rj mitte
RJ Mitte speaks at San Diego Comic Con International in 2013. (Photo by Gage Skidmore License)

Study Shows an Appetite for More People with Disabilities on Screen

The Ruderman Family Foundation discovered a major breakthrough for actors with disabilities. According to the foundation’s recent study, “Disability Inclusion in Movies and Television,” find that half of households “support accurate portrayals of disabled characters and would sign up for a content distributor committed to disabled actors.”

Films such as “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” have proven that there is an appetite for art depicted and created by underrepresented communities. But disabilities are often left out of the discussion within the diversity sphere.

Unfortunately, network executives are not hearing their viewers thirst for a more disabled presence on air. The percent of all performers with disabilities on TV has flat-lined at 2% for three straight years, according to the study. This is remarkably low as people disabilities make up 20% of the American population.

“Breaking Bad” actor Bryan Cranston got in hot water for his portrayal of a disabled man in the movie “The Upside,” which was released in the United States in January. It was famously a topic on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.” Cranston’s “Breaking Bad” co-star, RJ Mitte, who has cerebral palsy, defended Cranston, telling The Wrap in May that there’s a “time and place for everything.”

“A lot of people get very heated about this conversation,” Mitte told The Wrap. “People say, hire autism carriers, or don’t hire anyone at all. I don’t really agree with that mentality. If you have an amazing actor and he treats the role with justice and people can relate to it, it’s done.”

More recently, Mitte spoke out on how the stigma affects people with disabilities.

“A lot of people view disability as an illness, as a weakness, as something that we have to cure and overcome,” Mitte said in a September interview. “Disability doesn’t care what your skin color is, where you grew up, how much money you have … it doesn’t care about all these things that define people because it’s blind to that. It affects everyone across the board.”

Related Article: ‘This Close’: Getting People with Disabilities on the Big Screen

Viewers who are under 30 are more attracted to storylines centered around people with disabilities, according to the report. Actor Danny Woodburn, who co-authored the 2016 version of the Ruderman study, attributed that to the presence of social media.

“It’s easier to dispel myths using social media,” Woodburn told the Los Angeles Times. “This generation is very connected to social media, and it has been an incredibly impactful space for the disabled community to advocate for themselves.”

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