Why is it acceptable for an able-bodied actor to play a disabled character?
We no longer accept white actors blacking up – yet the able-bodied Daniel Radcliffe is playing a physically disabled character in the West End. How come?
As I've written here recently, it's increasingly obvious that there's still a long way to go to increase employment opportunities for black and east Asian actors. Companies, directors, and casting directors need to be more alert to the decisions they make around recruiting actors. But what about opportunities for disabled actors?
Jenny Sealey, artistic director of the disabled-led theatre companyGraeae and co-artistic director of the 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony, pointed out in an interview I did with her last year that prejudice against disabled actors remains rife. She cited the example of someone who told her that, if a play wasn't conceived by its writer to be performed by a disabled cast, and you cast an actor who was a wheelchair user, the play would become about that. "I was speechless," said Sealey. "Nobody would say that casting a black actor makes a play become about that – so why is a wheelchair user any different?"
Why indeed. But whereas it would now be unthinkable for a white actor to black up to play Othello, it seems that most of us don't even blink when able-bodied actors play disabled roles. In fact, there is perhaps no quicker way to glory at awards ceremonies, particularly in Hollywood movies. Jon Voight and Daniel Day-Lewis both won Oscars for cinematic portrayals of disabled characters...