Inclusivity in Hollywood: Part 1

I’ve been thinking about how people with disabilities are represented in television and film. Good representation or increased representation can help to form positive and inclusive opinions. Not enough or poor representation can lead to untrue and inaccurate depictions and basic ignorance.

Disability Representation in the Top 100 Grossing Films

As a disabled woman I began to count in my mind images of people with disabilities on TV shows and other media I have seen. Even with gains in the number of characters with disabilities appearing in popular films, a few new reports found that our population remains largely nonexistent on screen. Way back in 2019, there was an analysis of the top 100 grossing films. Here’s what researchers discovered:

  • The disabled community was missing from 48 of the films
  • Female speaking actresses with disabilities were missing from 77 of them
  • Only 2.3% of all speaking characters had disabilities (an increase of about 1.6% from the year before)
  • About 65% percent of those were physical disabilities, 29% cognitive disabilities and 28% with communication disabilities.
  • Most (about two-thirds) were male and most often white.
  • Most were over the age of 40
Merlisha uses an Edge 3 Power Wheelchair with iLevel

I had to take a step back from my findings. The number of underrepresented groups of people, including our community, was disheartening. A movie is a movie, and a show is a show, yet some of the stats I have been including in this blog are so close to one another as to almost be non-existent over a five-year period. People love to say, “change takes time.” At this rate we will have close to proper representation right around the time we populate Mars.

Moving Towards a New Standard for Inclusivity

Change could be a little sooner in manifesting itself. Earlier this month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that starting in 2024, movies will have to meet certain inclusion standards. Disability representation will be a standard. Thinking about it, I am now wondering how many disabled individuals are behind the cameras. Considering that worldwide there are about 1.2 billion people with disabilities, a perspective of how we view the world and those that are different from us may bring a fresh, lucrative, and relatable picture of the world as we see it.

Some of My Favorite Actors Who Are Disabled

I thought about some of the shows and movies that my husband and I watch. Here is a list of a few actors who represent characters with disabilities.

  • Daryl “Chill” Mitchell an actor who after a motorcycle accident in 2001 was paralyzed from the waist down. My favorite show to see him in is NCIS New Orleans as Patton Plame, computer specialist for the NCIS squad.
  • Micah D. Fowler is an actor with cerebral palsy who did a hilariously awesome job in the television series “Speechless.” This was a show I watched pre-disability. I have since seen a few of the old episodes post-disability and the humor transfers well.
  • Marlee Matlin is an actress, author, and deaf activist. Known for such projects as Children of a Lesser God, Switched at Birth, The West Wing, The L Word, and Quantico to name a few. I remember seeing her in an episode of Law and Order: SVU dealing with assisted suicide and I have been a fan ever since.
  • Josh Blue is a comedian with cerebral palsy who was voted Last Comic Standing in its fourth season in 2006. His humor is very poignant in that it is somewhat self-deprecating but with the ability to focus the attention back at the audience without making either feel awkward
  • Christopher Burke is an actor, folk singer, and down syndrome advocate with down syndrome. Best known for his role as Charles “Corky” Thatcher on the television show, “Life Goes On.”

There are quite a few more actors and actresses that I could name, but in my opinion not enough. You don’t realize some things until they become a part of your everyday life and now I am starting to recognize how much of the media that I consume does not have people that look and live like I do.

Click here to read part two.

About Merlisha Henderson: Merlisha uses an Edge 3 Power Wheelchair for mobility and lives in Arizona with her family. As a wife, mother and disability advocate in her community, she stays active and independent, working toward bringing equality and access to all. Click here to learn more about Merlisha.


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