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Reasons Hollywood Feels No Need to Include Disabled Creatives

by Editor
An image of a film clap board. A hand is holding it up and another hand is holding a piece of chalk up to the board. Under the board, text reads, Reasons Hollywood Doesn't need Disabled Creatives.

For the last two decades we’ve been watching, writing about, and discussing disability representation in some form or fashion. Six years ago we actively started documenting what we were watching while studying the data surrounding representation.

We had a lot of ideas about what representation was like, what that meant for individual disabled communities as well as the greater disability community at large, and how that translated into how disabled people are treated by society. The work we have done, including our studies, have bolstered support for these ideas.

Ultimately, what we’ve discovered is that Hollywood continues to actively ignore disabled creatives. In some cases, Hollywood actively fights the inclusion of disabled actors, writers, directors, and crew.

So, if we know that Hollywood is doing this, we also want to understand why. Of course, we have long had our thoughts on why this is happening. But the research we do also supports that we are correct in many of these assumptions.

Here are some of the reasons that we believe, based on years of research and experience in Hollywood, that Hollywood feels no need to include disabled creatives.

When Hollywood includes any sprinkle of disability, fans and organizations praise it.

One of the biggest barriers to inclusion for disabled people in Hollywood are the organizations that seek to speak for/represent disabled people. A lot of times these organizations are holding events that lead to very little actual work for disabled creators. Often, Hollywood connects with these organizations as a means of showing that they are engaging in including disabled people but all they are doing is engaging with these organizations to save face.

In return, these organizations often praise any type of inclusion. Feature a disabled character? Let’s give you an award! So the disabled person is one big ball of inspiration porn soup?! No problem! At least the character is disabled, right?! WRONG ANSWER.

A lot of times these organizations include nondisabled leadership. Now, the longer we go on, the more they are also run by disabled people, but if the disabled people in charge are just as willing to support more harmful portrayals, what is the point of asking disabled people to lead these organizations? 

If these organizations continue to uphold the nondisabled lens when it comes to disability representation it’s no better than having nondisabled people encouraging the same representation. In fact I would say it’s probably even worse because why is someone going to assume that a disabled person is going to promote something harmful towards disability?! And yet I see it happen all the time.

We should be uplifting and rewarding the portrayals that are actually moving the needle forward because the same old same old does nothing to encourage Hollywood to include more disabled creatives.

Bit parts are celebrated like lead roles.

I am the first to encourage inclusion at all levels, but Hollywood has been doing this thing for a while where they will have a one episode disability story and it is often celebrated like the lead role has been given to a disabled person when it’s not even more than one episode.

I believe there should be plenty of bit characters that are disabled, but if that is our only representation, that’s a problem. Often, bit characters are awareness stories. Think of all the hospital dramas that feature one episode about a disability that educates the audience in some way about that disability or illness. This is the main type of disability representation we see for disabled characters on television.

There are an overwhelming number of bit characters that are disabled compared to lead or supporting characters. It’s not even comparable. So, as long as we keep celebrating the inclusion of these characters Hollywood sees no reason to give us better, bigger, more inclusive ones. If you’re going to celebrate every performance like it’s a lead role, Hollywood sees no purpose to give disabled characters actual lead roles.

Why, if you are going to accept one-off roles does Hollywood have any incentive to give disabled actors any other greater type of inclusion? The disabled community is eating up these one-off roles. There is no need for more inclusion. That’s exactly what Hollywood thinks and it’s why I often tell people that while we can talk about how good it is to occasionally have bit roles that are not harmful (although our study shows that the majority of these roles are harmful), here there is still a long way to go for full inclusion.

Not all disabled people understand that representation impacts how we are treated.

One of the biggest criticisms we get from disabled people when we are doing this work is that movies and television (and other forms of media) are entertainment and therefore we should not take them so seriously. The problem with that is that the vast majority of society uses the media to figure out how to treat marginalized people. So if we are always treated like crap in the media (which is actually the case for much of the media about disability) there’s a good chance we’re going to be treated like crap in real life.

We can see causation of treatment, lack of access, and many of the other things that disabled people face based on how disability is represented in the media, but I would say that most of the disabled people I encounter have no idea that what we are watching impacts how we are treated. So they just see all of this as harmless fictional entertainment.

This is why we do the work we do, though. We have worked hard to try to figure out how media impacts the disabled community and disabled people as individuals. Media impacts both in quite significant ways, so that is why a lot of our work revolves around talking about how responsible we must be when it comes to including disabled people and disabled stories in media. This does not mean that you can’t enjoy a story that happens to feature harmful representation. It just means that you have to be aware that the broader message of a lot of this media is that it’s harming disabled communities, and there are ways to combat that.

It’s hard when the disabled community doesn’t understand exactly what’s going on with media and how it impacts the community, but that’s why we are doing the work we are doing. We are trying to not only educate Hollywood, but all of society. We are trying to make it so disabled people are included as full participating members in Hollywood storytelling and in Hollywood stories. Disabled people deserve nothing less.

Horrible shows/portrayals still get disabled views and support.

Because disabled people don’t always understand the impact of watching horrible representation, many disabled people are still engaging with and watching harmful representation. All this tells Hollywood is that we are willing to watch these shows. What that says to them is, why should they bother making anything at all when we will keep watching horrible stuff they make about us? There is zero incentive for them to stop making media with only harmful representation.

Getting disabled people to understand that their dollars and viewing power is contributing to helping keep disabled people out of Hollywood and allowing Hollywood to ignore authentic disabled representation that is not causing harm to entire communities, is difficult. Disabled people want to view whatever they want just like everyone else. But if we want the media to improve and we want disabled people to be included, we must use our monetary and viewing power to sway Hollywood towards more inclusion.

This means resisting the urge to go see that new movie that everyone says is harming the disabled community. Hollywood bases whether they will keep making this stuff on how much money a piece of media makes and how many people are watching. Even if you are hate-watching something you are contributing to the noise. If you are able and you want to watch it just so you know what you’re talking about when getting people to understand the harm, the very best time to do that is if it has already been out and is perhaps airing for free on something. Even then you will be contributing to the viewing numbers but after initial launch they are less concerned with those numbers.

If you do view something and it’s horrible, speak out about it. If Hollywood has to face continued outcry for better representation they are more likely to listen. But if we are contributing our money towards the horrible representation there is zero incentive for the powers that be to do anything to include us.

Ultimately, the disabled community is its own worst enemy when it comes to Hollywood. As long as we keep celebrating any inclusion, Hollywood doesn’t see the need to change and include us more or better. It is only when we start making a ruckus and refuse to accept what they offer us that things will change.

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