Blog Carousel : Disabilities in Entertainment

For my blog carousel I decided to focus in on Disabilities In Entertainment. Aside from being passionate about special education, my heart belongs to the media and entertainment. I absolutely adore film whether it be editing, filming, or simply viewing. I wanted to see how disabilities play into the entertainment world and on what level the industry embraces people with disabilities. These blogs were all very eye opening and informative, take a look!

This post highlights the challenges and perhaps discriminatory measures a person with  disability is put up against in the entertainment field. The blogger herself is physically disabled as she is missing an arm. She focuses in on the tryouts for the hit show So You Think You Can Dance and discusses her enervation with the way they handle those with disabilities. She claims that they simply allow them to try out to create a more dramatic and sensible show while the judges were never planning to let them through for excuses like “you really wouldn’t work for our program, but we are so proud of your courage.” Basically, “you look too weird and awkward to appeal to a wide audience but we will boost our ratings by using you to elicit pity and then move on” One line that particularly drew me in and really showed me how this relates to disabilities in the entertainment industry was this, “And I’ve mentioned here before about visiting children’s homes in Latvia where children born missing limbs are sent to live where the public won’t have to be confronted with them. I was appalled then, but I wonder how different that is from TV shows that parade us out there to show us pity but then still won’t accept us in their world as we are.” She parallels a world where disabilities are not accepted by the public with the entertainment world and how they aren’t so different. Maybe they won’t let the handicapped competition through because they think the world won’t accept them and they subconsciously believe that this popular show is not the place for them. I agree that people with disabilities are not a circus act to be used for entertainment, like the emotional TV moments shows like So You Think You can Dance try to provoke. From the comments on this post I found a man who runs a performance program called Phamaly ( or The Physically Handicapped Actors & Musical Artists League. This is a theatre company where every show consists of performers who have disabilities. Programs like these and raising awareness will forge new opportunities and ways for people with disabilities to be successful in an entertainment industry with no presumptions and manipulations.

This post is extremely intriguing; it presents the idea that disabilities have been written out of history because they are not heavily involved or portrayed by characters in popular shows and movies. When they are portrayed it is incorrect and most often stereotypical. While the blogger praised a contestant that was part of the past season of the reality of The Glee Project named Ali Stroker, a paralyzed young woman, she still criticized the way her role would be taken up on Glee. “…If she was casted, she could be a love interest for Artie Abrams, the paraplegic on Glee. This is a stereotype that is common for people with disability.  What I liked about her as well is that she did know and was aware that being in a wheelchair has closed doors for her in the entertainment industry. I feel like that having a disability should not be a factor that would close doors because everybody should be entitled to have opportunities and every person should be equally represented.” She couldn’t have said it better herself. People will wheelchairs are especially challenged in the entertainment industry (the video along with the blog shows that content) however it is a roadblock for any person with a disability because of the visions and assumptions people have.

Essentially, the main point here is that able-bodied performers should not play disabled characters. They have just as much a right so self-representation on screen as people without disabilities do. The blogger uses an excellent an example of this unfair element of showbiz when she brings up Glee and its characters who apparently do not epitomize inclusiveness; “Its makers would never have considered having Rachel, the female lead, played by a man in drag. They would not have considered having Mercedes, the most prominent black character, played by a white actress in blackface. But when they cast Artie, the main disabled character, they chose an able-bodied actor and had him sit in a wheelchair and ape the appearance of a disabled person.” Each minority has had its revolution from Shakespearian times where women couldn’t perform on stage to just decades ago when Asian and Black characters would be played by white men like in Tea House of the August Moon and Othello. People have become conditioned to protest race exploitation on the big screen and have no reaction and maybe even applause when a disability is exploited on screen. The blog continues to explain the best forms of these portrayals of people with disabilities, the Oscar winning able-bodied actors, are often described as being sympathetic to the people with disabilities. People with disabilities do not want sympathy, but they seek equality. This aspect of sympathy reminded me of Garland-Thompson’s rhetorics, and specifically the wondrous and sentimental rhetoric. The entertainment industry is so consumed with money and the audience’s opinion that they will do anything to create drama and intensity within productions.

            Fortunately today there are many stars who have disabilities and act as disabled characters. Y fear, a long with blogger’s fear, is that if we are okay with these disabled roles being played by able-bodied actors, are we saying we are okay with people with disabilities being prevented from acting at all? I hope that someday in the near future we will find the same conclusion that was found with these other misacting issues. “Today, we find the sight of white actors portraying non-white roles in old films shocking. It often makes those movies unwatchably embarrassing. Years from now, films in which able-bodied actors play disabled characters will seem similarly misguided. They will be relics of a less equal age.” This equal age is coming and can come even faster if awareness grows and people see the flaws in these performance on a literally and psychological level.

