Disability advocates note that people with disabilities are often left out of conversations about diversity – and Hollywood is no exception. So it wasn’t a surprise when Alec Baldwin was cast as a blind novelist who loses his wife and his sight during a car crash in the new film, “Blind.”
Members of the Ruderman Family Foundation, an advocacy organization that focuses on disability representation, are condemning the film for casting Baldwin, an able-bodied actor, to portray someone who is blind.
The group said on its Facebook page that Hollywood is “once again overlooking the opportunity to cast actors with disabilities.”
The organization released the Ruderman White Paper on Employment of Actors With Disabilities in Television in 2016 and found that 95 percent of disabled characters on television are played by able-bodied performers.
Yet, the issue goes deeper than casting.
“Alec Baldwin in ‘Blind’ is just the latest example of treating disability as a costume,” Jay Ruderman, the foundation’s president, said in a statement. “We no longer find it acceptable for white actors to portray black characters. Disability as a costume needs to also become universally unacceptable.”
Hollywood could also benefit from the inclusion of people with disabilities, especially since its portrayal of people who are not able-bodied is often problematic.
For example, the 2016 movie “Me Before You,” received massive backlash from the disability community due to the film’s romantic lead — a man who becomes quadriplegic after a motorcycle accident — decides to die by suicide because living with a disability is a life that is not worth living.
“There is something wrong with this picture,” Marlee Matlin, a deaf Academy Award-winning actress, said during a roundtable discussion about disability inclusion in 2016. “We as an industry keep talking about diversity — we know we have a problem. But, sadly, when we start speaking about diversity, disability seems to be left out far too often.”
The male lead, Sam Claflin, in “Me Before You,” like Baldwin, is an able-bodied actor. In other recent examples, so are Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar for his role as Stephen Hawking, who has ALS, in “The Theory of Everything” and Jamie Foxx, who is not blind, but portrayed the blind musician, Ray Charles in 2004.
“It’s clear that audiences want to see stories about people with disabilities,” Ruderman said in his statement. “And it’s about time we start actually casting the thousands of available, talented actors with disabilities to fill these roles.”