I became an actor to explore what it means to be human, not to tick a box or perpetuate falsehoods and other people’s prejudice. It’s about truth and what being human really truly means.
Frequently Asked Question
You can either just write a character, disabled or not, then cast a disabled actor. Hey presto instant Disabled character. Or write a character and specify their disability. Your script may or may not even make reference to the actor’s impairment.
Just don’t get locked down by what you ‘think it means to be disabled’. Disability has no inherent meaning, our bodies aren’t metaphor and beware of the single story*.
Check out these TED talks
* Danger of a single story although Chimamanda doesn’t apply it to disability the concept is very relevant to dangers of tackling ‘Disabled’ stories without authentic voices.
Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. *You can apply this to Disability too*
Never try to guess someone’s impairment, height or weight. You can’t possibly know and you won’t get it right. Also, it’s rude and reductive.
Don’t reduce an actor to their impairment. I got so over reading reviews which say, ‘dwarf actor’, ‘wheelchair actor’, ‘blind actor’…etc. We are actors, use our names. Our bodies bring something unique as does every actor’s body but don’t get lost in ‘what you think it means’.
Also, for the sake of fairness, please start with this assumption; ‘They can act and deserve to be on the stage’. Then you can decide to appreciate their acting or not, based on their performance.
If you don’t adopt this idea from the start, it will mean you can’t enjoy any humour or nuances within the performance, as you’ll be too caught up in ‘can I laugh at this?’ or ‘isn’t it nice they let them on’ or 'bless they are trying'... etc
Disabled actors lose too much time proving they are ‘equal’ to non-disabled performers. This is not OK, because a Disabled actor should be seen as equal from the start, then it is their performance which influences your judgements, untainted by your own fears and expectations.
The Station Agent was my personal favourite played by Peter Dinklage and of course his role, Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones.
Meredith Eaton as Bethany Horowitz in Boston Legal and Lisa Hammond as Donna Yates in East Enders.
- Most obvious is the Heidi and Pollyanna trope, where a moral lesson leads to a miraculous cure.
- And don’t kill your Disabled protagonist and make it look like a great happy ending to a life that wasn’t worth living… think more about the problems of a *single story approach.
There are too many to list, so I recommend googling them…
But generally ‘dwarf tropes’ I try to avoid are those roles which are stereotyping of little people. This includes making us one-dimensional sight gags, treating us like props or exploiting the concept ‘little people are surreal’.
People with Dwarfism generally like being called by their name. Any reference to person’s impairment of difference should made only when it's relevant - not for the sake of gossip.
If you need to speak about a person's Dwarfism, always remember to speak in a way that acknowledges the person before the disability. For example, 'Kiruna has Dwarfism' is preferable to 'Kiruna is a dwarf'.
I dislike it immensely and I recognise it as a 'hate' word. It has a history of mostly being used with the aim of demeaning, dehumanising and ridiculing people with dwarfism.
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Saying 'person with dwarfism' is just being polite and considerate of a person and their condition. It is just good manners.
It is best to promote a language of 'person' first to combat a culture of bullying and ridicule. 'Midget' turns people into objects and it's easier to be nasty to an object than to think of them as a person.
Ultimately everyone, would prefer people refer to them by their name, rather than their condition.