 This blog goes along with the previous one as it highlights the ceiling cap of opportunities in the industry. “To become famous, you have to have a uniqueness that separates you from everyone else. But in some cases standing out can be a hindrance – especially if you’re disabled.” Many networks and studios would rather higher an able bodied performer to play a disabled character. Whereas the previous blogger emphasized the discrimination in the industry, here he tries to show that the entertainment industry is extremely rigorous and competitive even for individuals without disabilities so success for someone with a disability is even slimmer, although it shouldn’t be. There also are not a lot of public figures who could represent people with disabilities on a mainstream level. There are many “attitudinal barriers toward people with disabilities in general” society that prevent the success of programs and performances that center upon people with disabilities. Another barrier is the cost for accommodating handicaps; certain companies just do want to spend the extra money if they don’t have to.  This blogger was born with spastic cerebral palsy and her account of his triumphs of finding a job just shocked me and really show how cut throat this industry can be. “Jobs that I’ve applied for in the past – in which I was a good candidate for – have been passed on to others with little to no explanation. As a matter of fact, the most recent incident involved a boutique NY-based entertainment marketing firm. In November 2010, I applied for a position in the pop-rock department where I was scheduled to interview with a hiring manager. She seemed to show interest in me, and even wanted to meet in person, right until I mentioned being mobility impaired. Almost immediately, the meeting I agreed to have was reduced to a phoner, which eventually got delayed more times than Jay Electronica’s debut album. And while the company may argue that her demanding schedule got the best of her, I highly doubt that’s what happened, because if she was really interested in seeing how qualified I was, I’d at least be able to know if I got the job or not. Whether or not they would have hired me is debatable, but that’s the least of my concerns. The fact that she didn’t even give me a fair chance to prove my skills because of something I have no control over is the main reason I chose to pen this article.” These barriers need to be conquered and can be because people with disabilities have the right to proper representation in the entire entertainment industry.

This blog zeros in on disability in film over time. One of the perspectives I had never considered before reading this is that maybe writers, directors, and producers do want to include and portray people with intellectual disabilities properly but are often challenged by a general lack of understand of how to include and portray that population. Preconceived notions and emotions that go alone with people who have disabilities, like sympathy and uniqueness, have really clouded the way they should truly be presented. “The entertainment industry simply needed opportunities to be educated about how to work with actors with intellectual disabilities and how to weave them into story lines as part of the natural fabric of creating a realistic scene.  They needed to know it’s okay not to call them out as the center of attention in a polarizing manner as definitively good or bad.” Many people are working to include people with disabilities in mainstream entertainment as best as they can. Organizations like I AM PWD (Inclusion in the Arts and Media of People with Disabilities) and they attempt to do this by educating the people behind the scenes. People with disabilities should be included or, if they must be, portrayed in an “authentic and seamless” manner just like every other group in society.

This post caught my attention because it had to do with magazine ads; an area of the entertainment industry I had not yet discovered in relation to disabilities. Diesel unleashed a magazine campaign with a woman in a wheelchair. The woman featured in the ads is a fashion blogger from NYC, a former fashion student and she is also in a wheelchair. “Now just that fact alone would be enough for all major brands to overlook this spunky young chick. After all, disabled people are the most underrepresented group in the entertainment industry, and the largest minority in the world. It is about time a major label took the time to acknowledge diversity in all forms.” Steps like these should give everyone hope and motivation to keep spreading awareness and breaking down walls for people with disabilities and their rights in the entertainment sphere. The star of the ad has the same passions as anyone else, she just comes with a chair that moves. This ad shows that you do not need to be the typical and conventional model to represent a brand, as long as you have the right attitude, just like this woman did, you can do anything. She embodies fearlessness, passion, and of course fashion and does an excellent job in this ad campaign. The fashion world and entertainment world can be very narrow-minded but its up to people like her and others to find a part in it. This ad is really inspirational and will hopefully serve as a stepping stone for people with disabilities to embrace their confidence and see that they can do anything in this industry as long as they have passion and determination.



Extension Blog Post

The extension I chose to present to the class was an article stemmed from Uganda. It discusses the experiences people with disabilities encounter in Africa and I think we could draw on this in comparison to other nations, like Germany and the United States. I was drawn to find a situation related to Africa because I think that Uganda is a hard place to live as a person without disabilities as it is so I wondered how extreme and devastating it is for an individual with disabilities. It is common for people in Africa and even immediate family to regard a disability as a misfortune and that individual as useless to the whole community life. There is no opportunity to be educated properly if you have a disability and therefore no hope for anyone to be successful or acknowledged as a person with meaning and contribution. This Disability Rights Fund article really touched on the topic of the day because it sheds light on the situation and lifestyle of an individual with a disability in a specific part of the world, Uganda.

In class, many of my peers were shocked to find how brutal the people are in Uganda towards those with disabilities. Certain lines like these “My father would shout at me that I was just stupid… If you have a disability and you cannot do these chores, you are considered useless to the family and community… that blind girl, uh, what will she have to say?” really prompted empathy in concern in my audience as they were appalled by the horrible living situation in Uganda. We all agreed upon the solutions presented in the article especially on a global scale because these solutions can be implemented universally. Nations need to execute grassroots awareness and make the population aware of people with disabilities and the rights they deserve. The role of the government and access to education are also extremely important because these components can directly alter the course of one’s life. With education comes opportunity and with government intervention comes freedom and avoidance of discrimination. I think its important to spread knowledge about physical and mental disabilities and I hope organizations like the disability rights fund and more will continue to work towards making life easier for people with those disabilities.

Here is the link to my extension article! Feel free to browse it again or check out other articles on the site! It’s really interesting and informative and it’s things like this that begin the process of spreading awareness internationally.