Studman's Soapbox

Surfing the vacuous void of disabled in the media


Stow, Ohio, USA
December 14
Resident Smart Ass
Self employed
WELCOME TO A CRIPPLE'S WORLD From here on out, this blog will carry regular contributions by the author (me), concerning how and where the disabled are inaccurately portrayed, or more often than not, simply ignored by the media. Please feel free to read my previous posts, as this is something of a "stream of consciousness" blog, and one entry very well may, and often does depend on what has already been said. Please be aware, I am un-PC, a bit of a smart ass, and as Rodney Dangerfield said in "Back to School" "I don't take shit from nobody" :-D If the things said here offend you, then so be it. I am a strong minded, strong willed man with an opinion. However, my opinion can and does change over time, as I mature and learn more about the world. So, if you are in the mood to argue, or see something you disagree with, bring it on. Just be forewarned that what I consider "offensive" is not what the rest of the world may find offensive, and vice versa. Okay? Okay. photo is "extreme sitter" Aaron Fotheringham, who can be seen on Youtube or his website,, where he performs many of his wheelchair skate ramp tricks

OCTOBER 31, 2009 10:01AM

Helen Keller: Miracle Worker? Not so much

Rate: 3 Flag

A lot of controversy has risen around the recent selection of Abigail Breslin to play Helen Keller in a broadway revival of The Miracle Worker. Many disability advocates have protested and voiced their objection, while the producers are sticking to their guns by essentially claiming that the financial gains are more important than the artistic integrity of the show, by hiring a hearing and/or visually impaired child to play the role.

Ignore, for the moment, the arguments for disabled advocacy. That is one that is debateable, and, frankly society is not yet ready to have that debate, in a world where the disabled are faced with the attitude "We gave you the ADA, What more do you want?"

My conclusion? If the producer's opinion is the majority opinion in society today, and it seems to be, then there can only be one conclusion.

 Art is dead.

 When the integrity and soul of an artistic piece becomes secondary (or terciary) to the financial potential of the piece, it is no longer art. It is relegated down to commerce. 

 Did Louis Comfort Tiffany produce his six digit price selling stained glass as a cash cow? Did Leonardo Da Vinci paint The Mona Lisa because it was commissioned to him?

No, they did these things as expressions of their need to express themselves artistically.  Their art...all art is...or is supposed to be an expression of our souls.

Why should a producer/director, or in fact any artist be expected to be any different? L.C. Tiffany and Leonardo would be incredibly disappointed, as would any number of high profile theatrical writer/directors

When did art become commerce?

When did we all start selling our souls to the highest bidder?

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"When did we all start selling our souls to the highest bidder?"

We have kind of had this convo before... but... WTF.

Actors today are NOT "artists"... they are soulless individuals who care more for the almighty dollar than they do anything else.
Well said and very provocative. Although I have felt that an artist ought to be able to make a living from their art, you slice some fine hairs here.
Well, artists gotta eat. And offhand I'd say a non-disabled person would be better able to navigate and take direction, etc. However, the bottom line should be, IMO, not whether the actor is abled or disabled, but who does the best job in the part. Best being most convincing, most subtle... A bad actor, however PCly disabled, would just close the show down...

(Thinking this is a subject on which it might be adviseable to be silent...)
The casting of Abigail Breslin killed art? I'm sorry, saying "art is dead" is pretty over the top.

While I support more roles going to the disabled - who tried out for the part? Discrimination requires a forethought of dismissing someone based on their physical characteristics. That's not what happened here.

What actress did you have in mind for the part?
Actually, the Mona Lisa was a commissioned portrait, and L.C. Tiffany did indeed run a stained glass business. Maybe you should switch to - uh - van Gogh? Art has always been a business. It's not dead.
~Taps on the inside of myriad's screen~

People who CAN hear speak differently than those who cannot hear. LISTEN to the difference between how Marlee Matlin or Heather Whitestone speak versus the way that Diane Lane or Nicole Kidman speak... there is a LACK of tone and inflection in the speech patterns of someone who cannot hear that is NOT something that you can "fake" no matter HOW "great" of an actress you are purported to be... and THAT is the PRECISE reason WHY a hearing actress should NEVER play the part of someone who is deaf.

There isn't a hope in Hell that this child actress can "pull off" a part where she's supposed to be deaf. She doesn't have the ABILITY to speak without tone and inflection because she CAN her... and NOTHING can change that "little problem".

My guess would be that no one tried out for the part. Ms Breslin was approached for the part because of her name recognition and drawing power, rather than her ability to play the part.

As for who I have in mind for the part, no one. Because no one is qualified to play the part, because the few hearing and sight impaired actors out there have not been given the opportunity to show their qualifications, because it is assumed that people with disabilities can not perform at that high a level of competancy.

Of course there is Marlee Matlin, but at the moment, she is the exception to the rule, and it may be 50 years or more before society in general is ready to accept disabled actors playing disabled roles, even in small productions where they can build a name for themselves and experience that would lead to bigger roles
So, no one tried out for the part and you have no one in mind that could play the part and this is somehow the producers fault? You say no one has been given the chance - well they can't very well have one if they don't try out, can they? This is a small role. This would be the kind of thing to "build a name" on.

I'm interested in how you think you know the decisions that go into every single casting - movie, tv, stage. You seem to know the thought process of casting directors everywhere. You should write a book on it, it would sell like hot cakes.

