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Not Everyone Is Happy With The Guy In NBC's 'Ironside' Reboot

by Sergio
May 21, 2013 2:29 PM
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According to The Wrap it seems that not everyone is happy with NBC’s upcoming new reboot of their old 1970’s Ironside series, and, in particular with Blair Underwood in the lead role. Not because he’s black, but because he’s not disabled in real life.

Several disabled actors feel that having an actor who isn't disabled playing the lead role in the series "is as offensive as blackface".

That’s what disabled actor Kurt Yaeger (Sons of Anarchy) says, stating that having it "would be like being in the '50s and having a white guy do blackface. At this point, You need to start having disabled people playing disabled characters. Period."

O.K. that’s an extreme point of view

Paralyzed actress Auti Angel, who appears in the Sundance Channel’s reality series Push Girl adds: "What are they afraid of? There are so many extremely talented individuals who are performing artists with a different ability."

In fact one disabled independent filmmaker, Larry Sapp, is so upset about the casting choice on Ironside that he’s even started his own Facebook page against the show, called "Don't Shoot Ironside."

However, all the actors who were interviewed for the article all believe that “the best actor should win a role -- as long as disabled actors are given an opportunity to compete. And they also said there are circumstances in which it makes sense to use an actor who can walk.

Yet, they also claim that disabled actors, who have had major roles in the past on network series, such as Mitch Longley (Las Vegas), Robert David Hall (CSI) and Daryl 'Chill' Mitchell (Brothers) were not asked to audition.

However Yaeger said that disabled characters should get to play disabled characters -- but not just disabled characters: "I want disabled characters being played by disabled people, but I also want characters that were written as able-body to be played by disabled actors."

But then that’s the point isn’t it?

Why would a disabled actor be content to play a only disabled characters in a role? Just as, why should a black actor be limited to only playing the “black” character in a role?

I look at Underwood in Ironside and it didn’t occur to me that here was a normal bodied actor in a role that should have been played by a disabled actor.

I see instead a black actor playing the lead role in a high profile, dramatic network series that almost always goes to a white actor. Something, that's sad to say in this day and age, still rarely happens.

However, parts are getting scarcer and the competition is getting much fiercer, and I can understand disabled actors being upset that they have been overlooked. 

Is there a disabled actor out there who could have played the role of Ironside?

Definitely yes.

Disabled actors deserve every right to be given the opportunity to go for any type of role they want. As actor Tobias Forrest, who in appears in the show Glee, said: "Ultimately, my gripe is I need to be able to get into the room, at least . And if it's something that close to my life, then the opportunity to go into the room to win them over is really what we're looking for."

But then again, I could argue that there are non-disabled actors, black and even white, and even female, who could have also quite convincingly played the role of Ironside I’m sure.

I don’t know what process Underwood went through to get the part. Was it offered to him or did he have to audition along with other familiar name actors to get the role? 

But he was ultimately chosen as the best one for the part. And I sincerely hope that it’s a success for him.

I don’t have to tell you that it’s rough out there for actors, and twice as rough if you’re a black actor. And despite the huge success of Scandal, when it comes to casting, the industry is pretty much stuck in its old ways. Just look at the network TV shows coming out next season.

And with the current season ending, showing an unprecedented drop in the number of viewers and the ratings for network television overall (some industry insiders say next season is going to  be “make or break” for the networks), you would think that the networks would start thinking more creatively instead of sticking with the “same ol’ same ol’” - and that includes casting as well.

(Like, are you really waiting for that new CBS sit-com with Robin Williams?)

The film industry and TV networks are going to have to eventually come to the realization that things are not the same anymore, and they'll have to broaden their minds and reach out beyond the obvious.

What do you say?

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  • Jimmy'Z | October 17, 2013 8:08 PMReply

    I justo don't like he is black
    nothing against afican americans, but some guys are just not original black and that's it
    Nick fury
    I robot main characters, by the way susan calvin is and old lady not a girl
    and Ironside is White
    who's next? Hitler?

  • Liza | October 9, 2013 11:24 AMReply

    Where is the uproar with the Glee character that was disabled? What about the white girl in Miriel's Wedding? Tom cruise in born on the Fourth of July? There are so many examples of able bodied whites playing disabled characters. As far as the victim issue goes blacks have a legitimate right to be upset mot only with lack of wuality roles but also with the megative portrayal pf blacks.

  • Lisa | October 9, 2013 11:13 AMReply

    Stop comparing this to white characters in blackface. It is different. I agree more disabled actors should work but. So should black actors. Funny do not hear this uproar when a white person plays a disabled character.

