Archive for the ‘'Dis'ability in the media’ Category

Avatar: Wheelchair Bound Worthington

June 14, 2010

I watched Avatar the other night. What a fantastic film!

I’d heard a lot about the film, especially regarding the casting of Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, who uses a wheelchair due to a spine injury he acquired whilst serving for the military. Worthington however is not a wheelchair user.

The character of Sully is strong, opinionated and clumsy at times. The film highlights the fact that Sully is not a disabled character; he is a character who has a disability. I love the fact that James Cameron has created a lead, in this epic film, who challenges peoples views on people with disabilities. From the moment we see Jake, grieving the loss of his brother and going on a trip which many would say is out of reach for him, the audience loves him. His quiet nature and good looks win over the other character in the film as well.

Camerons reasons for not casting a disabled actor in this part was that he did not feel that disabled actors were up to standard. Another reason, this one being a bit more understandable, is that when Jake is in his Avatar body, he is able to walk. Cameron used CGI to create Pandora (the planet on which the film is set) and the Avatars. He would not have been able to film these CGI sections with an actor playing Sully who is unable to walk. This, I feel, justifies his casting.

I understand peoples feelings towards the casting of yet another able bodied actor as a disabled character however I think Worthington did a fantastic job and Cameron made the correct decision. Neither of them overplayed the disability and Worthington seemed natural and at ease in his chair. This is not to say that they glamorised his disability, in fact Worthingtons legs did not look like the legs of an able bodied man, they were thin and pale, the way my legs look; although mine aren’t as hairy as Worthingtons .

I am, however, against people saying that action figurines created, of Worthingtons character, with his wheelchair included should not be called an action hero as the wheelchair makes the character look weak. This is a load of crap. Jake Sully is a good role model, wheelchair included. If that offends people so much then I suggest that they buy an alternate action figure.

Hopefully the incorporation of disabled characters in lead roles will lead to casting of disabled actors in the future. I hope that this character and amazing film changes at least a few peoples views on disability.

Ali x

P.S. I love Sam Worthington, he’s Australian, enough said.

Advertisements

It’s Safe To Dance, Right?

May 31, 2010

Last week’s episode of Glee featured a dream sequence in which Artie (aka ‘Glee kid in the wheelchair’) gets out of his wheelchair and does a dance routine which most everyday pedestrians could only dream of doing. The director of the episode (who also directed ‘Dr Horribles Sing along blog’ which is fantastic – youtube it!) said that he thought Kevin McHale, who plays Artie, is one of the best dancers in the Glee cast and if that dance routine is anything to go by, he’s right!

A lot of people have disagreed with this dance sequence and I must admit that when I first started watching it I immediately thought “WTF?” However at the end of the number Artie is dropped back into his chair and the camera zooms out to show him alone again in the shopping centre, no trace of the dozens of dancers who surrounded him just seconds before. Quite touching, I thought!

I know that maybe a disabled actor should have been cast in the role and I know that some people who use wheelchairs might be offended but honestly, I see why they did it.

It showed exactly how I feel in the space of five minutes. When I dream, I dream that I walk, I make references to my invisible wheelchair, but it’s not there. Just like Artie, if I could go back and repeat my life out of my chair, I would be dancing on the ceiling. Sometimes it gets me down; sometimes I look for cures, like Artie, but most of the time I just carry on dancing.

The episode finished with a touching rendition of ‘Dream a Little Dream of me’ which was sung by Artie. It summed up the episode perfectly and displayed what the writers were really trying to get across; Artie has dreams, some dreams are there to grab and others are too far out of reach, but that doesn’t make them any less of a dream.

Kevin McHale is a brilliant actor, a fantastic singer and arguably the best dancer in Glee…even in his chair! In a recent episode of Glee, “Bad Reputation”, in which Artie and a few other Glee kids performed ‘Can’t Touch This’ in the school library, my Mum commented on how he used his whole body to move, even in his chair. Amen! As a performer who uses a wheelchair I can only ask the Glee writers to get McHale dancing more in his wheelchair in the show and stick two fingers up at the kids in my dance class two years ago who said “Why are you here? You can’t dance, you’re in a wheelchair!”

Ali x

Casting: Ready For The Outcasts?

April 4, 2010

I was asked to answer a few questions about inclusivity in mainstream musical theatre for a friend of a friends dissertation. The questions I was asked made me sit up and think  so I decided to write a blog about the topic in hand!

I understand that musical theatre is starting to become more inclusive (at least the critics say it is!) however there is a definite lack of it at the moment! I can’t think of a single mainstream show I have been to see where an actor on stage has a physical disability. I know that dyslexia can come under this category and that this is more accepted in theatre but I think it’s wrong that the musical theatre industry feel that they can claim that they are inclusive when in fact they are putting hidden disabilities on stage, not visible ones. I know that some characters are simply wrong for actors with certain disabilities, for instance I don’t think I will ever be cast as Baby in ‘Dirty Dancing’! Maybe if some West End theatres were more wheelchair friendly backstage then the casting would follow. It is very sad that the big wigs behind the industry feel that audiences are too fickle to accept a wheelchair bound performer.

