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PT and the Greater Good

Portraying People with Disabilities

Published November 26, 2013 5:19 PM by Dean Metz

As I mentioned in my last blog, I'll be starting my new job next Monday. That has left me with a lot of downtime. Some of it has been productive; some of it has been rejuvenating. I managed to watch all five seasons of "Breaking Bad," the highly popular show that finished its run this year. I had never seen it before. I was pleasantly surprised to see a character who has cerebral palsy. The actor, RJ Mitte, actually has CP, a milder version than the character he portrays, but it's nice to see actors like this actually working.

There's another character, played by Dean Norris, who sustains a gunshot (or rather a few gunshots) and must portray a man with a spinal injury who recovers over the remainder of the show. He does a fairly decent job of making the physicality of the character believable. Were either of the actors perfect in their portrayal of the physicality? No, and we shouldn't fault them for that.

Making a movie, TV show or play requires a big suspension of disbelief. If you've seen any play on stage, you've noticed all the furniture faces in one direction, which nobody really does in their own home. Likewise, actors and directors have to make choices to get the story told. I learned in theatre school (many of you probably didn't know that was my first degree) that foreign accents are rarely accurate. Not because the actors are lazy (except for Gwyneth Paltrow in "Sliding Doors"), but because the audience needs to understand what's being said. If you've ever seen the film "Billy Elliot," you'll understand. The father sounds like he is speaking in tongues to an American ear, but is actually from Northeast England and speaking in his usual voice.

More and more we're seeing people with different disabilities being portrayed in TV and movies. These include Kevin McHale, who plays Artie Abrams the wheelchair-bound paraplegic on "Glee," Jamie Brewer's numerous characters on "American Horror Story," and now Blair Underwood as "Ironside." All help to improve the visibility of people with disabilities and combat stereotypes. This is a good trend!

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Every time I see someone portraying a character with a disability I notice how much closer they are coming to reality.  Even you and I would have trouble getting it exact.  Our musculo-skeletal systems don't work that way.

Its a nice trend to see.  Even a few years ago I couldn't watch people pretending to be disabled.  I was constantly being scolded for saying but "a blank" couldn't really do that or that's not how its done.

Toni November 27, 2013 6:23 PM

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About this Blog

    Dean Metz
    Occupation: Staff Development Specialist
    Setting: New York, NY – Newcastle Upon Tyne, Great Britain
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