The Hunchback you also have to play, so give me actors with disabilities.
Disney announced that is going to shoot the actor's version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Personally, I have mixed feelings about the next actor's adaptation of the animated film, but if it is to be an adaptation of a musical that by the way which is great, I have slightly warmer feelings. It doesn't change the fact that in the context of the film there was a discussion immediately about who should play Quasimodo. An efficient actor or a disabled actor. And to this discussion - based not only on the planned Disney movie, I would like to refer.
I'll start by linking my old post, in which I talk about the idea of acting - that post concerned actors playing characters with a different sexual orientation than themselves. In short - for those who do not click - in the very idea of acting it is thought that everyone can be anyone - in the ancient theater the actor's gender (although only men played) did not matter because he could play a woman or a man or any other character. In distilled acting we can be as far away from who we are as possible. It is true. Therefore, if we lived in a world of ideal acting, there would be no discussion at all. Unfortunately, we do not exist in a world where the idea of acting exists without a social context.
But why do I get a little frowned when I hear that acting consists of pretending to be the roles of people with disabilities, you can engage talented actors without hesitation? First of all - completely basic. Why do we assume that actors with disabilities will not have to play? After all, they are also not characters that play. If an actor in a wheelchair were selected for an American film based on Intouchableshe would have to play. After all, that he rides a wheelchair would not make him a man with the same biography as his hero. If a disability actor were chosen for the role of Quasimodo - and also suffered from similar diseases as the original book, it would still be an actor from the 21st century and not a hunchback from the 19th century image of the Middle Ages. He would still have to play. No one is magically a character because they have the same disability. After all, no one will say that currently active actors with disabilities do not play or pretend.
Only one thing is missing them - they do not pretend to be disabled. Still, they have to play - enter the psyche of a fictional character, identify with her, find motivations for her and show them to the viewers. All they don't do is not play disability. One could even argue that it gives them an advantage - the actor playing in Speechless - really suffers from cerebral palsy (although not as advanced as his hero) but all the work on how to play it falls off. He doesn't have to play it. When you read how much Daniel Day Lewis focused on not getting out of the wheelchair while filming My Left Foot think about how much easier it would be for an actor who would not have to concentrate on it at all because it would be natural for him. Wouldn't he have to play? Of course he would have to play. Because he would not be his hero. Though something would connect him. Peter Dinklage certainly played the Game of Thrones and pretended. He didn't just pretend his short height. But all the rest is a role. Unless you believe he is a Tyrion who wonders what he's doing as a Los Angeles actor.
Here, of course, there is a second argument that there are not so many actors with such diverse disabilities. Well, that's not entirely true. There are actors with disabilities. But they usually bounce off the same problem. Either they can't get the role because they disqualify their disability, or the role they could get - just because of their uniqueness someone else gets. In this way only from time to time some actor manages to move on. There is an argument here about talent - how do we know that a person with a disability will be able to play well. We do not know. But at the same time - we can invite her to the casting. Or, we can take a chance and, for example, count that if we give so many talented actors a chance, then those with disabilities can also give a chance. Especially since we never allow the thought that an efficient actor in the script could be played by a disabled actor. This jumping between skillful characters and characters with disabilities is the privilege of only skillful actors. Nobody will prescribe the hero's biography because the actor was perfect but he was wheelchair-bound. That's how it is.
A small representation of disabled actors in the roles of heroes with disabilities also leads to some very disturbing phenomena. First of all - we have a false representation in culture. We don't really see people with disabilities, just how filmmakers imagine them. Which sometimes means that we begin to set these people extremely high requirements, or we have the impression that we know something and meanwhile we know nothing. Secondly - it is extremely sad how often actors are rewarded for their "dedication" with prizes. I am not surprised that for many people with disabilities it must be terribly annoying when once again the actor is awarded for how well they pretend to be, while they know that they would never be allowed on screen. Because Eddie Redmayne, who can get up from a pram, is cool, and the person who will not get up from him is not attractive enough and sacrifices too little to get the role. It annoys me and I am fully functional.
