Evolving the ‘Disabled’ Character

Since the Netflix or Amazon Prime world domination, we now have an endless stream of watchable content available to us. The era of the box set is upon us, as there’s more time to build deeper storylines & form multi-dimensional characters that is difficult to accomplish in a short movie timeframe.

Television has an important influence on society so where are the disabled characters with meaningful roles rather than the tired old stereotypes? Even in a fictional universe, disabled people seem marginalized.

Disabled characters are usually portrayed as:

  • Comic Relief – Sheldon (The Big Bang Theory) or Stevie (Malcolm In The Middle)
  • Evil – Norman Bates (Bates Motel) or Dexter
  • Needing Protection or Boring – Felicity Smoak (Arrow) or Artie (Glee)

These stereotypes hinder awareness by creating incorrect myths regarding regular disabled people and how ‘we’ live. The solution is quite simple we need more opportunities for disabled directors, producers, scriptwriters or actors to create Christopher Nolan levels of gritty, realism.

The TV shows I’ve mentioned above all have cast non-disabled actors to play disabled characters; I wouldn’t mind this occurring if there was progress towards hiring more actors with disabilities. It would give the TV/Movie world a new inclusive perspective, to reinvigorate us from the current reboot, sequel, prequel, spin-off and franchise story stagnation.

However, Breaking Bad was the first show I’ve seen that actually hired an actor with Cerebral Palsy (RJ Mitte) to play a character with Cerebral Palsy who still lived life like his able-bodied peers. Thank you, Vince Gilligan!

To create a multi-dimensional disabled character, show the human side we all share. We all have ups and downs and disability doesn’t mean that your life is terrible 24/7. Craft a rounded character, with memories, motives, interests and skills that are unique. A characters’ disability should not be their only focus but a part of them. I envision a ‘New Girl’ type series with a Jess who happens to be in a wheelchair and lives a regular life

Finally, we need characters portraying a wide range of physical or mental disabilities instead of the usual paralysis. Not all disability is due to a tragic world-changing accident or in need of showing pre-disability life just for emotional responses from viewers.

I will be exploring this topic in the future so To Be Continued…

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MARVEL vs. Diversity

I’ve always been a fan of comic books; my teenage years were spent absorbing X-men, Spiderman, Hulk, Star Wars or (DC) Batman. I used them to escape thinking about my Duchenne and find a happier sanctuary.

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Comics taught me about humanity, that being a superhero doesn’t mean, swinging on webs, throwing a shield or making the “snikt” sound but its the willpower to be altruistic even when you should give up or if you are part of a persecuted minority.

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Those MARVEL stories helped shape my personality, morals & imagination. However, most of the comic characters created were Caucasian heterosexual males and sales were relating to that same demographic.

The past few years MARVEL have created more diversity with these new characters:

  • HULK “Amadeus Cho” Korean-American
  • Female THOR “Jane Foster”
  • CAPTAIN MARVEL “Carol Danvers” written by Kelly Deconnick
  • CAPTAIN AMERICA “Sam Wilson” African-American
  • MS MARVEL “Kamala Khan” Muslim
  • SPIDERMAN “Miles Morales” Mixed Race
  • ICEMAN “Bobby Drake” Gay

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Introducing new characters was a great step for diversity inclusivity for MARVEL however many fans disliked the changes to Core characters MARVEL have made. Marvel’s upcoming initiative Generations is a way to set people’s minds at ease that the core characters will continue. Nevertheless, this has coincided with MARVEL’s drop in sales.

Recently MARVEL’s Senior Sales and Marketing Manager David Gabriel told industry website ICv2 that readers are “turning their noses up” at diversity and don’t “want female characters”. This statement is quite shocking, especially when the current climate is about inclusion and diversity. However, according to David MARVEL is all “about telling stories about the world. We are looking to tell stories that matter in this time. That’s the most important thing.”

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Should diversity be a higher priority then storytelling? No, I like reading interesting stories and nuanced characterisation with just a natural amount of diversity that is not forced or patronising. Nevertheless, blaming the decreased sales figure solely on “too much” diversity is ridiculous. Event fatigue is a big factor, constantly changing characters, forcing people to buy different comics to get the full story.

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I want to finish by highlighting the complete lack of representation of disability in either MARVEL now that Charles Xavier is dead (other than Daredevil) or DC universes. It would have been amazing growing up to see disability on the page of a favourite comic book where amazing things can happen. It would be like a confirmation from a superhero.

The Comic industry needs to realise how powerful the written word and artwork is to the younger generation.

“With great power comes great responsibility”.