entertainment

The Academy Awards love it - but this is why it needs to stop.

This will probably win you an Oscar – but should it?

There are a few sure fire ways to get an Oscar:

If you’re a straight man, you should play a gay man. Preferably one who kisses (or or has sex with) other straight men playing gay men.

If you’re a hot woman, you should become an ugly woman. Bonus points for playing a sex worker (ugly of course).

And if you’re an able bodied actor, your best way to snag a statuette is to portray a person with a mental illness or a physical disability.

Dustin Hoffman who won an Oscar in 1989 for his portrayal of an autistic man in Rain Man.

Sixteen per cent of all Academy Awards won by actors and actresses have been for their portrayal of a person with a mental illness or physical disability. Add addiction to that and the number goes up over 25 per cent. Add portrayal of a real person with a disability? Everyone other nominated person should Just. Stay. Home.

Want more? Try: The Oscars are on tomorrow. Here’s who’s nominated.

Without resorting to Google, there’s a good chance you can name an Academy Award winning or nominated movie where the lead has a disability. Rain Man. A Beautiful Mind. My Left Foot. Forest Gump. Ray. The King’s Speech. Scent of a Woman. Born on the 4th of July. The Piano. Million Dollar Baby.

Of course, Eddie Redmayne took out this year’s Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. And Julianne Moore won over the Academy with her portrayal a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in Still Alice.

Eddie Redmayne has taken out 2015 Best Actor Academy Awards for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking.

It seems that viewers and Academy voters love a ‘disability’ story. People love to see a story of struggle, of pain and of triumph against adversity, of brilliance concealed and then uncovered or of great potential brought low by a great loss.

Most of all, it seems, people love the transformation – from good looking able-bodied actor, to crippled, tormented, misunderstood person with a disability.

The actors portraying people with a disability are congratulated as being *authentic* in their portrayal. They’ve been so *brave* in transforming themselves.

And yet, you know who would be authentic in those roles?

You know who would be remarkable at transforming themselves into disabled people?

Of really getting into the mind of someone in that situation and understanding their motivations?

Yep, people with a disability.

If realistically portraying a disabled person is So Hot Right Now, where are all the disabled actors?

Marlee Matlin winning an Academy Award for Children of A Lesser God.

Only three times in the history of the Academy Awards has a person with a physical disability won a gong. Marlee Matlin (who has a hearing impairment) won a best actress gong for Children of a Lesser God in 1987.

Harold Russell, whose hands were amputated after an accident in 1944, won a best supporting actor Oscar trophy in 1947 as a World War II vet in The Best Years of Our Lives.

And artist Dan Keplinger, won Best Short Subject Documentary in 1999 for King Gimp, which he wrote and starred in. Even though Keplinger, who has cerebral palsy, was at the ceremony, he was unable to go on stage and accept the award because there was no ramp to the stage for his wheelchair. His award was accepted by two able-bodied directors.

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That. That says it all. That right there.

Like this? Try: There is nothing celebratory about the lack of diversity in the Oscars nominations.

It seems that ‘disability’ films are often celebrated at the Academy Awards, but it’s not people with disabilities who are winning these awards.

In fact, people with disabilities themselves are few and far between (or just left sitting at the bottom of the stage).

Artist and writer, Dan Kiplinger. Who won an Academy Award for his documentary King Gimp, but couldn’t access the stage.

Disability advocate, Stella Young, called bullshit on this trend. She believed that “spacking up” should be as acceptable as “blacking up”.

She’s not wrong. It’s not acceptable for a white actor to portray a black actor, especially when there are so many remarkable black actors. ‘Blackface’ is insulting, racist and wrong. So why is it acceptable for an able-bodied person to play a person with a disability? Why is it not equally offensive?

Pay Me Don’t Play Me is a campaign to recognise that there are actors living with disability who
are able to fill those roles – or any roles that don’t actually require a person to be able-bodied. There is, it seems, no reason not to have those roles played authentically by people who can embody the character with their lived experience.

“Spacking up”, as Stella so eloquently put it, is unnecessary.

But the problem isn’t just that casting able-bodied actors keeps disabled actors out of a job.

Daniel Day Lewis who won an Oscar in 1990 for My Left Foot.

So many of these movies steal the story of disabled people for award-show glory.

Their Oscar-winning roles co-opt the experiences of disabled people and turn them into a multi-million dollar enterprises – all without anyone actually having to see, touch, talk to, pay or benefit a person with a disability.

Yes, movies are make believe. No, actors don’t have to have flown a space mission to portray an astronaut. Yes, it is good for empathy and understanding that people are watching movies that tell the story of people with a disability.

Like this? Read: Inside the ridiculous, over-the-top, horrifying Oscars gift bags.

But the truth is that disability isn’t a costume. It isn’t something that can be washed off at the end of the day so that you can walk down the street without discrimination. Portraying a disabled person doesn’t automatically make you an acting genius – it simply emphasises the fact that you are able-bodied, because when the camera stops rolling, that’s what you are. It’s a bus that you can get off any time you want to ring the bell.

If there are people with disabilities available to play these roles, if viewers and voters are truly interested in truly authentic portrayals, then let’s see disabled people on the screen.

If you think that watching an able-bodied actor portraying a disabled person on the screen is good for our community’s understanding of disability, imagine what actually watching a disabled person on that screen could do?

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