What’s the wheelchair equivalent of black face? (Guest post!)

[I’m very excited to present a guest post by Frances Lively.  She is responding to Joanne Ostrow’s August 9, 2012 column in the Denver Post.]

Dear Ms. Ostrow:

I have been a subscriber to The Denver Post for a very long time and always enjoy reading your column.  You are a good writer with an enjoyable style and an intelligent approach to television matters.

I wondered, however, about one segment of your “Good News, Bad News,” column in the August 9, 2013, issue, concerning diversity.  You are correct in noting that there are far too many white males and too few Hispanics featured in TV shows.  But how can you say it represents a positive step forward for diversity to have Blair Underwood — an able-bodied person, albeit a member of a minority group — portraying a person with a disability?  This casting makes the same mistake that “Glee” made in one of its teenaged characters and does not really advance inclusion of people with disabilities in our society.

I understand that the networks worry about ratings and would prefer to take their chances on a bankable star in the main role in a new show, but I would hope that you could at least point out this irony in your column rather than lauding the networks for this short-sighted casting.  The irony of your comments only increases with your follow-up regarding Michael J. Fox, who does, indeed, have the illness that is to be portrayed in his new show, but who is himself a very well-known, long-time white male star.  Perhaps your “good news” instead should have been that there are good actors available who happen to have disabilities and who would love the chance to be featured in a network television show.

Please do not file my message under the heading of “Can’t please all the people all of the time.”  Instead, give me credit for not lighting into you regarding your description of Underwood’s character as “a highly capable, sexually active paraplegic.”  Time does not permit a discussion of all of the problems with that statement.

I hope you will put my letter in the file for “How can we keep networks from being ignorant.”  I’m sure many of your readers would appreciate your using your position in our community as a critic to nudge the networks in a better direction.  Thanks very much for your time.

Sincerely,

Frances Lively

Ms. Ostrow responded:

Thanks for writing.

Agreed, it would be better to have a disabled actor playing a disabled character. but at least the character exists.

I’ll return to this topic in the future and keep your comments in mind.

Meanwhile I hope if you watch “Ironside” you’ll see what I mean about his action-hero antics…

Best,

Joanne

5 thoughts on “What’s the wheelchair equivalent of black face? (Guest post!)

  1. Molly

    Um my mom rules. And she really has been reading Joanne Ostrow for decades. Joanne Ostrow should be highly honored that my mom took the time to set her straight.

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  2. mrscripple

    At a time when the disabled are loosing many of our hard fought for rights due to budget cuts and others stupidity. Not using persons with disabilities for programs that are to portray the true realistic lives of the disabled is truly angering. I am severely disabled and tired of the disabled being considered good enough for the plot, but not good enough for the acting. Make up your mind we are equal and often more educated then our non-disabled counterparts, and who better to portray the disabled then the disabled! Society needs to get real and accept us equally and stop putting “Pretend” disabled out there instead of role models for our young disabled persons.

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