I have a new piece up at Al Jazeera America today on disability and upcoming television shows that have, in the past, done a good job with disability issues. None are perfect shows, but it’s ok to admire the good even while criticizing the bad:
Since the emergence of the newly renamed Bechdel-Wallace Test, which is used to judge women’s representation in Hollywood films, other groups that feel marginalized in the media — sadly, everyone except white men — have searched for a similar short-hand as a means to communicate what they would like to see change. In the disability community, these efforts have coalesced around two basic principles: Cast disabled actors whenever possible and tell better stories.
Too often, disability only appears as an obstacle to be overcome or a tragedy to which a non-disabled character can react, both forms of inspiration porn.
“How many times must we be subjected to the same kinds of hackneyed, overwrought and, let’s face it, lazy storytelling?” Lawrence Carter-Long, an expert on disability and film, asked during a recent email interview. “The best writing about disability focuses on character. Not a rehash of the same two-dimensional tragic or heroic movie-of-the-week stillness we’ve all seen a hundred times before.”
Here’s the good news: in the past year, a number of TV shows did a much better job telling stories about disability. I will focus on four of them, which are slated to return this year: “Empire,” “Daredevil,” “Game of Thrones” and “Switched at Birth.” Despite the flaws in each show, their depictions of disability offer successes worth celebrating.
The biggest issue I cut from the piece was about behind the scenes work. I understand that disabled actors can’t always be cast, for one reason or another, but I think we focus a little too much on the on-screen talent anyway. I’d like to see Hollywood and TV work on developing a cadre of highly-skilled, disabled, directors, producers, camera operators, writers, casting directors, agents, and so forth, all the way down to Key Grip Operator and Best Boy. To me, that’s at least as important as the actors (my disabled actor friends may disagree).
I deliberately chose shows that deal with all kinds of disabilities, but left plenty out. What are your favorite shows?
Here’s the roundup from a very busy week of writing.
Other Published Pieces
- CNN: On the Ohio Down Syndrome Abortion Ban and its cynical attempt to drive a wedge between reproductive rights and disability rights groups. So far, the fallout has been a lot of contact from repro rights groups on how to build better ties. We will not be divided.
- Vice: Westworld!!! The Robots are coming!
- Katrina and Disability – The Work of Claudia Gordon
- Rape Culture and Down Syndrome
- Power and the Limitations of Public Medievalism
- Impact Post: CNN Piece on Down Syndrome Ban in Ohio (who quoted me)
- Robots vs Zombies (Westworld)
- Resources: Down Syndrome and the Abortion Wars
- Brief Book Review: Reading The Martian during The Hugos