Monday, February 23, 2015

Inspiration Porn - Part I of II: Theory of Everything Edition

Hey, so someone playing disabled won an Oscar last night. Later today I am going to write about the worst example of able-splaining I've seen in a long time, in which a non-disabled person tells everyone why inspiration porn is great. But first, here's a disability-related critique of Theory of Everything. Short version - it's about making albed people feel better.
The Theory of Everything is the embodiment of this idea. It is so keen to pander to able-bodied audience members’ disgust at disability, and to soothe the guilt they feel because of it, that it actually pauses to allow that “collective ‘Phew’ ” to occur during the film. James Marsh’s movie exists for two purposes: to make able-bodied people feel good about themselves and to win Oscars.
It's not just the representation of disability here, but also the common phenomenon of  "cripping up."

Like many other disabled people, I have often argued that disabled characters should, wherever possible, be played by disabled actors. When disabled characters are played by able-bodied actors, disabled actors are robbed of the chance to work in their field, and the disabled community is robbed of the right to self-representation onscreen. Imagine what it would feel like to be a woman and for the only women you ever saw in films to be played by men. Imagine what it would feel like to be a member of an ethnic minority and for the only portrayals of your race you ever saw in films to be given by white people. That’s what it’s like being a disabled person at the movies.
Harris, one of my favorite film critics on such issues, notes that it's certainly possible that some disabled people must be played by abled people when the script calls for movement between states. And yet:
 Even if we accept that Redmayne should get a pass to play Hawking, we are still left with a film that excludes disabled people while pretending to speak for them. The Theory of Everything is based on a book by an able-bodied person, adapted by an able-bodied screenwriter, and directed by an able-bodied director, and it stars able-bodied actors.
This is the real problem. There's no authenticity to the disabled experience within this (Harris goes on to contrast with Selma), but it has claims to authenticity.

It therefore is a film by abled people about disability in order to make abled people feel good about themselves.

More later.


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