Sometimes the line between confused ethics and plain old stupidity is razor thin. This controversy is one of those times.
Actor Bryan Cranston, best known for “Breaking Bad,” is being criticized for playing a a quadriplegic billionaire in “The Upside,” his new film released Friday, because he is not actually handicapped.
He’s also not a billionaire, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue for some reason.
Jay Ruderman of the Ruderman Family Foundation complained, “While we don’t know the auditioning history of ‘The Upside,” casting a non-disabled actor to play a character with a disability is highly problematic and deprives performers with disabilities the chance to work and gain exposure.”
No, Jay, it isn’t problematic, because the primary objective of the performing arts is not, and has never been, to provide “the chance to work and gain exposure.” This is the affirmative action mentality that as it gets stretched further and further from reality and common sense by the woke and the wokeness-addled, increasingly ensures that society eventually rejects the whole tortured concept. The objective of the performing arts is to entertain, engage and enlighten the audience. That requires casting the best actors available, and in film, frequently the best know actors, in the judgment of the director and the producer. Bryan Cranston is one of the most skilled actors in the world. I am extremely confident that there isn’t a single quadriplegic actor that can equal him, if indeed there are any at all. Audrey Hepburn could also play a blind woman better than any of the few available blind actresses, when she starred in “Wait Until Dark.” Tom Hanks and cliff Roberrtson could play mentally-challenged caharcters in “Forrest Gump” and “Charlie” better than any mentally-challenged actors.
I can’t believe we even have to have this conversation.
Naturally, social media is where the real idiocy resides. Wrote one tweeter: “The fact that @BryanCranston believes he is qualified to play someone disabled is highly offensive. Nondisabled actors cannot act disabled because disability is not something you can act. You either are disabled or you aren’t.” I guess this whole acting concept is over some people’s heads. Another reliable den of dimwits, the Huffington Post, spawned this piece of signature significance: “People with disabilities are tired of constantly fighting for opportunities, space and a platform,” HuffPo editor Wendy Lu wrote in a Friday op-ed. “Until disabled talent starts being recognized in Hollywood, actors like Cranston should step offstage and pass the mic to the people in the communities they are so eager to portray.”
See, Wendy, this is a nice sentiment in professions and occupations where 1) people with disabilities can genuinely compete on the basis of merit, and 2) when the disabled talent pool in a field is large enough to create a sufficient number of genuine outstanding talents. Acting is not one of those fields; neither is gymnastics, or tuna fishing, or piano moving. Why don’t you scream at the sky for a while?
The whole “controversy”—there is no controversy, just publicity seekers and disability activists looking for something to protest—is reminiscent of Peter Cook and Dudley’s Moore’s skit about the one -legged man auditioning to be Tarzan…
Opportunity is nice, but the fact is that you ultimately have to be able to play the role, you have to be convincing in it, and the audience has to be engaged. One of the most famous of the few examples where a handicapped actor has been cast to play a character with a similar disability was in the classic WW II film, “The Best Years of Their Lives.” Harold Russell, who had lost both arms in the war, played a returning GI having to adjust to living with prosthetic arms, and also to the reactions of his family, friends and co-workers to his handicap. It was stunt casting: Russell won an Oscar, and no critic was courageous enough to be honest, but it’s just an earnest job by an acting novice. Today, when technology allows “abled” actors to appear to be without limbs (as with Gary Sinise in “Forrest Gump”) there would be no excuse for casting a novice actor in the role just because he had hooks for hands.
Cranston blathered about the issue to the British Press Association earlier this week, saying, “If I, as a straight, older person, and I’m wealthy, I’m very fortunate, does that mean I can’t play a person who is not wealthy, does that mean I can’t play a homosexual?” he asked. “I don’t know, where does the restriction apply, where is the line for that?”
There is no line, Bryan, and no restriction. You’re not helping. Later, trying to signal his virtue, the actor added, semi-incoherently,
“I think it points out the lack of diversity in disabled actors and the lack of opportunity in order to be even considered to play the lead role in a film like this. Are there any actors who have reached any kind of star status to be able to be considered? I think by not coming up with an answer to that is the answer to that. There is a dearth of opportunity for actors with a disability.”
Uh, yes, Bryan, because their disability limits the kinds of roles disabled actors can play convincingly, and thus they will never have the opportunity to be star on your level, or to be able to acquire the performing experience to aspire to it. This isn’t discrimination, injustice, or prejudice. It’s called reality.