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?