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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