The Current

Disability rights advocates push back on inaccessible casting

Actors such as Tom Hanks and Daniel Day Lewis have wowed audiences and critics with their moving portrayals of characters with disabilities. But there's a growing movement of actors, directors, and advocates who say the time has come to give those parts to actors who are disabled themselves....
Actors such as Tom Hanks and Daniel Day Lewis have wowed audiences and critics with their moving portrayals of characters with disabilities. But there's a growing movement of actors, directors, and advocates who say the time has come to give those parts to actors who are disabled themselves.


Rain Man, My Left Foot, and now... The Theory of Everything, are just a few of the many well-known films featuring characters with disabilities.

But in each case, the character is brought to life by an able-bodied actor. It's been a long standard practice in Hollywood. But there's growing criticism today about that kind of casting.

In fact, some disability rights advocates are going as far as to say that casting able-bodied actors in those roles, is analogous to white actors wearing black face. And there's now a growing movement to help give actors who are disabled themselves a better shot at portraying those characters on screen.


  • Jenni Gold is a director and producer who has Muscular Dystrophy and uses an electric wheelchair. Her forthcoming documentary film CinemAbility looks at the history of how people with disabilities are portrayed in television and film.

  • Leesa Levinson is an actor and founder of Lights, Camera, Access!, a non-profit organization that supports people with disabilities in the entertainment industry.

  • RJ Mitte is an actor who played Walter White Jr. in Breaking Bad.

  • Pam Dixon has viewed this same issue from the other side of the table -- as a casting director. She is past president of the Casting Society of America and also the founder of ActorsAccess.com -- a database where casting directors can find actors with disabilities.


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This segment was produced by The Current's Josh Bloch and Ines Colabrese.

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