I was just reading an article with thoughts on Jared Leto’s win at the Oscar’s last night for Dallas Buyers Club. To put it in a nutshell, there’s been some backlash from the transgender community. I won’t go into my opinion on all of that other than to say I can certainly understand the argument. It got me thinking about the representation of disabled people in movies and television though. More specifically, the lack of that representation.
I grew up never seeing a single person on any of the shows or movies I watched who looked like me or shared my specific struggles. If you’ve ever heard of Degrassi: The Next Generation, it’s a Canadian teen show (that I have been admittedly been binge watching again on Amazon). Many people know it as the show that made Drake (aka Aubrey Graham) famous way before he ever hit a stage. Along with a girl in a wheelchair that was in a few episodes and Drake’s character Jimmy Brooks who gets shot and ends up in a wheelchair, the show was the only one I saw that ever represented someone with a disability, and it was on when I was like 20. Later, Glee would come along and Artie was in a wheelchair. It’s sad that there have been this few of roles representing myself and other people like me.
You’ll notice that two of the examples I cited above are men too. There have been almost no examples of disabled women on screen and I’ve certainly never seen anyone with muscular dystrophy represented. I’ve never seen a girl with a limp like me on an MTV Original Series. I’ve just seen an endless parade of “perfect” looking girls with perfect bodies, perfect hair, perfect skin and perfect personalities. No wonder those of us who are differently-abled grow up feeling alone and abnormal. There’s no representation in any of our entertainment mediums to reinforce that we are normal. We have to spend years trying to mentally build ourselves up while trying to break down all the barriers and walls that those entertainment mediums have helped create (on top of the already existing societal pressures of looking “attractive” or being valuable).
Imagine if an Oscar nominated or Oscar-winning movie starred someone with a physical disability? What if Best Actress went to someone with muscular dystrophy? I challenge you script writers, TV writers, writers of all kind…it’s time to represent all of society, not just parts of it. We’ve certainly come a long way but when I think of that shy, skinny little girl, sitting on her window seat in her bedroom, wishing she could be like all of the other girls or knowing someone was out there that was just like her and the countless other girls doing the same thing, I can’t help but think of how much their lives could be changed…could be bettered…if they had more positive role models just like them to look up to.