  • James | September 12, 2013 9:29 AMReply

    It is because he has flashbacks of his life when he could WALK, relax.

  • renee | August 23, 2013 11:30 AMReply's called acting ......why does he need to be really disabled to play the role......sometimes I don't get the shit people grip about. Oh it's not that he's black, it's because he's not really disabled....smfh....

  • rollerKate | June 18, 2013 7:03 PMReply

    Meow - If you had been paying any attention, there was a lot of anger over GLEE. A lot.

    If you are not disabled, you do not get that it is EXACTLY like a white person being cast as a person of color, and just using a little make-up to make the role fit.

    To Blair Underwood, the wheelchair is a prop for the show. For those of us who use wheelchairs, they are part of our bodies. part of our lives. We do not get to leave them when the day is over.

    If all actors were able to audition/read for the part, fine. But it became clear non-AB actors were not even asked. And there are plenty out there. I can even think of black actors in a wheelchair if they wanted a leading role as a person of color.

    If you do not understand disability identity and Disability Culture, why don't YOU take a seat, take a spin in OUR lives, and then you get a vote.

  • MeowMeow | May 22, 2013 5:36 PMReply

    You know.... I didnt see anyone bitching about GLEE...... or any other movies where actors PLAY disabled characters.
    Give it a fucking rest. Must EVERYTHING be compared to what happened to black people? Is your struggle not strong enough to stand on it's own? So now an able bodied person playing a handicapped role is Black face??? How is that even remotely the same thing??? Are Handicapped people forbidden from TV and have only able bodied people playing them as fools, idiots, and sub humans??? Have a SEAT.

  • TheIntrospectiveMan | May 22, 2013 1:06 PMReply

    Question: Could it be, that the success of this show, could potentially open up more opportunities for disabled actors? Not only in casting (whether the part is written as disabled or not), but also in the crafting of characters in TV and Film?

  • BluTopaz | May 22, 2013 11:55 AMReply

    Marlee Matlin has made similiar comments regarding hearing actors playing deaf characters, and I totally agree with her and the disabled people making their points here. Some Black people need to stop playing oppression Olympics and see things from the perspectives of others sometimes.

  • Dan | May 22, 2013 8:47 PM

    STFU Blu.....

  • Tom Haverford | May 22, 2013 11:34 AMReply

    This whole comments section is a special kind of unaware. How many of the arguments being tossed out here have been thrown at PoC actors over the years? Let's count them all

    - No established disabled star (Well, if you're not even going to give them a chance, how do you expect them to become stars? Isn't this how Hollywood kept PoC actors down for generations?)

    - Disabled community is reaching too far (really? In asking that a disabled character be played by a disabled actor? Is it also over-reaching to ask that the role of a black character be played by a black actor? Was trying to get a black actor to play Spiderman also over-reaching?)

    - The role wouldn't work with a disabled actor (Yes, it could. All you'd need is to change a line or two in the character's backstory, or use stunt doubles or camera tricks. It's not that difficult)

    - There was no uproar about that original Ironside actor being disabled (And there was no uproar about Birth of a Nation when it was released either. You know why? Because black folks had no voice, just like disabled folks had no voice when the original Ironside came out)

    - Oh, and my favorite, which is "they got the best actor for the job". If you don't see the problem with this statement, I really can't help you.

  • Akimbo | May 22, 2013 12:35 PM

    Except plenty of people spoke on "giving them a chance." Stars normally work their way up. With larger representation would come the opportunity to build "disabled" star names. No one just gets handed a star role (except those Australians. Two episodes of Neighbours gets them a five-picture deal at a studio). Basically, the problem isn't this one role in Ironside, it's the industry. Maybe, by the next time they reboot, we'll have disabled stars.

    Also, regarding the changing of lines: the creators/producers have a specific story they want to tell. The initial goal is not to tailor a role to an actor, it's to find an actor who fits the part. So if every episode flashes back to the character before his handicap (for example) they're gonna want someone who can do that. Easily and inexpensively. If an action scene takes place in a swamp, rather than spend time building concealed ramps, it's easier to have an actor who can walk to their mark and sit in the chair. If the chair starts to sink in the mud, it's safer if the actor has actual use of their legs to save themselves. All these concessions will happily be made for a star name a la Darryl Chill Mitchell, Michael J Fox, Christopher Reeves, Stephen Hawking, but not for an untested person. It's expensive and slows production down.

    Hollywood is hard for everyone. The fight for greater visibility is a worthy one, but this industry is not fair. I think this is a great conversation starter and impetus for change, but still there was no way in hell this was going to an unknown disabled performer.

