Image of the globe on a background of social media and tech company logos.

I hope you’ll pardon me for the over-use of the “roll” pun, but I’m finding it quite entertaining seeing just how many phrases I can crowbar it into.

Apology aside, let me get to the point; there are a few issues with the depiction of disability in Hollywood. While it is wonderful to see films using more diverse castings to portray characters on the silver screen, and the portrayal of disability is usually far from offensive, there are a few inaccuracies that invariably work their way into the mix.

Take “Avatar” for example, a film that chose to be a nerd’s wet dream of intricate graphics over the interesting character development and deep political messages it could have shown. The protagonist is a wheelchair user who, upon the death of his identical twin, is called in to take his place in the avatar scheme. As he enters the military camp for the first time two soldiers can be heard making demeaning remarks about the wheelchair, referring to the protagonist as a “sack of meat”. I have never once encountered such blatant discrimination; in my experience discrimination is much less obvious, and people may not even be aware that they are doing something that inhibits my ability to access a room or perform a task. Similarly, I expect that this is not an accurate representation of the way the military reacts to disability as it is something that can happen so easily in combat that they are regularly exposed to it, although of course I may be wrong.

Another recent film, “The Hunger Games” also fails to represent disability at all, despite it being an important part of the storyline. Those who have read the books will be aware that Peeta loses his leg as a result of an injury inflicted during his first time in an arena. Katniss uses her last arrow to form a tourniquet that, while it results in the loss of Peeta’s leg, keeps him alive. This is completely brushed over in the films, alongside Katniss’s loss of hearing experienced as a result of an explosion that requires expert medical aid to repair, and a meaningful bonding moment between Katniss and Peeta is lost, impacting the later films.

When Hollywood isn’t presenting disability as a cruel and unforgiving circumstance where no happiness is ever felt, it is presenting us as unrealistic super-powered beings with the mental and physical strength of warriors. Anyone familiar with the X-men franchise will immediately realise that Professor X falls into this category, although Patrick Stewart certainly brings a depth to the character that stretches beyond the wheelchair and his mind powers. A more obscure example occurs in “Mr No Legs”; a man without any legs has a wheelchair fully equipped with weapons such as throwing stars, and practically uses the arms of his wheelchair as a pommel horse to defend himself against an onslaught of fully able-bodied men, and the brakes of his wheelchair aren’t even on. While people in wheelchairs are capable of defending themselves to the best of their abilities, it would be completely ridiculous to have a wheelchair so heavily armed that you wouldn’t be allowed to progress more than 100 metres without the police stopping you for a serious conversation. The same goes for wheelchair bombs, which are a clichéd move that I have seen in many films and TV programmes.

Nor are wheelchair users are not some kind of evil genii who manage to use their disabilities to manipulate the world around them, going through trial after trial to highlight their “superpower”. While the plot of “Unbreakable” is much more complex than this, and the characters are far more intricate, I cannot deny that seeing a wheelchair user depicted as an anti-social creep with maniacal ideas makes me uncomfortable.

It would be nice to see more movies where a character’s disability is not a major plot point and the disabled person integrates normally with the rest of the characters, as disability should not be the defining trait of anyone but a mere characteristic. It is no wonder people are uncomfortable and awkward around disability when we are portrayed as either warriors or creeps on the silver screen, never just the average-Joe extra who keeps getting their day ruined by the protagonist’s misadventures.

6 thoughts on “Rollywood.

  1. I’ve been reasonably aware of the need for good characterisation of LGBTIQA folk in fiction for a while, but it was only in the last year (Thanks, Trump) that I started thinking more deeply about the need to portray people with disabilities in fiction. And it was only after that I accepted the term “disabled” for myself. Wheels are certainly still turning on the topic, but I was pleasantly surprised today to see that one of my characters has a lazy eye. It ain’t much (especially since female disabilities so often focus on the face, while male disabled characters have more physical disabilities) but it’s something. This kind of article is very useful to me as I question my own abled prejudices in both my own life and my fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you found this entry so interesting, and that it made you think; this is exactly why I write about this blog.
      It doesn’t sound as if you’re very prejudiced to me, but trust me when I say that an able-bodied person being considerate to someone disabled can make their day.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I understand completely!!! It’s the same with us fat chicks. We’re not allowed to be in a serious role unless we’re obsessing over our weight, trying out diets, doing some sort of “I hate exercise montage”, and eventually in frustration having some kind of fast food binge before we decide to give it one last go, lose all the weight, and THEN find the man of our dreams. We’re never allowed to just be a character who happens to be fat; our weight is our defining feature.
    By the way here in Canada’s Pants we have a show called “Superstore” which is based around a Walmart/Tesco type of establishment. One of the characters is exactly what we’re asking for: a man who happens to be in a wheelchair. A long-running plot point is that he’s having no-emotional-strings-attached sex with the store’s assistant manager, and not once has anyone said “WHAAAAT? HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE???” I recommend the show, if only because it’s actually really funny on all points.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve heard a lot of people say similar things; Pitch Perfect springs to mind. Great film, but the whole “Fat Amy” thing is a bit much at points.
      Anyway, if I guy only wants to get with someone when they resemble a stick insect, they’re better off without them.
      That sounds brilliant, I’ll try and find it. I hate it when the defining characteristic of a disabled character is their disability, and the same goes for race, sexuality, clothes size etc. Of all the disabled people I know, not one of them could be solely defined by their wheelchair/crutch/impairment.


  3. “over-use of the “roll” pun”

    God only gave us 4 kind of wit.

    To wit:

    1. Wordplay: e.g. puns such as knock-knock jokes, homonyms, etc.

    2. Paradox: The “surprise ending”, the unexpected scenario, etc. (e.g. “A priest, rabbi and duck walk into a pub.)

    3. Body humor: Sex, farts, dick jokes, etc.

    4. Insults: Blonde jokes, polack jokes (are those “still a thing?”), jew jokes, etc.

    With only 4 jokes in the world, some are bound to get re-cycled.



  4. “discrimination is much less obvious”

    as in

    “Oh, I didn’t see you there looking longingly at the top shelf like a patient beagle awaiting his master’s eye”

    or, even worse,

    “Oh, I didn’t notice your wheelchair….”

    Liked by 1 person

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