Comic-con.

  2. Also I mentioned auditioning for ALL parts and never getting cast even though I gOt A's in acting which meant I wasn't a bad actor...I never implied I was only qualified to play a ceep. Also I'm kind of a broken record about disabled actors being able to play parts not written as disabled. What talk did you watch? :)

    1. You know what? I'm going to watch it again. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a public figure. I know this makes me kind of an idiot, but when I wrote that one piece I never thought you would see it. I don’t really know how this activist thing works, but I hope we can be allies and not fight each other. I hope we can have different ideas, but I don’t even think they are all that different at this point if you read my next post. The reason I said you were “cure based” was due to the story you told about your family taking you to the sea and feeling like you walked better after that. It made me think about all the kids who could never walk no matter what, but you shouldn’t have to bare the burden of that. I think this is the heart of the problem of “the movement.” We are all so alone we are looking for our perfect heroes, or the perfect mirror, and we have to realize we’re all different even if we all want the same thing—a life where we can be recognized for who we are. That’s what the #justsayhi kid wants too, but of course you know that. He’s opening the door to further discussion as you did for me even if I didn’t have a 100% positive reaction to your talk. PLEASE ALSO REMEMBER THE GOOD STUFF I SAID: You went for being an actor. I didn’t. I quit when I was eleven. I’m also not as “anti-cure” as you. I love my Botox. It’s the only way I don’t hurt. I do hope you get a job. The fact that you have kept fighting for 10 years makes me think you must be due something soon.

    2. I found this cause I dug your tweets and YES we're on the same team even if we don't always agrees :) As for the story of the sea, I say it burned my eyes not made me walk better. In other words it hurt me instead of helping me. In ALL my other talks and on TV I consistently say there is no shame in not walking or using any mobility aids you want or need but I cannot tell a lie as someone born pre ADA that hangs in the the inaccessible 3rd world, walking was a game changer for me.Yoga was too. Its help decrease my daily pain exponentially. I'm so happy you reached out to me on Twitter and if you ever have time I hope you'll check out some of my other edgier stuff at maysoon dot com