Let’s start with the good news: Significant depictions of disability in film and TV shows have almost tripled in the past decade compared to the previous 10 years.
However, almost all of these titles still do not feature disabled actors.
That was the conclusion of a new study released Wednesday by Nielsen and the non-profit organization RespectAbility, which analyzed the portrayal of characters with disabilities in movies and TV shows released from 1920 to 2020..
The titles come from a Nielsen database that includes more than 90,000 movies and TV shows created over the past century. Of these, 3,000 titles were tagged as having significant disability themes or content.
Movies performed better than television – approximately 64% (1,800) of portrayals of characters with disabilities were in feature films and 16% (448) were in regular series. (The remaining performances fell into other categories such as short films, limited series, TV movies or specials.) The database also saw a marked increase in the number of disability-themed productions, from 41 in 2000 to 150 in 2020.
According to the report, about one in four adults in the United States has a physical or psychological disability.
A survey attached to the study also found that people with disabilities were slightly more likely to challenge portrayals of characters with disabilities. Viewers with disabilities were 8% more likely than non-disabled viewers to rate a television portrayal as inaccurate, and 7% more likely to say there was not enough portrayal of characters with disabilities on screen .
Lauren Appelbaum, Vice President of RespectAbility, said that although the number of characters with disabilities continues to increase, around 95% of these roles are still performed by actors without disabilities.
“When disability is part of a character’s story, too often content can position people with disabilities as a person to be pitied or a person to be healed, instead of portraying people with disabilities as full members of our community. company, ”she said in a statement.
Several films featuring disabled characters made headlines last year for their casting: “Sound of Metal”, which tells the story of a drummer (Riz Ahmed) who is losing his hearing, has been criticized for to have chosen Paul Raci, a hearing actor. who is a child of deaf adults, as a deaf mentor of the character of Ahmed. (Raci said he felt comfortable with the cast because his character lost his hearing during the Vietnam War and was not born deaf.) Nick Andros, a deaf character and signs all over throughout the series.
Last fall, “The Witches,” the Warner Bros. adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story which starred Anne Hathaway as a witch with disfigured hands, has been criticized for its resemblance to split hands, or ectrodactyly, resurfacing on the debate over portraying disability as evil . .
But there have also been positive portrayals, like Pixar’s “Luca”, which features a character born without arms and takes the rare step of portraying a character with a limb difference without making it a defining characteristic.
The report, which was scheduled for the 31st anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, is the first in a three-part series by Nielsen and RespectAbility, which will also analyze representations of disability in advertising and media perceptions of audiences with disabilities. . These reports will be published in August.