Over the past decade or more, Hollywood has been making an effort to be more inclusive. Whether more roles for minorities and now, roles for people with disabilities, it’s starting to feel a little more reflective of how society actually is. Here in Canada, roughly 20 per cent of us identify with some form of disability. This demographic can no longer be ignored or marginalized when it comes to portrayal on the big screen. While acting roles for movies and TV appear to be expanding for those with disabilities, some feel we still have a long way to go and that the majority of parts are just sidebar characters or bit parts. Little in the way of leading roles.
Did you know? A third of the Best Actor Oscars since 1988 went to actors playing characters with disabilities?
In addition to that concern, is many roles where the character has a disability are still played by a typically developed actor. These are conversations that will keep going to be sure, but at least production houses are starting to see not just the ability of actors who have disabilities, but there is inherent value in fostering diversity. Amazon Studios recently announced a new policy to ensure the inclusion of those with marginalized voices.
This year (2021), the documentary, Crip Camp was nominated for an Oscar, and for the first time in Academy Award’s history, a ramp was added to the stage. As well this year, a young Irish woman with Down syndrome took home a Best Actress Award at Cannes for her roles in Wanna Hang Out? These are not baby steps. They are the result of a decades-long push not just to be heard, but to be taken seriously and included. It’s also not to show that those with disabilities can do it, we always knew they could, but rather to show they can do it as well or better than anyone else.
Here are some excellent, inclusive movies and TV shows for your summertime enjoyment!
Crip Camp – Produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground Productions. The film documents the events and emotions around Camp Jened during a time when those with disabilities were not considered and often shut away. Many of the real-life players involved in the camp became leaders in the disability rights movement in the United States. Crip Camp is available on NetFlix.
Wanna Hang Out? – Wanna Hang Out? tells the story of a young woman with Down syndrome whose friends dessert her in the summer time. She turns to herself and her brother to find out who she really is. Wanna Hang Out? can be found on Amazon Prime.
Atypical – Atypical is a family drama and comedy series that follows the everyday life of autistic teenager Sam Gardner and his family. Atypical is available on NetFlix.
The Healing Powers of Dude – 11-year-old Noah has a social anxiety disorder and decides it’s time to head out into the real world after years of home-schooling. Alongside is his trusty furry companion, Dude. The show is available on NetFlix.
Speechless – The comedy Speechless ran for three seasons on Amazon Prime is still be available for purchase. The show had a huge impact on inclusion as one of the lead roles featured actor Micah Fowler who has Cerebral Palsy and is non-verbal.
Jeremy the Dud – This inventive short film flips the tables on society. The comedy is set in a world where everyone has a disability, and those that don’t are treated with the same prejudice, stigma and attitudes people with disabilities face in our own society. Jeremy the Dud is only found on YouTube and features a cast of dozens of people with developmental disabilities.
Silent Witness – Available on Amazon Prime, Silent Witness is a long-running British crime drama starring Liz Carr who plays Clarissa Mullery, a lab assistant in a wheelchair who is an integral part of the crime-solving team.
Drought – Drought follows Carl, played by Owen Scheid who is autistic, as he becomes a storm chaser in drought-ridden North Carolina. His sister helps chase the storm in an ice cream truck in an adventure of chasing dreams.