Performing Arts associate professor Magda Romanska writes a piece for The Conversation about how disabled American actors are historically underrepresented on screen, though there has been a “slight shift” in TV and movies in the past few years.
Romanska also describes the outdated character tropes – the “magical cripple,” the “evil cripple,” the “inspirational cripple” and the “redemptive cripple” that remain unchanged.
There’s a reason these formulaic roles are so prevalent. For much of the past century, Hollywood storytelling has operated according to the hero’s journey, a dramatic structure that places the white male able-bodied character at the center of the story with atypical characters serving as “helpers” to support his goals. This narrative model has conditioned audiences to see the helpers as purely functional. The tropes based on this framework define the categories of belonging: who is and who isn’t human, whose life is worth living and whose isn’t.bThe one narrative journey that historically allowed the disabled to play a central role depicted them as working toward the symbolic reclamation of their dignity and humanity. In tragic narratives, this quest fails, and the characters either die or request euthanasia as a gesture of love toward their caretakers.