How Hollywood Fails to Properly Portray Disabled People

It’s uncommon to see disabled people in movies, but when they are, they aren’t always portrayed the right way.

Nearly 20% of the U.S. population has a disability. That’s a large number of people that rarely get the spotlight in movies. There are movies that have side characters but rarely do you see the main character with a disability.

When there are those main characters with a disability, many times Hollywood fails to properly portray them. This has been a reoccurring issue with filmmakers.

Often, disabled characters are portrayed so poorly, that disabled people don’t identify with the characters. There are plenty of ways to fix this, but unfortunately, that seems to go against how Hollywood wants to portray disabled people.

Able-bodied people that don’t have an immediate relationship with disabled people may not realize this issue. The question becomes, what is the issue?

The lack of disabled actors in Hollywood

You would think that typically, disabled people play disabled characters in movies. That’s not the case.

Many times, characters with disabilities are played by able-bodied actors or actresses. Some of these movies that have done this include The Upside, Glass, and X-Men. All three of these movies have characters with disabilities, starring actors without a disability.

If a movie is going to have a character with disabilities, wouldn’t it make sense to have a disabled person play the part?

On television, you tend to see disabled people play disabled characters. In movies, it doesn’t usually happen. It gives an unfair advantage to able-bodied people.

In a role that a disabled person can comfortably perform, any actor has the ability to take that spot. This tends to allow big names to take on many roles, making it difficult for disabled actors to find a role in films.

Unfortunately, this is an ongoing issue that has a long way to go.

How disabled people are portrayed in films?

There are films that portray people with disabilities accurately, but there are many that flip the story around. For some reason, it has become common for filmmakers to negatively portray disabled people in movies.

In fact, it doesn’t matter if it puts a spin on the movie; it puts the disabled community down. Disabled people don’t have a common presence in movies. When they’re in a film and they’re the bad guy, it’s insulting.

A lot of times, people identify with movie characters and look up to them. Unfortunately, it’s hard to do that if someone you resonate with is constantly frowned upon.

Recently, there was controversy regarding Lupita Nyong’o’s character in the movie, Us. Nyong’o spoke publicly about how larynx disorder spasmodic dysphonia inspired the voice of her character, Red.

In the film, Red portrays an evil character with a voice that had intents to be creepy. These comments were harmful to many and were a negative representation of those with this disorder.

In Split, a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder has an evil side where he’s out to harm people. Many people had expectations of a realistic film about this disorder, but the end had an unrealistic twist.

Both films inaccurately portrayed those with these disorders, which leads to negative opinions on disabled people.

What needs to change?

Simple, there need to be more disabled actors playing these roles in a positive way. These negative representations played by able-bodied actors are upsetting and unfair for the disabled community.

Filmmakers need to provide equal opportunity for people with disabilities. Actors and actresses with disabilities need to represent in Hollywood and different films.

Movies need to include more characters with disabilities and shine a brighter light over them. It shouldn’t be that the few movies that release provide a negative image.

So, this should be an easy fix and something that can excite many disabled people. Production companies that can do this will gain support from different associations, and most importantly, the disabled community.


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