Disabled Life, Film

Disabled representation in film

The Bone Collector, it’s not the best film you’ll ever see but it was an important film for me as the central character was a bedridden forensics investigator. It stars Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. I saw it many times upon release while I was at film school. It is what drove me to become a director. I wanted to tell stories where the central character was disabled but the disability was not the focus of the story.

Recently Furiosa has emerged from the latest Mad Max film and is being hailed as a step forward for the portrayal of women in film which I suppose she is. She also represents disabled people something largely ignored in the hype machine. A friend recently shared with me a blog by a young amputee who was ecstatic to see someone she could relate to on screen.

The next step of course is to see disabled actors/actresses on screen in these roles. Currently there are not a lot available and when I’ve tried to cast my own projects with disabled people I have been told by agencies “There’s no market for it”. So we are stuck with able bodied actors who win awards for “crippling”it up on screen until the market changes. But if disabled people don’t see themselves on screen will they be interested in entering the industry?

When I look at what I’ve created I realise my films are made for able bodied people. The point I try to make is “Here’s a disabled person, it’s a little weird but not too much”. Some of these films make people feel awkward. I have been told I’m very “In your face” about things but ultimately they stick with the people that have seen them. Can you imagine the reaction if there had been actual disabled people though. Check out the Rollmance restaurant scene if you get a chance.


Here’s what happens the two characters are having a romantic dinner when they get stared at by an able bodied couple coming out of the restaurant. The two people in wheelchairs proceed to exchange I love you’s in mock handicap voices. An audience will laugh but also much later I have had people come up to me and politely ask if they were in fact mocking able bodied people just to be sure.

Here is a link to the film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-85-TkeD5js

Hopefully in my next project I can move forward and employ a disabled person who’s just completed training at South Seas, Unitech, Toi Whakaari or The Actors Program.

I’m sure they’re all actively encouraging disabled people to train there.


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