    You compare their struggles to that of POC and, in some respects (NOT blackface), it translates. We have star names NOW, but those roles weren't just handed out. We started as slaves, maids, and other service types. We slogged and continue to slog in supporting and sidekick roles, some of us broke out into stardom. This is thanks to greater visibility in media. Gotta start there and move forward.

  • Geneva Girl | May 22, 2013 5:38 AMReply

    I have to agree with the disabled folks on this. The flashback sequences could be handled with special effects, if those scenes were indeed even necessary. While I'm happy to see Blair Underwood, I did comment on the original post that I thought it strange that an able-bodied person was playing the role.

    As for the analogy to blackface, while that may seem extreme to black folks, to a wheelchair-bound person, it might feel that despicable. It's hard enough for them to get roles - any roles - and then a prime role like this slips through their hands. Try walking in their shoes, or rather rolling in their chairs, and consider how it feels to them.

    While black folks, me included, are happy that Underwood has a plum role, handicapped people of all colors are looking for some they can cheer too.

  • CC | May 22, 2013 8:09 AM

    "The flashback sequences could be handled with special effects"

    Or stunt doubles. I agree, it's no big deal.

    In reference to Blair Underwood playing Ironsides, there are a few things I would not advise a person to do. Don't pull on Superman's cape nor cover Whitney's & Arthea's songs, nor play the iconic roles of Raymond Burr's Perry Mason and Ironside.

  • SayItaintso | May 21, 2013 11:50 PMReply

    Network needed a star to carry the show. Blair Underwood is a television star. Name one disabled actor who is a television star. Waiting. Waiting. Thanks and goodbye.

  • Monique a Williams | May 21, 2013 11:29 PMReply

    The real issue with Ironside is Blair Underwood's acting disability. He is lame, no feeling, stiff.

  • Akimbo | May 22, 2013 4:37 AM

    Never heard anyone call him a bad actor before. He's never evoked any strong feelings from me, but I feel he always gets the job done.

  • Monique A Williams | May 22, 2013 3:47 AM

    I didn't breastfeed Blair. My apologies, Mrs Underwood.

  • Sayitaintso | May 21, 2013 11:51 PM

    That's lame. He is a very able actor. Give the misplaced snark a rest.

  • TheIntrospectiveMan | May 21, 2013 7:00 PMReply

    Instead of targeting this one show, it might be of greater value for the disabled community to work toward opportunities behind the scenes of TV and film (like writing/producing and directing) to see better representation of themselves onscreen.

    --On that note, I would not be surprised if "Ironside" team has a disabled person working as a tech advisor on the show.

  • JMac | May 21, 2013 9:25 PM

    They do and it's a valid point... hence, S&A's focus on independent black productions.

  • Tom Haverford | May 21, 2013 7:41 PM

    How would you feel if this rhetoric was tossed out every time there was a discussion of greater black representation in media?

  • The IntrospectiveMan | May 21, 2013 6:43 PMReply

    No disrespect to disabled actors, but from a writing standpoint, with a disabled actor as the lead, the producers of the show would never be able to show flashbacks and/or dream sequences, fantasies, and the like, of an able-bodied Ironside.

  • JMac | May 21, 2013 9:05 PM

    Right. I'm sure NBC wants to spend Avatar money for 1 show which may not even make it pass the first season.

  • ScriptTease | May 21, 2013 8:05 PM

    If the technology can create "AVATAR", this too can be done.

  • ALM | May 21, 2013 6:25 PMReply

    Was the original actor who played the lead role in "Ironside" disabled?

    If not, was there an uproar about his casting?

  • VichusSmith | May 21, 2013 5:15 PMReply

    No it's fucking not! First off, it's not some kind of insulting parody of what it is to be wheelchair-bound, and secondly, there have been so many actors who have portrayed disabled or crippled characters.

    Sometimes you can hire a disabled actor to play the role of someone who's disabled, sometimes you can't. Sometimes you don't want to. You just want to hire what you want to hire. Much ado about NADA.

  • Carl | May 21, 2013 4:39 PMReply

    These folks complaining in wheelchairs need to go sit down somewhere...oh wait.

  • Michael Florence | May 21, 2013 4:01 PMReply

    Who are these idiots complaining??? The way their doing the ironside reboot is thy have several flashbacks to when the character wasn't disabled.... How could that have been portrayed with an actual disabled person...

    Where are those people when actual scientist arnt potraying scientist roles, etc....

    And to compare it to blackface is as dumb as me complaing that the role of superman isn't given to a person who really is superman...... IT'S CALLED ACTING PEOPLE GET WITH THE PROGRAM...

