2016 has been a big year for Hollywood championing disability rights. Observing leaders like Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos attacking human rights of people with disabilities, Hollywood turned their eyes back onto themselves. They stepped aside from roles of disabled characters in preference for disabled actors. They declined writing and directing stories about disabled characters in preference of disabled writers and directors. 2016 will go down as the year disability finally started to be represented in Hollywood by people who are actually disabled.
I‘ll pause here to give you a moment to catch your breath from all your laughing.
With the 2016 Oscars looming, the most that can be said is that Meryl Streep made a condescending speech about people with disabilities at the Golden Globes, to a room full of hypocrites.
You’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of people in that audience who wouldn’t steal work from people with disabilities, including Meryl Streep. The fact people like her believe Donald Trump sank to a new low when he made fun of people with disabilities only proves they don’t know what it is like to be disabled.
These are the people who should be writing, directing, and playing the roles of disabled characters? These are the people who are going to promote empathy? If they had a shred of empathy, they’d think about how hard it can be to get employment in their industry when you are disabled. If they had empathy, they’d think about how painful it is to see your stories co-opted by people who have a plethora of other stories they could be telling.
For many disabled people, 2016 will be the year Hollywood was forced to LISTEN to some of our protests against their representations. It will be the year they gave us a romantic story about a disabled man who taught a girl to Live Boldly; all while tattooed with a Best Before Date of the day he was paralyzed. Me Before You was presented as a story about the personal choice to die. Huge groups of disabled people told everyone involved in the film that the message actually comes off as: Better Off Dead Than Disabled.
If Hollywood actually involved disabled people in storytelling, huge protests against Better Dead Than Disabled messaging in movies might not have to take place. If Hollywood had empathy, maybe they would have questioned the wisdom of turning a book written by a woman who’d never met a paralyzed person into a movie meant to give disabled people representation on film. If they realized Me Before You features a disabled character who’s never been taught ways to Live Boldly with disability, they might not have been duped by the insistence it’s a story about freedom to choose death. If they noted the fact the disabled character in Me Before You is the only main character not given a point of view in the book, they might have dismissed people saying this story gives disabled people a voice.
Maybe people in Hollywood need to stop insisting disabled people need to be given a voice, as if it’s a gift they can bestow, and pay attention to the fact we already have voices. At the end of 2017, I want to be able to claim all my sarcastic claims about the world of film in 2016 actually came true.