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Disability in Film

Can you think of a film character with a disability? I imagine you went for Forrest Gump with Tom Hanks, or Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. How about an actor with a disability? Warwick Davis (Harry Potter) springs to mind, but few others trip off the tongue. Now name a film or TV show where a character with a disability is played by a person with a disability? That‘s much harder. RJ Mitte, who has cerebral palsy, playing Walter Jr in Breaking Bad was the only example I could think of.

Acting involves playing someone you’re not, and not every role involving disability has to be played by a disabled actor, but looking at films featuring disability in some way, it’s clear opportunities are being missed. Consider Born on the Fourth of July, My Left Foot, The Theory of Everything, Untouchable and more, all with significant disabled characters, al played by able bodied actors. Advances in representation on screen made by some minority groups have clearly not yet reached others.

To redress the balance, try Kills on Wheels from 2016, a blackly comic Hungarian film streaming now. Two wheelchair using friends form an unlikely duo as hitmen, with both lead actors having disabilities. Or, come along and watch the hit Irish comedy, Sanctuary. Two young people with learning disabilities fall in love, their support worker schemes to get them some time together during a care home cinema trip and all does not go to plan. Every character with a disability in Sanctuary is played by an actor with that disability, and the film looks both hilarious and unsentimental, pulling no punches in its depiction of the discrimination faced by many. Let’s hope these two films are a sign of things to come.

By Michael Hudson

From our weekly column in the Oswestry Advertizer

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