Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Don't Do Blackface in a Wheelchair!

Hawkes discusses possible backlash
The man behind The Sessions had polio in his younger days, and he chose John Hawkes for the part of the polio-paralyzed poet who wanted to experience sexual intercourse. Rightfully so, I would guess, having not seen The Sessions but having seen Hawkes' work in Winter's Bone.

Apparently there was some trepidation about using a person without a disability to play a person with a disability.
Hawkes understands that not everyone will receive his casting well, but was honored nonetheless to be a part of The Sessions
“I’m honored to play the role. I’m hopeful that it can somehow open up people’s minds and open up discussion,” he explained. “A lot of these actors have also told me that there are those who are going to be militant, who are going to raise a fuss; that’s certainly their right. I did my best, and I hope I touch people, not only the disabled community but other people as well. It’s all human beings, after all, and that’s the point of the film.”

I've followed the discussion about The Sessions among crip-acitivists, and I've seen nothing to indicate anyone is concerned that the producer chose to stick Hawkes in an iron lung to emote. I'm not, although I am one of the few crips I know to think O'Brien (the man whom Hawkes plays) may have got the short end of the stick regarding the whole surrogacy thing.

Granted, there are instances wherein a character needs to be physically the similar. No white person is going to play the lead in a bio-pic of Colin Powell. But let's not get into color. If you keep abreast of that sort of thing you already know there's a tempest in the make-up room over the choice of an actress to play Nina Simone.

(Is actress another word that's no longer acceptable?)

But let's get back to disability. The choice that said "Nope, it couldn't have been done any other way" was the choice of Harold Russell to play the part of a man who suffered a traumatic amputation during WW II. And Russell had. And Russell was not a professional actor.

I know there are professional actors working who are crips, or have other disabilities. I won't list them. The one I will point out was one of the title characters in a favorite film, Children of a Lesser God. No better actress could have been found for the part of Sarah Norman than Marlee Matlin. Someone I know deeply and thoroughly has a hearing impairment, and I am thoroughly familiar with some of the emotional baggage that can (I am not saying always does) come with that disability. Matlin gave a near-perfect performance, and I don't think a hearing person in a hearing world could have mined those perceptions out of the script.

I will watch The Sessions. I will judge Hawkes' performance from the perspective of someone who has rolled more than a mile on his (meaning, O'Brien's) wheels. But I won't say the performance is less than, or more than, it would be had it been performed by a person without a disability.

Acting is an art. Hawkes is an artist. 

Being a crip doesn't make you an artist. It simply makes you more like everyone else.




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