Why is it at the hands of the producers and casting to hold a nationwide search for an actress who you deem worthy? Apparently it's okay to call Breslin a hack who can't do the role no matter what. Aren't you doing the same thing? Casting someone - and their talents - aside before the production has even begun?

(I don't think my tone is coming across appropriately - no disrespect intended - just discussion.)
Julie... auditions were NOT held for the part in question. It was handed to the kid in question on a silver platter NOT because of her ability or lack thereof but because of her NAME ALONE! THAT is PART of the problem with regards to the able bodied playing parts where they are disabled... 100% of the time it is done with NO auditions being held. Why? It's NOT because there aren't CAPABLE disabled actors and actresses... it's because the able bodied are IGNORANT and they proudly wear that ignorance like a badge all the while patting themselves on the back for passing the equivalent of Jim Crow Laws and saying "Move to the back of the bus".
A broadway production of a classic theatrical performance is a "small role"?

Since when?

Broadway productions, especially those well known revivals of classic broadway productions are big, huge productions that cost tens of thousands if not millions of dollars to produce, and, as so many people have already pointed out, the producers are not going to settle for an open casting call on something this important.

I concede that FACT

But that doesn't make it right to do.

And how do I know these things? Because I have worked in and with people in the theater and movie business for years, from writing, to casting, to training able bodied actors to *try* (and mostly fail miserably) to accurately portray disabled characters.

I guess the question becomes one of how do you define "talent", can you *ACT* like a disabled person, in which case the portrayal becomes a farcical hall of mirrors distorted image of that person, or can you BECOME a disabled person and not break character and perfect the nuances of living with said disability. If a supposedly blind person is looking at something off stage for their cue, an avid watcher who knows what to look for WILL know, and the performance then becomes a hollow shell, rather than an accurate portrayal. If a person is playing someone who is supposed to be, say, paralyzed from the waist down, that person should not be reacting to a bee sting on their leg. Can you stop yourself from responding to a bee sting on your leg? The best actors in the world have a hard enough time doing that
awesome point. having abled people play disabled people--what is the difference between this and white people wearing black face?
Perhaps all those that are outraged should pool their money, gain rights to a play, cast those they deem appropriate, somehow get it on Broadway, pay the actors, insurance and all the costs associated with a production of this magnitude to prove how right they are.

Was there such outrage in the 60s? Patty Duke can see and hear. As can Melissa Gilbert.

I'm not saying that there isn't a problem or a need for those with disabilities to be shown in a positive, capable light. I'm saying that there are battles to be fought and I don't feel like this is one of them. The argument of "well, there are actresses out there who are deaf/blind that should have been cast, but weren't because they won't even be given a chance" doesn't fly with me. If there are people pursuing a dream, disabled or not, they pursue that dream no matter what. They show up at the producer's door, they try out for the other parts in the play to prove they have the chops.

Unfortunately, that's how this industry works. It happens not just to disabled folks, but everyone else as well. If you want to change an entire industry, start a production company and do just that.

If "art is dead", resurrect it.
Yeah, I'm not sure why I said small role. Perhaps I meant it more in terms of not being able to meet a wide-spread audience such as a studio film could.

There are hundreds if not thousands of disabled specific theater companies across the country, employing tense of thousands of disabled people.

But, if the work is not out there, there is no need for the disabled to play that role. And no able bodied writer is likely to write a part specifically for a disabled character, and finding a disabled writer who has the chops to make it is damn near impossible when their abilities as a writer are judged by their appearances.

I strongly encourage you to visit my other commentary "We gave you the ADA, what more do you want?"
Those are all ifs placebo. You're damning a girl before she even starts. I find that hypocritical.
Hmm, I wonder what William Gibson would think of your theory?
I am not damning Ms Breslin. I am damning society for assuming that everyone can or should be the same. I am damning society for turning art into a capitalistic pursuit, and damning society for being more than willing to compromise its moral framework for the sake of appearances and a quick buck.
Julie... Placebo is NOT damning her before she starts... *I* am. I KNOW she can't "do it". Neither could Patty Duke or Melissa Gilbert could "do it" either.

Hearing people SPEAK differently than non-hearing people. It's a fact. It's ALSO something that *can't* be taught and even if she became deaf *tomorrow* she STILL wouldn't have the speech patterns that someone who was either deaf from birth or deaf from a very young age is going to have. She *can't* "fake it".

As for your "if the disabled want... they need to do it themselves" ... Here's the deal... ONLY if YOU STOP USING 100% of the things that disabled people have given society. NO more electricity. NO more motor vehicles. NO more telephones. JFK... Disabled; FDR... Disabled; Lincoln... Disabled. The list goes on and on of household names that are or were disabled. Hell even Galileo and Michaelangelo were DISABLED. IF you aren't willing to GIVE UP 100% of the BENEFITS that the disabled have given society it's MORE THAN A BIT hypocritical for you to say "do it yourself" to the disabled.
Shit. Hollweird has been corrupt even longer than Congress. Can we really expect fair play out of Hollywierd anymore than we can truly expect true health care reform from Congress

Expect? Perhaps not...But we can hope, and that hope can turn into action which will change the way things are done to allow the disabled to be accurately portrayed in theater and cinema and tv