Do Disabled Characters Need to be Played by Disabled Actors?

Movies and TV shows often feature able-bodied actors/actresses playing disabled characters. Some audience members with disabilities are not content to see characters who are like them; some of them believe these characters must be played by people who actually have the disability they are portraying. Discuss the validity of this argument and the validity of the counterargument: representation doesn’t matter any less if it’s just acting.
Examples for the discussion include Ben Affleck in The Accountant and Daredevil, Charlie Cox in Daredevil, Patrick Stewart in X-Men, Bryan Cranston in The Upside, Freddie Highmore in The Good Doctor, Danny Pudi in Community, and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.

  • Scholars who have been developing important advancements in the field of Disability Studies over the last 30 years have established through their work that it is not necessary to use euphemisms to refer to disabled people because it creates confusion about the important distinction between “disability” and “impairment.” – T. Palomino 11 months ago
  • Hey, thanks for this! I'm disabled myself (cerebral palsy/Asperger's), and I can see both sides of this argument. For instance, if you want to show a severe case of CP, where the person experiences quadriplegia and the inability to speak, for instance, it might be difficult to find an actor who fits that profile. But at the same time, that leads back to the question of why the acting arena has been so "closed" to people with disabilities over the centuries, so that actors with disabilities can't make spaces for themselves. I personally have experience in theater, where I believe I was denied roles not necessarily because of ableism, but just because the concepts of inclusion and modification were not part of consciousness yet. So when I see actors and actresses like Ali Stoker (Stroker? Her last name escapes me), getting roles on Broadway, I feel like we're progressing. But then I see, for instance, able-bodied actors still being cast for roles like Crutchie in Newsies, and I'm like, just, why? When there are a ton of ambulatory actors out there who still use or have experiences with mobility aids? And, as noted with Rain Man, why are we giving Oscars to able-bodied actors for portraying disabled people, especially in a way that continues to feed inspiration porn? So all that to say...yeah, please write this. – Stephanie M. 11 months ago
  • This is something I've pondered often. Some actors are able to play a good role and pull it off but those with the actual disabilities and have the knack for acting should be considered first for those roles. Granted, sometimes--and often--Hollywood doesn't try to be politically correct in its casting. This stems from various reasons, including household name. – Montayj79 11 months ago
  • This is a difficult one. If acting can be difficult and tiring for people without any disability imagine how strenuous it'll be for a person with a disability - the shooting and re-shooting, the long scripts, the long nights, the travel and moving from one location to another, etc. It would really be difficult – Laurika Nxumalo 11 months ago
  • I don't think so. Coming from a guy who has Autsim, I don't think an actor has to be disabled to play a disabled role. All that matters is can the person act? – JohnMcKinney 9 months ago

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