The Theory Of Everything

by 88JM 13 Replies latest social entertainment

  • 88JM

    Question: Should able-bodied actors play characters with disabilities?

    I got myself into a bit of a quandary over a discussion on a Facebook group. It was partly based on this article in The Guardian:

    It's argued that it's wrong to celebrate Eddie Redmayne "cripping up" in the same way as it's wrong for someone white "blacking up". Obviously I do agree that it's wrong for people to be "blacking up", given the context of black oppression, slavery, etc. - I'd hope we can all agree on that.

    However on Facebook, I thought it was entirely reasonable for me to argue that a biographical story about Stephen Hawking could not really be played by an actor with a similar disability because Stephen Hawking did not develop his disability until later in life, so it needed an actor who could play both stages. If it were another character with a different disability or a fictional work, then I agree that would be different.

    At the same time I also totally agree that there is under-representation of people with disabilities in the movie industry, and I'd much rather that the awards were going to those people as well.

    But despite what I said, in the Facebook group the following was still said of the film:

    "It seems quite clear that celebrating an able-bodied actor 'cripping up' is pretty toxic."

    I didn't expect such a strong reaction to be honest, and I was going to argue that it's far more toxic for films about characters with disabilities to not ever be made at all.

    I just think in the case of this particular film that by criticizing it you actually discourage film makers from making films about such characters in future, and surely that actually harms the cause of people with disabilities far more.

    What are your thoughts?

  • LoveUniHateExams

    Should able-bodied actors play characters with disabilities? - yes, of course they should. In similar vein, if the director of The Theory Of Everything found a wheelchair-bound actor who could portray Stephen Hawking better that Eddie Redmayne did, they should go with the disabled actor.  

    It's argued that it's wrong to celebrate Eddie Redmayne "cripping up" - ridiculous. I've learnt a new PC term, 'cripping up'. These fairtrade coffee-sipping tosspots really do have too much time on their hands. It's very difficult to take The Guardian seriously.

  • Xanthippe
    Stephen actually developed the disease as a young man of 21 doing his PhD and not later in life. I read that he is one of the two people in the world who has survived motor neurone disease for more than two or three years. How would they find a similarly disabled actor if the progression is usually so fast?
  • 88JM

    Xanthippe - I meant "later in life" as opposed to someone who was born with a disability and lived with it for their entire life.

    I just think it's a very contrived argument to say that a film which celebrates the success and life of someone with a disability actually harms the cause of disability awareness.

    I also wonder if the same arguments would still be being made if the film wasn't as successful. Where were all these arguments back in 2012 with Bill Murray playing F.D.R. in "Hyde Park on Hudson"?

  • Splash

    Rain man? Elephant man? 50 first dates? Monty Python having men play women?
    I also remember Sigourney Weaver playing an agorophobic.

    Where do you draw the line?

    Actors act. It's not 'toxic' in my opinion.

  • konceptual99

    Interesting argument.  There is no excuse for using an able bodied actor when a suitable disabled actor could be cast but I think the analogy to "blacking up" is taking it too far.

    "Blacking up" was essentially at "best" a lazy parody or caricature of black people.  It is now seen for what it is -racist stereotyping.  I can't recall a serious film or play where white actors played black characters.  More likely black actors played black roles which reflected the social distinctions of the time (e.g. in a role of a domestic).

    An able bodied actor playing someone with a disability is them taking a role.  There is no mocking or parody.  It's not a caricature.  Where is line drawn?  Does a role requiring the actor to play a character with a mental illness require them to be diagnosed with that mental illness?  Should an actor with Downs Syndrome play a character who is confined to a wheelchair with a degenerative disease because no suitable actor with the direct disability can be cast?  How closely does the actor's circumstances have to correspond to the disability portrayed in the role?

    Acting is exactly that.  Actors do not have to be the person they are portraying in real life.  If a role calls for an actor to lose a limb in the course of the story then what happens?

    I have relatives with disabilities and fully subscribe to the view that they should not be stopped from participating in life just because they have some extra needs.  There is no doubt that the casting of disabled actors in both roles portraying disabled people as well as roles of a person doing X that just happens to have a disability is woefully poor.  Disabled people are under-represented.

    My personal opinion is that to make some blanket statement about this being equivalent to "blacking up" does the underlying argument no favours.  Concentrate on helping disabled people getting into the film, TV and theatre industries.  Work with studios, directors and producers to breakdown the walls that are there.  Show some best of breed disabled actors at work.  Educate.

  • adjusted knowledge
    adjusted knowledge

    He wasn't fully disabled at age 21; it was a rather slow progression compared to others.

    A healthy man acting the part of a disable man; is called acting. Too many people whine about non-issues.

  • John_Mann
    PCness level: God.
  • DesirousOfChange

    SPLASH: Rain man? Elephant man? 50 first dates? Monty Python having men play women?
    I also remember Sigourney Weaver playing an agorophobic.

    Where do you draw the line?

    Actors act. It's not 'toxic' in my opinion.



  • James Brown
    James Brown

    Actors act.

    Anybody can play anybody. Whites can play blacks, blacks can play whites.

    After the show people judge how good the acting was

    You are only as good as your last show. 

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