And to make it clear, people with disabilities don't even demand to give them all these roles. Most actors with various disabilities would simply like to be invited to the casting. Nothing more - they would like to be able to show how they see this character. They are in a wheelchair anyway, or they don't look like a Hollywood actor, but maybe they have something to say about this character. Meanwhile, many such casting doors are simply closed. And yet such castings are not enough, because most of the characters in the movies are completely physically fit and their bodies look several times better than the standard body of even a fit person. So all in all they have nothing left - though they have ambitions and ideas to play roles. And of course - it would not be cool if actors with disabilities were delegated to play only such characters. But at the same time - they have no other option, because no one gives them even the roles most obvious to them.
I will never forget when I once read such an American article that short people do not want to play dwarfs in the next Snow White, but if they take this traditional role from them, there will be nothing left for them. It was sad but it opened the eyes to how few perspectives for such actors (of course there are exceptions, because there are always exceptions in every group that has problems with representation).
Some people probably wonder whether the presence of a person with a disability on the set does not prevent filming. The question is - if we want to tell stories about people with disabilities shouldn't we at least be sure that a real person could be on the film set? It seems something exceptionally thinking that we can be moved by a story about disability, but we cannot allow such a person to tell the story. Especially that the cinema today overcomes so many barriers that I suspect that overcoming these architectural or logistic ones would also be possible. What's more, the presence of a person with a disability on the set can show which limitations of the hero that the screenwriter would not think would appear in real life. Thanks to this, the film will become authentic. At the same time, the question often arises whether we will be able to find a person with exactly the same disease or degree of disability as the hero in the script. This question seems to be wrong - of course, not everyone will find an actor with the same degree of disability. For example, there are not many actors paralyzed to the extent that the hero from the Intouchables. But at the same time - why should we reject disabled people to a lesser extent? Since we assume that a completely fit person can take on the role, then a person with a smaller or slightly different disability is probably just as capable of such a game. As I mentioned - the creators of the Speechless series hired an actor whose cerebral palsy did not affect as much as the played hero - but still - his experience makes it easier for him to play this character.
We live in a world of cinema that is largely naturalistic. Not so extreme, but in general we assume that we shoot more in the open air, we fill roles by the gender category, we fill the elderly in the roles of the elderly, and the younger in the roles of the younger. We try to characterize, clothes, spaces to become as similar as possible to the world we present. Of course, cinema still has a lot of arbitrary elements but it tries to resemble the world. And unfortunately, in this reminder of the world, the appearance of real people with disabilities seems to cross a border. In the meantime, let us remind you that this is a group in many countries of the world quite commonly marginalized by lack of visibility. If you see few people in wheelchairs, it is not because they are not there, but because they are stuck in architectural barriers and you will not even know it because there is none. And that's the problem.
Besides, by the end - you're not curious how much more interesting this would be? Let people with such different experiences play. We say playing is pretend - that's clear. But pretending people with different biographies is different. In England one of the theaters hired an actor with disabilities for the role of Richard III, I am curious how different the interpretation is when the actor does not play disability, when sentences about dogs howling at the sight of the king are spoken by someone who knows that he does not really match what society considers beautiful and not by Benedict Cumberbatch with a hump attached. It is simply more interesting. The same would happen to the Hunchback of Notre Dame if a disabled actor were there. And everyone would still pretend. But they pretended differently. And I miss this difference very much.
And finally. I don't think the actors playing people with disabilities are bad. Ultimately - if they didn't play them, there probably wouldn't be such characters at all. Or it would be a few. Nevertheless, I think that there is nothing wrong and strange that they take such roles. Especially since they are doing great for a career. At the same time - if none of them would ever play a disabled hero again, they would still have a lot of roles to play and castings they could go on. But I think if we are attached to this idea that acting is pretending. Maybe we should think about whether this miracle of pretense should not let everyone who has talent and not just chosen because of the efficiency of their body.
Ps: You know, in the end I will give you an example - make a list - without looking at the Internet of ten actors with disabilities, and then ten actors who played someone with a disability and are efficiency. And now see how much one list is more difficult than the other to recall.