Actors were told they were “too disabled” to play disabled roles in popular TV series, with roles more for able-bodied people, according to leading screenwriter who called on TV companies to adopt quotas for people with disabilities.
Jack Thorne said funding for shows featuring characters with disabilities is hard to come by, that writers with disabilities are routinely unable to attend script meetings because production offices are inaccessible, and recalled when a friend who uses a wheelchair was forced to crawl on muddy ground to reach it. office while working on a movie set.
As a result, he said, disability is increasingly the “forgotten diversity” in the television industry, and the portrayal of people with disabilities remains abysmal, on camera and among staff behind the scenes.
Even when roles are available, they tend to be “disabled people fitting into non-disabled narratives” with television producers often offering symbolic roles to actors with disabilities. Even Liz Carr, a famous disabled actress who played a longtime role in the BBC’s Silent Witness, “had to fight to be heard and to have her character taken seriously.”
Thorne made the comments during the prestigious MacTaggart Lecture at the annual Edinburgh TV Festival, a speech that often helps shape discussions within the UK TV industry. He is now calling on TV channels and streaming companies to commit to increasing the number of people with disabilities working on productions. He also wants them to set aside extra money in their production budgets to create a dedicated fund to make every production office and TV fully accessible and create rules for building additional spaces.
The screenwriter, who spent the start of his career battling chronic pain, said he no longer saw himself as disabled but felt he was still part of the wider disability community. He’s built a successful career with credits ranging from This Is England, the TV adaptation of His Dark Materials, and the screenplay for the West End hit Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Thorne said there has been a revolution in the way the industry has approached breed in recent years, but other aspects of diversity have been left behind.
“I know the Black Lives Matter movement has a long way to go and that no one is happy with our current situation, but I can’t tell you the difference it has made to start conversations,” he said. he declares. “However, the conversation about the representation of disability is nowhere near as advanced; I’ve had conversations about talent with disabilities for years where some of the most appalling things have been said. “
He said a big problem was using able-bodied people to play characters with disabilities, sometimes with the belief that actors with disabilities would not have the capacity to play a role: “Since 1988, about a third of all Oscar-winning lead cast went to actors who played characters with disabilities, but none of them had the disabilities they were playing.
He suggested that this led to simplistic representations of people with disabilities: “People with disabilities and stories of people with disabilities tend to be relegated to two camps – the heroes or the victims, preferably both. Inspirational screams scaling a mountain on their hands as we all clap. Sometimes they’re funny, a sharp best friend; most of the time, they’re just sad.