I often hear people who are outside of the white, straight, uncrippled male demographic complain about how, when they were kids, they rarely saw characters that looked like them in movies and on TV shows.
That sure was the case when I was a kid. Watch reruns of those nostalgia TV shows like Andy Griffith and the like, and you’ll see what I mean. They are so blazing white that binge-watching may well burn your retinas. And there sure as hell weren’t any cripples in Mayberry — not even begging on street corners.
I hear these same people say they really wish they had seen a lot more characters that looked like them in movies and on TV shows. They say this would have made them feel better about themselves. But not me. The only characters who looked like me in movies were Tiny Tim and bitter old Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life, and the only cripples on TV were telethon poster children. I wanted to see a whole lot less of them. That would have made me feel better about myself.
Apparently, things aren’t much better all these years later, at least not in the movies. The Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California has a project called the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. Every year they watch the 100 most popular movies of the previous year and make note of the number of characters in these movies that are outside the white, straight, uncrippled male demographic. The report recently issued about last year’s most popular movies says that only 2.5 percent of the 4,454 characters with speaking roles reviewed were crippled. That’s down from 2.7 percent in 2016. Forty-one films in 2017 did not feature a single speaking character who was crippled, and 78 movies did not include any female crippled characters. Only 14 movies featured a crippled character that was a lead or co-lead at any point in the film. And most of the crippled characters that did appear in these movies were otherwise straight, white and male.
Even when I do see crippled characters in movies and on TV shows, they still don’t look anything like me. I imagine it’s because these crippled characters aren’t likely to be played by real cripples. Suppose, for some bizarre reason, some big-time Hollywood director wants to make a movie about me. Who’s going to play the leading role? You know damn well it isn’t going to be a cripple who looks anything like me. It’s probably not going to be a cripple at all. It’s probably going to be somebody like Tom Cruise.
Now to try to prevent something like that from happening, I could insist that the actor who plays me has to look as authentically crippled as I do. The big-time director would say, “No problem,” and then do like they did in the movie Forrest Gump. The character Lieutenant Dan became a double leg amputee — so they cast Gary Sinise in that role and chopped his legs off using special effects.
The big-time director would probably special effects the hell out of Tom Cruise until he looked as authentically crippled as I do. That amount of special effects is the equivalent of a million dollars of plastic surgery. Or maybe they’d film Tom Cruise through a circus mirror lens that’d make him look like he has a quad belly. Tom Cruise might not win the Oscar for best actor, but the movie will surely win a special effects Oscar for pulling off the amazing feat of making Tom Cruise look like me.
If they’d done this last year, that would have brought the number of movies featuring white, straight crippled male characters playing the lead or co-lead up to 15, a whopping .34 percent of the 4,454 characters with speaking parts. And Tom would have won that Oscar.