Hollywood has gotten a lot of flak lately for their whitewashing, misrepresenting and more of beloved characters. Well last weekend at NYCC 2016 another largely underrepresented group gathered at one of the most thought-provoking panels there, “Where are the wheelchairs?” A group of actors, writers, models, filmmakers, and activists with disabilities at the panel spoke out, hoping Hollywood will recognize the contributions of talent with disabilities in front and behind the cameras.
So when it comes to live-action comics, why are people with real disabilities not represented on the big screen? There are more than a handful of super heros (around 50) with disabilities ranging from blindness, amputation, paraplegia, partial and full deafness, mutism and more, and yet, with all of these heros, why are people who are actually effected by these conditions not portraying their hero counterparts?
Maysoon Zayid, an actress and comedian at the panel said:
“What I’d like to see are characters that are actually mainstream. I want to see people with disabilities become so mainstream that it is no longer an event when we have a disabled character. And when I see it played in a live-action role I want to see disabled actors playing disabled parts.”
Think about it, has Professor X ever been portrayed by a person who has actually been confined to a wheelchair? Could they not find an actor with an amputation to play Bucky Barnes? What about an actual blind person to play Daredevil?
“I love comics so much,” said Jillian Mercado, a model with spastic muscular dystrophy. “It was my all-time dream to be in that world ever since I was a child…Growing up I never saw anyone like me on TV, on a magazine, nowhere.” So now that her favorite comics and cartoons are turned to live-action, why is there still such misrepresentation? “They don’t think we are worth having the role.”
There are some comic book writers who have taken to writing in more characters with disabilities however, such as Gail Simone (DC comics), and the activists did give her a nod. As Dominick Evans, a filmmaker and activist said:
“I really love what Gail Simone has been doing with disabled characters. Vengeance Moth of The Movement is one of my favorite all-time comic book characters. Her wheelchair is a part of her image as a superhero. It isn’t hidden. It isn’t disregarded. Gail reached out to the disability community. She wanted to include us in her storytelling, because it isn’t about us, without us.”
The sad truth is, “If people say, we will not turn that on, the networks will start saying, OK, we can’t do this,” Zayid said. “Without the audience, we can’t do it.”
Even with the Jeffrey Tambor speech at the Emmy’s asking “please give transgender talent a chance,” he said. “Give them auditions. Give them their story.” The same rules apply here. As a society, as the audience, we need to demand for people with disabilities to be cast in meaningful roles so that they can give us their authentic stories.