Dear Meryl Streep

At the Golden Globes on Sunday night, Meryl Streep called out Trump for publicly mocking a disabled reporter and then high five’d Hollywood for its inclusiveness, identifying her community as “crawling with outsiders and foreigners”. While I was excited to see a major star use such a huge platform to defend the dignity of Mr. Kovaleski and to speak out against the unjust treatment of persons with disabilities, Hollywood is not yet deserving of a pat on the back for total inclusion, especially as it relates to disability representation.

c Thomas Wolf CC BY-SA 3.0 DE
Across multiple media, including television and film, disability is still grossly underrepresented, misrepresented or just plain ignored. In her speech, Streep said “An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like”. But in the world of entertainment, disability stories are little more than stereotypes of victims and burdens, heroes or freaks; lazy tropes that are used to make us feel specific emotions. These careless characterizations are not just hurtful, they’re dangerous. They inform how we see disabled people in real life and lead us to believe they are low status individuals. 

The real stories of disability are still not being told.

The arts are by nature forward thinking and innovative. Media is one of the most effective vehicles to illicit change in hearts and minds. Hollywood has a real opportunity to influence and normalize how we see disability just as it has for other marginalized groups.

So, thank you Ms. Streep, for shedding a massive light on this issue. You’re amazing and I love you, but there’s still work to be done. I hope this encourages more conversation about the accurate and authentic inclusion and representation of disability across all media.

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5 thoughts on “Dear Meryl Streep

  1. Amen!! Thank you for bringing this up. Yes Hollywood must find disability unattractive. In the recent film, Me Before You, the gentleman in a wheelchair kills himself rather than live his sorry, sad life in a ugly wheelchair.

  2. Ardra — Thank you for speaking out; I was singing Meryl Streep's praises – but you raise an
    important point. The one theme that Hollywood seems perfectly happy to portray is a male character in a wheelchair – or otherwise disabled – seduced and / or loved by a beautiful female…
    I've been waiting patiently for the exact opposite of this setup!

  3. Popular culture is driven by commerce – the need to make money. Hollywood has to replicate and reinforce the stereotype of disabled people for the consumption of the masses. Hollywood gets its money from people who buy a single ticket for a movie. So to make profit from millions of tickets, Hollywood has to conform to the stereotype held by millions of people.
    I miss a bygone era where the arts had royal (rich) patrons. If Bill Gates was the patron for a movie, there would be a movie where a bespectacled nerd was the hero of the movie. Or Christopher Reeve in a wheelchair reprises his Superman role.

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