Theatre companies such as GRAEAE are fantastic as they incorporate people with AND without disabilities into their productions and do not make a big showcase out of disabled performers. It is wrong for a theatre company to make a big fuss about having a performer with a disability in a cast; what mainstream musical theatre needs is an actor with a disability to take on a role which is not actually written to have a disability, to me that is real inclusivity.

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last few months you will have heard of Glee and their character Artie, who is a wheelchair user, but that’s not the issue, the issue is that the actor, Kevin McHale, who plays Artie, is not a wheelchair user. I think that what Glee are trying to do with the character of Artie is very positive. The whole show is so tongue in cheek when handling minorities that they can get away with making a big deal out of Artie being in a wheelchair BUT and that’s a big but, the fact that the director has blatantly turned around and said that  actors in wheelchairs are not good enough at the moment is just plain ridiculous. I’m pretty sure that they could get an actor to play that part who is actually a wheelchair user. Kevin McHale is really good in the role and I like the fact that he plays him as Artie, not ‘Artie, the boy in the chair’ and it’s not his fault that he was cast in that role but it annoys me that they had to get a double in for some of the close ups on his wheelchair moves…I’m guessing the wheelchair double wasn’t disabled either! Also: why is it that every time there is a storyline involving him it has to be linked back to him being in a wheelchair, even his love interest story line was based around his wheels! Another point: has anyone noticed that many of the songs which he performs in, all concentrate on his wheelchair “Dancing with myself”, “Proud Mary” and “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” are all prime examples. It seems that when the director or choreographer don’t know what to do with him, they stick him on guitar! I reckon if they had an actor in a wheelchair playing that role they could play about with the physicality of the character more. The one episode which did really click; and I think other actors in wheelchairs will agree with me on this, was the one in which the group had to fundraise to take Artie on a ‘special’ bus. The writers managed to hit the nail on the head and tackle problems with empathy and humour. Many people ask me if I watch Glee because of Artie, the truth is no, I watch it because I think it’s a positive show, yes it would be nice is the actor playing Artie was actually in a wheelchair but fingers crossed the character will open up the minds of young people and maybe next time when there is a part like Artie up for grabs an amazing guy will come along in his wheelchair and the casting directors will actually take notice.

I feel strongly that any characters with disabilities (and there is such a shortage of them!) should be played by people with disabilities. The bottom line is, the general public and theatre big wigs would not let me get up and play an able bodied role, so why should able bodied people be able to play characters with disabilities? Sometimes there will not be any actors with disabilities right for the part, like in ‘Inside I’m Dancing’ I think James McAvoy was perfect for the role of Rory O’Shea however we are now in 2010, we’re meant to be changing. The Paralympics are being supported right now so why shouldn’t the arts get the same attention? ‘Don’t Play Me, Pay Me’ is doing a brilliant job at broadcasting this message across Britain at the moment and other programmes like ‘Britains Missing Top Model’ have been similar ambassadors but the concentration needs to be on getting more people with disabilities involved in the arts, professional arts.

At first when I heard that the reason for the director of Avatar not casting a wheelchair user in the lead role was that due to the character having to walk in the CGI sections it was essential that the actor could walk. In another interview he admitted that disabled actors weren’t up to the standard for Hollywood films. It makes you wander that if CGI can turn actors into blue aliens then I’m pretty sure that they could pull a few tricks to enable the use of a disabled actor. It seems to be that blockbusters are not ready to put a wheelchair user into a serious role just yet, obviously they feel there has to be some humour behind it, goodness knows why! It would be brilliant to see a wheelchair user in that kind of role, it’s an opportunity missed and I can only hope that soon there will be another opportunity for an actor in a wheelchair…although I’m pretty convinced that producers will still find reasons not to cast them.

One of the only mainstream musicals I can think of which has a disabled character written into the storyline is ‘A Little Night Music’ yet even in the recent west end revival the part was played by an able bodied actor. It is also interesting that this character is an older character; I don’t think writers understand how to write a young character with a disability because it gives them boundaries. Another part is Nessa from ‘Wicked’ however this has never been played by an actor actually in a wheelchair. It is debatable whether Nessa is actually disabled as she ‘walks’ a little in Act two however I’m sure there must be some actresses with disabilities able to play the role. One part which is definitely for a young disabled actor is a character in Jason Robert Browns ‘13’, however I am under the impression that the actor who played this part in the original Broadway production was able bodied, it is shocking at how few characters there are in mainstream musical theatre with disabilities.

I would love it if there were more plays and musicals written with disabled performers in mind. It would be even more impressive if in revivals of plays and musicals, characters previously seen to be played by able bodied actors  are instead played by disabled performers. It would certainly make it less daunting to go into the industry as a performer with a disability. At the moment I see little possibility of me ‘making it’ in the West End or Broadway because the audiences are not used to seeing disabilities flaunted on stage. Ali Stroker will hopefully change audience’s views in America and I hope that England will follow their lead. Playwrights should be encouraged to write disabled characters into plays and make it accessible for disabled performers to take on these roles however I have little hope of this happening over night. Hopefully once there are more roles written for disabled performers; directors, agents and training establishments will be more appealing for young disabled actors.

