Tag Archives: My Left Foot

Why non-disabled actors play disabled characters

This is quite an interesting article exploring an idea very few might have come across: why do non-disabled actors play disabled characters? Take for instance Daniel Day-Lewis; he probably won an Oscar for his role in My Left Foot.

Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot

Why indeed. But whereas it would now be unthinkable for a white actor to black up to play Othello, it seems that most of us don’t even blink when able-bodied actors play disabled roles. In fact, there is perhaps no quicker way to glory at awards ceremonies, particularly in Hollywood movies. Jon Voight and Daniel Day-Lewis both won Oscars for cinematic portrayals of disabled characters.

Before reading this article I didn’t know that white actors cannot play black roles, for instance no white actor these days is cast in the role of Othello. The author rightly asks if black characters are always to be portrayed by black actors, then why not disabled characters be played by disabled actors?

Of course there are two reasons: prejudice and economics. Most of the actors who have played famous “disability” roles are crowd pullers whether it’s theater or movies. The prejudice might not be intentional. Very few people know that there might be disabled actors. Even if they know, the logistics of employing a disabled actor can be dissuading. This, is not an excuse.

The portrayal of disabled is still quite clichéd. In Bollywood, the recent two examples are Guzarish and Barfi. In both these movies the disabled are shown to be living in the fringes and experiencing out of the ordinary situations. They seem to be making up for having their disabilities. Disability is a vehicle for moviemakers, it is an exotic subject, it is the “unique” thing they love to brag about. Playing disabled characters is their gateway to acclaim and awards. Unless they start making movies with “normal” disabled characters they can never claim to have enough understanding. Only then they can think about hiring actual disabled actors.