There are probably movies that you all love that you don't realise are ableist, or you probably aren't aware of the what ableist/ableism is. Ableism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities/chronic illnesses/terminal illnesses/mental health. What ableism does is characterises these people and defines them by their disability etc.. and makes out that they're inferior to those who are able-bodied (which they bloody well aren't!!), Often when someone is being ableist towards someone with a mental disorder it is called Mentalism. By discriminating and stereotyping against those who aren't able-bodied you're being ableist. Disabled people are often seen as less valuable to society which is a terrible way of thinking and acting. In this post I, want to touch on why movies and tv shows should use disabled people to represent the character being played and why romanticising disability and illness is wrong.
This is an (extremely) short list of some movies that are ableist:
- You Before Me - also a book (2016)
- The Fault in our Stars - also a book (2014)
- Everything Everything - also a book (2017)
- SPLIT (2016)
- Orphan (2009)
- Molly (1999)
- Beastly (2011)
- Dear John (2010)
- Avatar (2009)
The release of Everything Everything isn't far off, so I thought I would give my two cents on movies and ableism. To me I think it's important that movies portray an accurate representation of what a disability or illness is really like. You see, by giving the audience a false representation it's just making more and more people believe that is how ALL disabled people are/feel with that disability which leads to them being ableist towards the disabled. You probably never knew that the list of movies above are ableist but once you start seeing it from another point of view you can understand why they are and that they show no real representation of illness or disability.
The worst thing about the movie Everything Everything is the romantic element, just like Me Before You and The Fault in our Stars. They both focus on someone with an illness or disability falling in love, and this implies that people with that illness or disability aren't strong enough to carry on with life (like in Me Before You) or that they need love to help them accept the way they are and go on with life. I know someone who is paralysed (no, I'm not trying to speak for them), much like the character in Me Before You, but he is paralysed in real life, not in a movie, the movie makes out that people in that situation can't see any good in life and can't go on anymore but I know for a fact this isn't the case for everyone much like the guy I know. They don't want pity or to be made out that they're unhappy because they're paralysed, or want to go to Sweden to take their life.
Now back to the movie Everything Everything. It's much like the movie Bubble Boy; a young girl has to stay indoors as she has severe combined immunodeficiency (her immune system is very weak and she can't fight off illnesses), she meets her next door neighbour and they fall in love. She sacrifices her life to go all the way to Hawaii with this boy; she basically chose dying over living, again another movie like that. It's a bit more sinister than meets the eye and it turns out her mum made it all up and was keeping her locked up inside because her mum has Munchausen’s syndrome. Some may argue that the movie is representing those with mental illness by making light of Munchausen’s syndrome but the whole story is very problematic in my opinion (sorry for the spoiler).
Here is a good example of a TV show representing a disability the right way, Breaking Bad was one of the most watched TV shows to come to Netflix, I loved it and I've watched the series loads of times now. What appealed to me most about breaking bad wasn't Jessie Pinkman but it was Walt's son, Walter Jr, who has cerebral palsy. They could have easily hired an actor who was abled bodied but they used a boy who actually has cerebral palsy. Why was this important to me? My little sister was born with CP and there isn't really anything that represents her disability or raises awareness in movies or TV shows, so to see a disabled actor who also has CP was great! Although RJ Mitte (Walter Jr) has mild cerebral palsy and doesn't have to the extent of the characters in Breaking Bad he is still representing a disability which he actually has, they could easily have got an able bodied person to play him but they didn't which is what we need to see more of! By using a non-disabled character it isn't showing the correct representation of a certain disability or mental health condition. I know it's a bit harder to represent MH and actors such as Lacey Turner who plays Stacey Slater in Eastenders did a brilliant job of raising awareness for bipolar but that doesn't mean those who suffer from these conditions and disabilities shouldn't be cast in movies and TV shows. Movies that focus on someone living with a disability usually have the message of that person being weak or an inspiration, and the whole inspiration aspect is an insult. If you see someone out and about using their wheelchair they don't want to be called an inspiration, they're literally getting on with their everyday life just like an able-bodied person except they're using a wheelchair.
So what can we take from this? Movies and TV shows will continue to be ableist unless we make a stand and raise awareness as to why it's wrong and why ableism needs to end. There's plenty of disabled actors that are more than capable of correctly portraying their disability/condition and they're overlooked for able bodied actors. Until we start seeing more disabled actors on our screens, things won't change. Until able bodied people watch these problematic movies and view them as inspiration porn, things won't change. Let's try to make some changes.