Bryan Cranston has weighed in on the issue of representation in film and TV by defending his decision to play a person with a disability in the new movie “The Upside.”
In the film, which hits theaters this weekend, the former “Breaking Bad” star plays a wealthy quadriplegic who hires a former criminal, played by Kevin Hart, to be his caregiver.
“As actors we’re asked to play other people,” Cranston told the British Press Association, according to a BBC report on Tuesday. “If I, as a straight, older person, and I’m wealthy, I’m very fortunate, does that mean I can’t play a person who is not wealthy? Does that mean I can’t play a homosexual?”
Cranston said that the issue of representation was “worthy of debate,” however, and that there should be “more opportunities” for actors with disabilities.
“We live in the world of criticism; if we’re willing to get up and try something, we have to also be willing to take criticism. We’re very aware of the need to expand the opportunities for people with disabilities,” the 62-year-old actor continued, according to Sky News. “I don’t know, where does the restriction apply, where is the line for that?”
Members of and advocates for the disability community criticized Cranston’s reasoning on Twitter.
Many took issue with the Emmy-winning actor’s comment that casting him in the role was just a business decision, noting how few roles there are for people with disabilities. Indeed, those with a disability are much less likely be employed than other people in any industry.
Others on Twitter compared Cranston’s move to Scarlett Johansson’s decision to play a transgender man (she changed her mind after public backlash) or Emma Stone’s whitewashing of an Asian character in “Aloha” (she apologized just days ago at the Golden Globes).
The dearth of people with disabilities involved in the creation of movies and TV shows matters. When they are portrayed on screen, their stories are all too often being told through the perspective of those who have no life experience with actually being disabled. Due to this, negative and hurtful stereotypes are perpetuated through mainstream culture, which makes people with disabilities seem like lesser human beings. This lack of inclusiveness can even lead to some individuals completely dismissing the comments of disabled people who are offended by the way they’re portrayed.
Cranston certainly isn’t the only non-disabled actor who has unapologetically played someone who is disabled. In recent months, Jake Gyllenhaal, Dwayne Johnson and Joaquin Phoenix have all portrayed disabled characters on screen and have also received criticism from the disability community.