Disability Representation Increasing in Hollywood
The battle for disability inclusion and representation in film and media is not novel and has been going on for decades. The increased pressure on the film industry to cast disabled actors in roles for disabled characters comes after data was released stating that one in five Americans live with a disability.
These statistics point out a large section of the country’s population that requires representation in film and media of the era. Representation is important, as it makes people who feel marginalized feel as though they are not alone by seeing people on screens that live with the same ailments as them.
More Disabled Stars On TV
Recent reports coming out of Hollywood present mixed signs of progress. There are currently more regularly appearing disabled characters on Prime Time television in the US than ever before. But the number of actual disabled actors is still very low and has dropped from 3.1% to 2.8% in the last year. This calls for increased representation where possible.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as there are a number of disabled stars who are thriving in the film and media industry in 2022. These actors and actresses provide a beacon of hope for the future of disability representation.
Peter Dinklage, 53, Achondroplasia
Perhaps the most famous differently-abled actor in Hollywood, Peter Dinklage certainly hasn’t let dwarfism stand in his way of an incredible career. He’s always refused to be stereotyped and has proven that he’s an exceptional actor on his own terms. He’s won Emmys, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a Golden Globe. Dinklage has been an advocate for positive disability representation in TV and movies and he recently spoke out about how the new Snow White and the Seven Dwarves movie was a huge step back as it once again perpetuated stereotypes.
Marlee Matlin, 57, Deaf
Another Hollywood star who has cemented her reputation despite being unable to hear and having affected speech, Marlee Matlin has been deaf since birth. She’s struggled for years to find acceptance on screen, and is a major activist for disability representation. She’s not only made incredible inroads in Hollywood, but she also spearheads community projects for the hearing impaired. Matlin’s recent second Oscar win for CODA, a film that she both starred in and produced, is fantastic proof that her constant drive to improve awareness and inclusivity is working.
RJ Mitte, 29, Cerebral Palsy
RJ Mitte is one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood today due to his outstanding performance in the hit TV series Breaking Bad. Mitte suffers from cerebral palsy in real life, and his character in the show did too. He’s been vocal in destigmatizing his condition and hopes that other sufferers will feel more confident in pursuing their dreams after seeing how successful he’s been. There’s still no option for cerebral palsy womb detection, and Mitte was diagnosed at the age of three.
Ryan O’Connell, 35, Cerebral Palsy
RJ Mitte may have broken the mold by playing a character that suffers from the same disability he does, but Ryan O’Connell took it one step further. Ryan’s 2015 memoir, I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves has been adapted for a Netflix TV series in which Ryan stars as himself. His book and TV show chart the exploration of his internalized ableism and his insecurities in the gay community. They aptly highlight how he has navigated the many challenges that ‘real-life has thrown his way, and how he’s coped in an ableist society.
George Robinson, 24, Spinal Cord Injury
George Robinson is best known for portraying Isaac Goodwin in the popular Netflix series ‘Sex Education.’ Robinson suffered a spinal cord injury at the age of 17 when on a rugby tour in South Africa. Since the injury, Robinson has been in a wheelchair, but that did not stop him from achieving his dream of being an actor. He is now recognized as one of the most prominent young disabled actors in Hollywood and has also been vocal about destigmatizing disability.
Millie Bobby Brown, 18, Hearing Loss
The inclusion on this list may surprise people, but it highlights how a disability isn’t necessarily always a visible trait. Millie Bobbie Brown was born with hearing loss in one ear, and after several years of procedures and tubes, she became fully deaf on one side. She says that her disability has hindered and helped her career, but she has learned to adapt. However, she does often miss cues when shooting and this has led to her being incredibly open about her condition.
Other actors with disabilities in Hollywood include Daryl Mitchell, Lauren Ridloff, Kiera Allen, and Millicent Simmons. In the future, hopefully, more names will be added to this list.