    Lets face it their mad that the lead actor is being portrayed by a different race than the original series.. GROW UP PEOPLE AND GET A LIFE IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT DON'T WATCH IT.., THAT SIMPLE

  • Phil | May 21, 2013 3:46 PMReply

    It is, by definition, the same exact thing as blackface--disguising yourself to play the role of a minority. If a disabled [terrible word btw] actor does not get the chance to be seen by the public, the public will be stuck ion a perpetual cycle of ignorance. You need an actor in a wheelchair to play that part because that life exists in their bones--they can give the most genuine performance, offer the most authentic insights. a disabled actor should play that part for the same same reason Denzel played Malcolm X.

    The premise of a show about a handicapped cop sounds far-fetched, anyways.

  • LOL | May 22, 2013 12:31 AM

    More like "Said by Phil"

  • Said in Los Angeles | May 22, 2013 12:16 AM

    Great points Phil, great points..

  • Akimbo | May 21, 2013 3:59 PM

    And it's not at all like blackface! Playing a character in a wheelchair is not the same as darkening your skin and acting out/promoting the worst stereotypes about a group of people. Next you'll say wearing a blonde wig, a period costume, or prosthetic teeth are the same as blackface. You don't know what you're talking about.

  • Akimbo | May 21, 2013 3:55 PM

    Except, just because you've experienced something doesn't mean you can convey it onscreen. Based on your argument, only actual cops should play cops, only actual heterosexuals should play heterosexuals, and only actual cancer patients should play cancer patients. There's more to acting than having specifically experienced a single facet of a character's life.

    I don't doubt that there are talented performers with disabilities out there, but they should be clamoring for greater representation period, not first for the effing lead role of a network series. There's not a disabled actor with the credits or notoriety to rival Blair Underwood, and THAT right there is the problem, not this one role.

  • regi | May 21, 2013 3:27 PMReply

    interesting debate. i do think the able-bodied actor=blackface analogy is whack!
    controversy aside, the previews are not intriguing: underwood is unconvincing and the whole enterprise, save for his presence, feels decidely old-hat. we'll see, but i'm not betting on a long run for this.

  • donnadara | May 21, 2013 3:24 PMReply

    I didn't hear these types of complaints about the able-bodied actor playing the disabled character on Glee. And the show did do a dream sequence where the character dances.

  • Akimbo | May 21, 2013 3:46 PM

    Actually, people did and do complain. I do know that they auditioned wheelchair-bound actors, but Kevin McHale's performance won them over. Glee has major diversity issues anyway; they like to show it off, then push all the non-white & disabled characters to the background.

  • EP | May 21, 2013 3:13 PMReply

    I just want to see Real Black Actors, and not Black Rappers on TV and that too much to ask ?

  • Akimbo | May 21, 2013 3:03 PMReply

    GTFO. I definitely think actual disabled people should be considered for disabled roles, but comparing this to blackface is beyond dumb. It is not and will never be the same.

    What if the disabled character wasn't born disabled? What if they have flashback scenes showing said character pre-disability? What if the disability is cured over the course of the movie/series? Things like that would disqualify actual disabled people from the roles. You can't see a character in a wheelchair/with a hearing aid/with a prosthetic arm and presume to know everything about the character or the journey s/he will take.

    Blair Underwood booked this job because he is a name first, not because he is able-bodied. The problem for disabled actors is not that they're not booking high profile roles, it's that there aren't enough roles for them from which they can "make names" of themselves. Able-bodied performers consistently lose out to names, too. That's just the business. Until there are more "namey" disabled actors, the argument that a lead in a studio movie or high-profile series went to an able-bodied performer is moot.

    We can talk about all the talented young actors who lost out to weak ass Lance Gross, too, but that's the business.

  • Black Canseco | May 21, 2013 3:02 PMReply

    and as others have noted Raymond Burr was the original Ironside... He could walk. Yet there wasn't much outrage. If anything folk were pleased that the "idea" of a disabled hero was empowering... But now it's like blackface? Hmmm...

    What's the difference between Raymond Burr and Blair Underwood? Uh.....

  • BlackCanseco | May 21, 2013 2:51 PMReply

    if Ironside were a white guy in a wheelchair and there was no ethnic diversity in teh cast, none of these folk would say a peep... This "it's just like being Black" crap people pull breaks my heart. It's another reminder that Blackfolk are still everybody else's "struggle" mascot. You got a struggle? Compare it to Blackfolks to make your point. And if Blackfolk disagree, call em "myopic" or "bigoted" and demand they ride for you based on nothing more than "they should know better."

    I like Blair Underwood. I hope the show works.

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