Ali x

For more informtation:

www.graeae.org 

www.don’tplaymepayme.com

Girl + Boy + Wheelchair = Hmm.

January 26, 2010

I just read a Yahoo question; a boy was telling yahoo that a while ago he met a beautiful girl and became friends with her, however now he has started ‘liking her a lot more then friends’. The thing is, she’s in a wheelchair and he’s not sure if he could cope with it- her disability that is. Most of the answers tell him that if he’s even thinking about that then he is not the man for her, others tell him to gain some confidence and tell her how he feels, that way he could ask the questions he needs to.

I don’t know what I think.

If I was the ‘girl’ in this situation and I found out my ‘friend’ had posted this on yahoo, I would probably be rather upset. Here’s this guy that I might have feelings for and he’s worried about my wheelchair. However on the other hand I think: “Sure, that’s a fair enough question; I might be that way if I was in his shoes”. I just can’t get my head round it. For years I’ve wondered if boys think that way about me, it’d explain a lot, trust me. In fact only one person, yes a boy, has ever asked me out right: “Can you have children?” I didn’t know what to say at the time! I asked my Mum because obviously she has all the answers but it just made me worry about my future and I’m only 17!!

If other people are thinking that way about my future now, what am I going to be like when I actually have to deal with it?

I went to a new clinic the other day, it specialises in people with Spina bifida (wheey!) and whilst I was there I actually felt like I could be cared for in the right way, they can give me the independence I need but also give me the answers for the questions I have, or other people have that I don’t even think of!

I’m going to answer him as if a boy friend of mine had asked me the same question:

People with disabilities can win gold medals, get on the catwalk and climb mountains. Now why would we not be able to be in a relationship? P.W.D.’s get married all the time, sometimes to other P.W.D.’s but often to people without them. If you want to love me, you love all of me, that’s wheels included.

Ali

X

P.W.D.’s = People With ‘Dis’abilities (We should have t-shirts, I know!)

‘IMPERFECT’ Campaign + listed buildings…

August 8, 2009

bloga+fI’ve recently come across the new ‘IMPERFECT’ campaign which has been set up off the back of Riam Deans case against Abercrombie and Fitch. I don’t fully understand the case but as far as I am aware the store in London discriminated Riam by making her work in the stockroom because she didn’t fit in with their “look policy”. Riam wears a prosthetic arm due to being born with her left limb missing, this apparently goes against the look Abercrombie and Fitch want to create for their customers. Riam is in the process of suing Abercrombie and Fitch on grounds of discrimination in the workplace. More information on the case can be found at http://www.imperfect.uk.com, they will be able to explain it far better than myself!

What I find so refreshing about this campaign is that its aim is to not only banish discrimination against ‘dis’ability in the work place but in society as a whole. Another element which draws this campaign apart from similar ‘say-no-to-discrimination’ campaigns is that it is run by Riam Dean and Sophie Morgan (some of you might know Sophie through her artwork/photography or from her appearance on ‘Britain’s Missing Top Model’), both of who are young women living with ‘dis’abilities making an impact on the younger generation…and from the reaction they are getting from their IMPERFECT campaign they are certainly reaching the right people. How bloody brilliant!

Back to Abercrombie and Fitch. After reading Riams story I feel slightly ashamed to say that I have indeed purchased many items from the store…I’m ready to be called a hypocrite BUT (and this is a very big but) I brought them in the US, long before Riams encounter with the store. Back in New York I felt the store was well laid out, accessible, inviting, the staff were helpful and the products were good. So when I got back to England and trekked up to their London store you can imagine how frustrating it was to be turned away from the front door due to steps and taken round to a side entrance “You get the VIP treatment!” the lady sheepishly smiled. Funny that, felt more like I was being smuggled in under a blanket…Once in the store I took a wander about, battling with the occasional narrow door and every so often a small step, “Where are the ladies hoodies?” I asked the same woman who had let me in the ‘V.I.P.’ entrance (who by the way seemed to follow me round like a bad smell) “They are up stairs” she replied. “Oh, so where’s your lift?” her smile faded. “Well unfortunately due to the old, listed building and the layout of the store, we don’t have one…but I can bring some products down for you?” I contemplated the idea of making the poor woman run around the store for me, making her grab items I never really considered buying, but alas I felt rather mean (not to mention I didn’t want the fuss) and so I waited for the rest of my party at the bottom of the stairs as they searched through the clothes above me, every so often bringing a hoodie down to show me, needless to say I didn’t buy anything, neither did anyone else I was with, seemed a bit, wrong.

I am not saying that Abercrombie and Fitch is the only store that doesn’t have lifts or doesn’t cater for disabled customers, in fact half the local shops in my area are completely inconvenient, it seems as though the government are hung up on keeping buildings the way they were, listing them, banning lifts/ramps to keep things looking the way they have always done. Surely now though, it is time to change, time to let us wheelchair users have access the coats and bags on the second floor.

Ali x

For more information on Riams case or to support a brilliant campaign go to:
http://www.imperfect.uk.com

If you are affected/offended by the content of my blog, please contact me.